by Neil Moodie
photography Corinne Day
realization Tara St Hill
Former model Corinne Day was taught by her husband Mark Szazsy how to use a camera. Living in Milan in 1980s. She began taking pictures of her model roommates for their portfolios and composite cards for a minimal fee from their agents. The agencies seemed to like the pictures and she became hooked on photography.
Moving back to London, Corinne and Mark rented a cheap flat in Soho, which at the time was not considered a prestigious place to live, with all its sex shops and street prostitution. The flat was partly furnished and a little run down. It became their home and Corinne’s studio as the space was big enough to put up a white backdrop to take pictures.
Scouring London model agencies for girls to shoot, Corinne came across a young model at Storm Models. She was 15 and not working a lot as she wasn’t the ideal model size for the time, but Corinne saw the beauty in her. Right there a fashion phenomenon was created: Kate Moss.
Meanwhile, Corinne was also on the lookout for other people to photograph. She was inspired by the work of Nan Goldin, Larry Clarke and Mary Ellen Mark. Corinne loved people and forming bonds with them. Over the next couple years she suddenly created her own model army, where a majority of the other people she found to photograph she came across by chance meetings. Corinne discovered Rosemary Ferguson while she sat in the window of a McDonalds on Oxford Street. George Clements she met at Tooting Bec Lido in South London whilst out sunbathing with another model she was photographing, Sarah Murray. Corinne persuaded Sarah to ask George if he’d be interested in having his picture taken for The Face. Tanya Court, another of Corinne’s “girls” was working in a bakery in South London when Corinne saw a polaroid of her at Select Models. She was introduced to Georgina Cooper by Premier Models agent and friend Carole White. Tara St Hill was the girlfriend of George Clements, eventually becoming one of Corinne’s muses, forming a large part of Corinne’s first book, Diary.
Many people have asked over the years how a Corinne Day picture was created, as they always looked so effortless. There was a lot more consideration than people might imagine. An idea could start from numerous things: a piece of clothing, somebody’s flat, a derelict building, a lake, a forest, a beach she knew from childhood, a designer’s collection, an old photograph. As a supposed instigator of British grunge fashion, Corinne loved secondhand clothing (now politely known as vintage). Items that had been worn, torn, customized or could be customized, she was immediately drawn to. She was often found at Portobello Road Market on a Friday morning looking for secondhand items to photograph, and rarely passed a secondhand or charity shop without popping in to give the clothes rail a once-over. Her regular collaborators will tell you that working with her didn’t just involve putting look number 26 from the Prada show on. It was so much more than that. Going on trips to Portobello, other markets and charity shops, were part of the course; thinking about how the piece could be made better, what can you mix it with, how could it be customized, is there something they could do to an item of clothing to make it more interesting? This process could be painstaking and occasionally to her detriment, especially when working within the confines of a magazine like Vogue, where things couldn’t be cut, altered or changed.
These unpublished pictures shown here form part of Corinne’s archive that were her personal projects. Tara St Hill, friend and stylist on this shoot, recalls the day she met Corinne:
I arrived at her flat in Soho with my boyfriend, George Clements. We were kids, kids in love, but kids nevertheless. It was Summer and the day before he had been at the swimming pool/lido in Tooting Bec where he’d been approached by Sarah Murray. I hadn’t really thought about fashion at that point but curiosity got the better of me, and so we took a trip to Soho where we found Brewer Street and rang the doorbell to the top flat, walking the many staircases to Corinne’s top floor flat. I was 17, had a chubby face, and a skinhead, and I bumped into a beautiful skinny girl wearing a floor length denim skirt, cap sleeved t-shirt and Birkenstocks. I loved the way she looked, and she asked if we wanted a cup of tea. We spent the afternoon with her chatting, listening to music, smoking the odd spliff and listening to her plans for her shoot that she wanted to do with George and a girl unknown to us called Rosemary. Shortly after we met again for the first shoot I saw Corinne do, for The Face magazine. It was punky, skinny black jeans, spider web t-shirt which I loved and George pretending to play guitar wearing black eyeliner. I was sold. Corinne worked meticulously, telling George exactly what to do, coming up with idea after idea. It was really exciting. The stylist was Melanie Ward.
Corinne then started to plan to meet up with George for other things, turning up in makeup artist Virginia Young’s car, a Mini, to take George on shoots, but the Mini was full up with model, hairdresser, make-up artist and stylist. The model was a beautiful young girl ( it felt like a replacement for me) that I didn’t like so much, but I waited for them to get back to hear the stories of the day.
Mark, Corinne’s husband (then boyfriend) sat chatting with me and suggested I should start styling. He thought I had a good eye for clothes and I thought why not? As Corinne and I were regularly going to charity shops and markets looking for interesting clothes and ideas. We would sit in our flats making things for shoots. It made sense for me to take that step!
Corinne and I were now very close friends, we spent most of our time together, with me often spending the night on her old disheveled sofa (which made an appearance in some of her early pictures). We’d do little drawings of ideas that we came up with for shoots. Sometimes she would show me old pictures that she liked for inspiration. The first time we worked together on an editorial we had met a girl who had come to Corinne’s flat on a model “go see.” She was lovely, from Charlton in South London, with a real South London accent. Her name was Georgina. Her agency had made her wear a little false tooth to disguise the gap in her front teeth. Corinne asked her to take it out, and bang!, there she was. Beautiful like Lauren Hutton with a personality to match. She was so funny, telling us stories about how her Mom loved Barry Manilow, and wore his t-shirts, and went to all his concerts. We were so excited when Georgina left. We immediately started planning a shoot based around her.
We shot her in my flat in Balham, South London. I remember the first shot, we put her in a big, thick fisherman’s jumper, and asking her to choose the color of Tampax string she wanted, pink or blue. Georgina laughed and thought it was great. She was not phased at all. We didn’t do this to be shocking, we did it because we thought it was so normal to see a girl like that, wondering around her flat. It made sense (it also made us excited). These pictures became an ongoing project over a few months. Some of these images appeared in Corinne’s first book, Diary, and also appear in her new book, May The Circle Remain Unbroken.
Another one of those girls, was Emma Griffiths Malin or “Little Emma” as she became affectionately known to us. She was probably only 15 when we met her. Corinne loved her, it was her rebellious nature that stuck out. I remember really early on, how she told us she smoked. (Corinne loved a fag in a picture) so she told Emma she could smoke if she wanted. After a while of smoking one cigarette after another, Emma turned a light shade of green, and said “I don’t feel well.” Corinne and I looked at each other and smiled, then made her a cup of tea. Emma was at that age where she wanted to be cool. She wanted to be different and stand out from her middle-class background by liking horror films and Goths.
One day Corinne and I were out on another of our shopping expeditions. We were in Victoria in London, trawling through the treasures of a vintage shop called Cornucopia. We discovered the most beautiful dress which we nicknamed the “Frog Spawn Dress” as it was white tuille covered in black spots. We bought the dress and took it home and cut the whole of the top half of the dress away from the bottom half, making it into just a skirt. We then started to talk about putting a project together with Little Emma, with the idea being one girl, one dress. And so these pictures were born.
We got together in Corinne’s flat and spent the whole day with myself, Corinne, Virginia, who was doing makeup, and yourself Neil. The boob tube I made from some rubber I bought at Berwick Street market in Soho. In that day we shot about 200 images, and by about late evening we were finished. I love the freeness of these pictures, and how we took a 15-year-old girl and put her in a big party dress. For me the pictures are life affirming.“