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Photographer David Bailey swaps supermodels for soldiers

By Laura Allsop for CNN
  • David Bailey went to Afghanistan to take photographs of British troops
  • Known for portraits of 60s icons like John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Catherine Deneuve
  • Bailey on his work: "I'm not interested in photography. I'm interested in you"

London, England (CNN) -- Photographer David Bailey may be more readily associated with supermodels than soldiers, but his latest series of photographs from Afghanistan prove he can capture subjects in camouflage as well as haute couture.

Best-known for his 1960s black and white photographs of John Lennon, notorious London gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray and model Jean Shrimpton, Bailey -- now in his 70s -- photographed British soldiers serving in Afghanistan in April.

The images are published in a book entitled "Heroes," sales of which will benefit Help for Heroes, a British charity supporting wounded servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I got two sons who are about (draft age) and I thought, I could go there and relate to that," he said.

The images he brought back are portraits of the troops rather than a panorama of war; cheery soldiers in their heavy military gear that show a different side to a long-running and brutal campaign.

"The guys are great -- it's about them really," said Bailey who was himself drafted to the British army in the 1950s.

When I photograph somebody I sort of fall in love with them when I am with them and they become the centre for that brief moment.
--David Bailey

A deep interest in people runs through all Bailey's work.

"I'm not interested in photography, I'm interested in you. The camera is just a thing that I use to do that," he said.

"Portraiture is about the person, it's kind of about us meeting. When I photograph somebody, I sort of fall in love with them when I am with them and they become the center for that brief moment," he added.

Some of his subjects famously stayed beyond the duration of a shoot.

French actress Catherine Deneuve and model Marie Helvin became his second and third wives respectively, and he counts models Shrimpton and Penelope Tree as girlfriends. He is currently married to model Catherine Dyer, with whom he has three children.

This year, Bailey celebrates 50 years of working with British Vogue. Designers Tom Ford and Mary Quant, and models Helvin and Jerry Hall, attended a star-studded event in London in May to celebrate his work for the self-proclaimed fashion bible.

These days, his work is regularly exhibited in galleries and museums across the world and a Bailey print can sell for tens of thousands of dollars at auction.

His work directing commercials has won him an Emmy and a Cannes Golden Lion. He has even turned his hand to making sculptures.

Bailey has come a long way from humble beginnings: "I was born in London in the East End, which the media always portrays as filled with gangsters, car thieves or boxers," he said.

"I don't think I started school 'til I was about eight because the war was on and then I left on my fifteenth birthday," he said. Suffering from undiagnosed dyslexia, Bailey was frequently told by his teachers that he wouldn't amount to much. He proved them wrong though, along with the journalists he encountered early on in his career.

"Journalists used to call photographers monkeys," he said. "But this one they didn't realize was going to turn into King Kong."