If the 80s could be summed up by sequins, shoulder-pads, and stilettos, then the 90s was about something utterly contrary to that. Drawn, gaunt, and almost grubby it came to be known as heroin chic; and the fashion photographer responsible for this transition was Corinne Day.
Day was brought up by her grandmother and was a self-taught photographer. It was something that she came to after one job had already led to another career. She started out as a courier, flying packages across the world, but began modelling after it was suggested to her by a photographer who was seated next to her on a plane. When modelling, she met Mark Szaszy, the film maker who would become her life partner and would first hand her a camera.
There are two shoots in particular for which Day will be remembered, both featuring Kate Moss. The first was a 16 year old Moss frolicking half-naked on Camber Sands, dressed in clothes bought on Portobello Market—most notably a feathered head-dress—that featured in July 1990 issue of The Face. The second was Underexposed, shot for British Vogue in 1993. Yes, that was the series of photos that were variously described as ‘just this side of porn’, ‘hideous and tragic’, and ‘very young and very dead’. If photography is about provoking a reaction, she most certainly managed it.
But there was more to Day than these photos. She worked for British, Italian, and Japanese Vogue. She documented the lives of her friends, often in the direst and bleakest of situations: living in squats, ravaged by drug abuse, and bloodied by violence. She shot the cover of Moby’s album Play, and she was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and at the Science and Design Museums. Day’s photographs were intimate depictions of people.
This intrusive portrayal of people included herself. In 1996, Day collapsed, was rushed to hospital, and subsequently diagnosed with a brain tumour. This sequence of events, and the treatment of the tumour were all documented and published as Diary in 2001.
The tumour, however, returned. Despite extensive treatment, much of it paid for by funds raised by the Save the Day campaign organised by her friends to sell limited edition photograph prints, Day died at home, on Friday 27 August 2010.
Whether you find Day’s pictures shockingly arresting or naturally attractive, her influence on fashion photography is undeniable.
Corinne Day, photographer, 19 February 1965 — 27 August 2010.