Terry O’Neill’s exquisite and candid portraits of the celebrities and culture of the 1960s and 1970s helped to define the era and preserve it for the future. His incisive photojournalism of creative and political luminaries, oftentimes in their most unguarded and early moments, has included Brigitte Bardot, The Beatles, Audrey Hepburn, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, Nelson Mandela, and many others. Over his six decade career, O’Neill has formed close bonds with many of his subjects, evidenced by the intimate, snapshot-style nature of his iconic photographs. As he advises, “You must like the people, that’s the key to any job. It comes through in the pictures: that’s the difference between a good picture and a bad picture.” His photographs display his knack for capturing his subjects candidly or in unconventional settings stemming from his ability to fade into the background and exercise discretion. Helping to define backstage reportage, O’Neill worked closely with Frank Sinatra for over 30 years being granted privileged access to the legend, was with the Beatles and Rolling Stones in 1963, and covered The Who, Chuck Berry, and Eric Clapton early in their music careers. His other subjects include political figures such as Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela, contemporary icons such as Amy Winehouse and Nicole Kidman, many members of the British royal family, as well as every James Bond from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig.
Terry O’Neill was born and raised in London and began his career working in a photographic unit for British Airways in the late 1950s. He photographed a sleeping figure at Heathrow Airport who happened to be Britain’s Home Secretary, spurring his subsequent employment at a tabloid in 1959. His first job was photographing Sir Laurence Olivier and he was soon a successful freelancer chronicling the emerging faces of film, fashion, and music that would go on to define the Swinging Sixties. By 1965 he was being commissioned by the biggest magazines and newspapers in the world. His work has appeared on the covers and in Life, Rolling Stone, Vogue, Newsweek, Time, and Vanity Fair and he has created iconic movie posters, album covers, and fashion images for designers. His photograph of Faye Dunaway the morning after she won her Best Actress Oscar in 1977 is considered one of the most iconic Hollywood images of all time, while his image of Brigitte Bardot smoking is perhaps the best known image of her. O’Neill is the recipient of numerous awards, and in 2011 he was awarded the Royal Photographic Society’s Centenary Medal. With such an illustrious career, O’Neill says, “I look back on my life and I can’t believe I did all those things.”