DJ: You also once told me that shooting in black and white is much easier than shooting in colour because you get distracted by colour. Can you explain that?
DB: No, I didn’t mean shooting, shooting is always difficult. It’s just that if you see colour, you think about the colour. If you think about a Van Gough picture, you think about yellow, but it’s about Van Gough. When people look at something, they don’t go direct to the image, they go to the colour, and then they look at the image. But with black and white, you have to go straight to the image. I do anyway. It looks more serious, too.
DJ: What was it like when you first started taking pictures of people, because you were doing a lot of repertoire and fashion photography, and then you started doing a lot of studio portraiture. What was the process of talking to people? Because I’ve seen you shoot lots of people, and you talk to them a lot before you start photographing. Why do you do that?
DB: It’s difficult to photograph somebody you don’t know. So when they come to the studio, I usually talk to them for maybe two hours before I photograph them, and the picture only takes 10 minutes. So in a way, it’s a shortcut to taking the picture, because then I know something about the person. You think you know something about a person, the way they dress, the poncey double breasted suit, the shiny shoes, so you take them in very quickly, the Rolex watch. I’ve already summed you up, and now I have to find out who you really are, underneath that suit.
DJ: I’ve seen you in action photographing people lots of times, but how do you deal with difficult people.
DB: Nobody’s difficult, they’re just in a bad mood or something, that’s how I see it. Why would they be difficult? I’m doing them a favour, they’re doing me a favour. I always fall in love with people in the hour or two hours I’m with them. I feel that I owe them something for giving me their time, and time is the only thing we’ve got. I’m very thankful if someone takes the trouble, so I always try to do my best, and make them look like how I think they should look. They might not think they should look like that, but if I did it any other way I’d be lying.
DJ: Who are the most difficult people to photograph?
DB: Difficult or dangerous? I suppose Ronnie Kray, he was difficult. I couldn’t get an assistant. I asked them all to come and shoot with me, they asked who it was with, and I said the Kray twins. They said no. Finally, John Swallow, who is sitting over there looking sheepish, said he’d come. We were with Francis Wyndham, who was a fantastic writer for the Sunday Times, and I spent about two weeks with the Krays.
DJ: You’ve always said that actors are difficult to photograph, because they’re always pretending to be other people.
DB: Yes. They’re not pretending, you don’t know who they are. I knew Peter Sellers quite well, he was always hanging out with Tony Snowdon, and you never knew who he was. He was like six different people, and it’s hard work being an actor, and it’s hard work to photograph them, because how do you know who you’re photographing? You could be photographing Lawrence Olivier, you could be photographing Lassie! It could be, from day to day it changes. It’s very confusing for the photographer, and I imagine quite confusing for them. Actors are really the most difficult, the don’t know who they are.