In the 1990s, photographer Corinne Day strove to offer an alternative to the gloss and excess of the fashion of the previous decade. Day took natural, black and white photographs, including the now-iconic image of a young Kate Moss wearing an Indian headdress on a cold Camber Sands beach - the image that launched Moss’s career.
Day began her work in the fashion industry by modelling herself, but at 5ft 6in, she was considered too short for the catwalk and ended up concentrating on catalogue work. Whilst working abroad in Japan Day met Mark Szaszy, her partner of 25 years. She taught herself how to use Szaszy’s camera in her spare time and, when the couple later settled in Milan, began photographing other models. Day shot her subjects sitting in their pyjamas, with no make-up on or with bags under their eyes. She said that she felt that such images ‘had life’ and that they weren’t ‘bland, or fake or covered in makeup.’
A friend encouraged Day to take her documentary-style images of the models to Phil Bicker, then-editor of The Face. Bicker recognised Day’s talent and commissioned her for a fashion shoot. At this point, Day had been away from the UK for five years so did not have contacts or models to work with. She ended up going to a new modelling agency, Storm, and picking out Kate Moss. The images proved the beginning of a productive and enduring partnership.
In 1992 Day shot her first Vogue cover, an image of Moss staring into the camera, hair scraped back and wearing no make-up other than a touch of amateurishly-applied mascara. This simple image was pivotal and influenced many of the photographers, stylists and designers who work in the fashion industry today.
Later in the 90s, the style of image that Day had pioneered had become mainstream and, whilst her contemporaries began to shoot big ad campaigns and take jobs with glossy magazines, Day moved away from fashion photography to concentrate on documentary work. A collection of 100 shots from this period was published in 2000 in the book Diary.
The book’s raw images include pictures of Day being told she had a cancerous tumour in her brain, and being taken into surgery to have the tumour removed. By the time the book was published, however, Day’s cancer was in remission and she had begun to shoot fashion photography once again.
Between then and early 2010, Day regularly contributed to British, Italian and Japanese Vogue, as well as shooting for Cacharel and Hermes. The shots Day produced in this period were more glossy, but her signature quirks remained – in 2006, for example, she shot couture gowns outdoors at an eco-community in Somerset.
Day’s tumour sadly began to grow aggressively again towards the end of 2007. Though she tried out new treatments in Germany and the USA, the cancer proved terminal. Day’s funeral took place in Buckinghamshire this past Friday. She was 48. Day leaves behind a vast archive of unpublished documentary work, but it is her fashion photography that helped to define a generation. Sheryl Garratt wrote what I think is a fitting and beautiful tribute to Day in Saturday’s Guardian:
‘Day chose to overlook the euphoria of 1990s hedonism and concentrate instead on the comedown – her models often looked like they’d just got up after a great night, make-up smudged and hair unkempt. But there was also a warmth in her best pictures, an almost luminour quality that she captured in the people she photographed. Glamour never interested her, so rather than papering over the cracks, she focused on them. And in the process, she pioneered a new kind of imperfect, natural beauty.’