The curious work of Corinne Day seems to rear its ever-appealing head every now and again, just to remind us of a time gone by that we weren’t part of, and will never fully understand. Gaining worldwide notoriety with her famous, career-making shots of a teen Kate Moss on Camber Sands for The Face, Corinne’s groundbreaking photographs of quintessentially British, black-soled urchins were to become stuff of legend. Contrived shoots of hired models were never her thing, instead Corinne lifted her lens to those closest to her – the ones doing the washing up, smoking fags out of windows, watching telly. The fact that all her friends were rebellious models was just a bonus.
Three years after her untimely death, those that were closest to her have compiled a portion of Corinne’s life and work into a publication entitled May the Circle Remain Unbroken. Old friend Tara St. Hill, husband Mark Szaszy and ex-agent and friend Susie Babchick all came together to put into print a celebration of this extraordinary, rebellious woman’s life. In the days leading up to the book’s launch, Susie – who is now a photography consultant for Ridley Scott Associates – kindly told us about her relationship with Corinne, London in the 1990s, and that magical flat where Corinne’s best, most honest work was created.
Would you tell us a few lines about yourself and what you do?
I came to London at the very beginning of the 1990’s. I had just graduated from the University of Texas in Austin and I wanted to spend time working in the UK. I’ve been here ever since and after eventually running my own small photographic agency for ten years, I have recently joined RSA Films in Soho and represent a new photography division called RSA Photographic. We have photographers who make film and a selection of filmmakers who also have strong photography portfolios. Exciting times.
This exciting book has been a long time in the making! Why did it take such a long time?
That’s a good question, but I guess we never really know how long the run up to any release is. I have to remind myself that Corinne passed away in 2010 so to start a new book in 2011 was asking a lot. Corinne’s husband Mark spent some time in New Zealand which is where he is from – it was important for Mark to go back to his homeland and take it easy and explore. Besides that, the editing work started in one place in her archive and moved around. The book was evolving. Mark and Gimpel Fils gallery had Louise Bowan archive all of the negatives and then the book selection began. Tara St. Hill and Mark got to spend some good times together looking at all of the work for the first time ever without Corinne there. It had to be a therapeutic experience. They have not said that to me so much in words, but I feel that from talking to each of them.
The title of the exhibition is so beautiful, Heaven is Real – is there a story behind it?
That phrase came from a badge that Kate Moss was wearing in one of the earliest, most beautiful photographs that Corinne and Melanie Ward created for The Face magazine. The book itself is called May The Circle Remain Unbroken which is a song that Corinne loved by The 13th Floor Elevators, a psychedelic rock band from Austin, Texas in the 1960s that she was very inspired by. The song also has American church hymnal roots and it has to do with “a better place a’waitin, in the sky, Lord in the sky.” So, the words have to do with how we as people deal with death and also for all of us as friends and collaborators of Corinne’s, a circle of friends who have very deep-rooted memories of experiences with her.
How did you meet Corinne?
I was working as the publicist for a rock band called Pusherman who were signed to Sony Records and to Marcus Russell, who manages Oasis. A meeting was made for me to go to Corinne’s flat in Soho to talk about planning and producing a press photography shoot for the band. I knew exactly who Corinne Day was from all of the excitement about her distinctive, documentary style of photography and for the Kate Moss photographs – cover stories for The Face and Vogue.
I can still remember what I was wearing that day. I can still remember going up the stairs to her flat and how I was nervous but got the guts up to just go and meet her. She was so calm and welcoming, I think she could tell I was a little lost for words.
I met her boyfriend Mark as well who was a successful model who had gone on to become a well known video director. None of it seemed normal to me. We did a number of shoots together with the band. In studios, on location, on tour, Mark directed a really good video and we all understood the way each other worked, with Tara St. Hill styling all of the shoots and Paul Drummond creating all of the sets.
I can still remember what I was wearing that day. I can still remember going up the stairs to her flat and how I was nervous but got the guts up to just go and meet her. She was so calm and welcoming, I think she could tell I was a little lost for words.Susie Babchick
What London was like in the late 80s and 90s?
It was like a very happy lunatic asylum. Inhibitions went out the window. There was a feeling of liberation and integration and a colourful, British eccentricity. The music was very important to most people and for young people, it was also not a very materialistic time. It was a very creative, comical, poetic time.
Can you describe the infamous Brewer Street flat?
It’s in a small, original Art Deco building in Soho. It had two bedrooms at first and there was often someone staying with Corinne and Mark in the small guest room. The front room and kitchen were very basic at first too. Corinne had some interesting finds on display, like a beautifully crushed beer can, a huge branch of driftwood, the cool patterned orange sofa that looks so incredible. I still can’t get enough of seeing that sofa in her photographs.
In the book you’ll see the big, square modern, leather armchairs that are gaffer taped together all over. They looked incredible and were super comfortable. I’m sure I fell asleep in one of those more than once watching movies at their place. In time, Mark and Corinne turned the guest room into a very sleek, modernist kitchen with light coming in through the ceiling and the original kitchen was removed and opened up to make a larger front room. The patterned, orange sofa got sawed in half and moved out through the window (on the third floor). The leather chairs went and then the big, lush, comfortable modern sofas came and the walls all painted white with white blinds. It was done very beautifully and it was a sign to me of Corinne becoming more of a grown-up woman and less of the rebel.
"London in the 1990s was like a very happy lunatic asylum. Inhibitions went out the window. There was a feeling of liberation and integration and a colourful, British eccentricity."Susie Babchick
Why do you think it’s important to have a definitive, printed book of Corinne’s work?
The definitive book of Corinne’s work has not been made yet. This book is a slice of time from the 1990’s which shows Corinne’s experimentation with photographing her friends and the young models she worked with regularly in a crossover of documentary and fashion.
What was she like?
Corinne was born beautiful and talented. She had a tough upbringing which she referred to often. She was a badass and loved anything rebellious. She had a strong sense of justice and was more stubborn than anyone I’ve ever met. I actually learned a lot from her when it comes to not backing down when you believe in something. She was also unpredictable which is what made her work so fresh and she had a truly wicked sense of humour. Along with her great friends, Neil Moodie and Karl Plewka – it was non-stop bitchy, funny fun.
What was the highlight of being Corinne’s agent?
It seems like the book was a perfect chance for the old gang (you, Tara, Mark etc.) to get back together – is this true?
Yes. When the last exhibition went up at Gimpel Fils I started crying a little bit as I thought Corinne was going to walk in.
She’s inspired countless photographers, I see her work in almost everything that gets sent in to It’s Nice That. Do you think anyone will ever be able to replicate her talent?
I agree with you about that. I see her influence in so much newer photography work. I don’t see many of them really coming close. I recently started working with a photographer named Marlene Marino whose work I see as along the lines of Corinne’s. I think that if Corinne had the chance to see Marlene’s work, she would have liked it. They work similarly in the way they are inspired by the environment around them.
"She was a badass and loved anything rebellious. She had a strong sense of justice and was more stubborn than anyone I've ever met. I actually learned a lot from her when it comes to not backing down when you believe in something."Susie Babchick
What’s your personal favourite part of the book?
When you first set out to help with the book, what message were you keen to get across about Corinne’s work?
No message at all. Just a visual illustration of the times as Corinne saw them.
Do you have a favourite photo of Corinne’s?
George, Sunset from a series called England’s Dreaming.
Her photography is called the “visual equivalent to music,” especially when put alongside the grunge era. How much do you agree with that?
I do agree. Corinne’s photography was laced with music at all times. Corinne loved music with her heart and soul. There is music that will always remind me of her: Nick Drake, Patti Smith, Elliott Smith, Alexander “Skip” Spence. She also loved, Rock On by David Essex which was from an earlier era but an outstanding song through the decades. That song went on when Corinne was in the mood to turn the music up loud.