“I hate cameras,” the photographer once admitted in an interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph. “If I need to do a job I just rent them. The only cameras I own are a Leica CL that I got 20 years ago in America and a Hasselblad.” And yet, despite his disinterest in cameras themselves, O’Neill created an incredibly diverse and illustrious life’s work spanning more than 60 years. He was renowned for his candid celebrity portraits – especially the stars of the Swinging Sixties in London frequently found themselves in front of the photographer’s lens. O’Neill moved in these circles with a great sense of ease, portraying many of the era’s most iconic musicians, models, actors and celebrities – be it in the studio, at private parties, or out in the streets. The list of stars featured in O’Neill’s portraits is as long as it is impressive – from Sean Connery to Audrey Hepburn, from Elizabeth Taylor to Brigitte Bardot, Frank Sinatra and David Bowie.
One of his portrait sessions even turned into love: from 1983 to 1987, Terry O’Neill was married to American actress Faye Dunaway. In the course of his long career, he also photographed presidents, prime ministers and even the British Royal Family. In addition, his star portraits have adorned numerous historic movie posters and record covers.
Born in London on July 30, 1938, Terry O'Neill initially aspired to become a jazz musician, before discovering his passion for photography. After completing his National Service he found work in the photography department of the BOAC (later British Airways). It quickly transpired that he had found his calling. Even his first magazine assignment turned out to be a coup: when the Daily Sketch enlisted him to shoot a portrait series of an obscure new pop band called The Beatles, the issue sold out on the first day it was published.
In the decades that followed, O’Neill’s work was shown in every leading magazine around the world and showcased in numerous exhibitions. Earlier this year, the photographer was awarded the Commander of the British Empire order for his outstanding contribution to photography. In 2018, Leica honoured the artist with a special edition: the set, which was limited to just 35 units, was comprised of a Leica MP with cognac leather trim, a silver Summilux-M 50 f/1.4 ASPH, a matching cognac-coloured carrier strap, along with a previously unpublished, signed print showing Audrey Hepburn on the film set of Two for the Road.
Image credits: © Benjamin McMahon (First image)
© Iconic Images Limited (All other images)