Terry O’Neill was born to Irish parents in East London in 1938. He began his career working in a photographic unit for an airline at London’s Heathrow Airport. During this time, he photographed a sleeping figure in a waiting area who happened to be the Home Secretary at the time. O’Neill then found further employment at The Daily Sketch in 1959. His first professional job was photographing Laurence Olivier.
While other photographers focused on earthquakes, wars and politics, O’Neill began chronicling the emerging faces of film, fashion and music who would go on to define the Swinging Sixties. By 1965 he was being commissioned by the biggest magazines and newspapers in the world. As well as photographing celebrities such as Judy Garland, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. He also photographed members of the British Royal Family which were important in showing a more human side to them. He was able to capture his subjects relaxed or in unconventional settings. No other photographer has captured as many icons from Winston Churchill to Nelson Mandela, from Audrey Hepburn to Nicole Kidman. He photographed The Beatles and The Rolling Stones when they were still struggling young bands in 1963. As well as pioneering backstage photography with artists such as David Bowie, Elton John, and Eric Clapton. His images have adorned historic rock albums, movie posters and international magazine covers.
O’Neill’s photographs of Elton John are among his best known. A selection of them appeared in the 2008 book Eltonography. Also considered among his most famous images are a series of American actress Faye Dunaway who was his girlfriend at the time.
Terry O’Neill CBE was one of the world’s most collected photographers. He has work hanging in national art galleries and private collections worldwide. From presidents to pop stars he photographed the frontline of fame for over six decades. He died in 2019 at the age of 81 but his legacy continues to live on.
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