Terry O'Neill (1938-2019)


From the start of the 1960s and continuing until the present day the name of Terry O'Neill has become inextricably connected with some of the most interesting takes on photographic portraits of celebrities. From the Beatles and Rolling Stones in the 1960s to the Royal Family and the Prime Minister's family in more recent times Terry O'Neill has proved adept at recording the significant subjects of the day in a visually stimulating and sometimes unexpected way and thus illuminated history of our age.

Terry O'Neill was born on 30 July 1938 in the East End of London. His career as a photographer evolved by chance out of his first ambition to become a jazz drummer. Leaving school at fourteen and then doing his National Service his ambition was to go to America to study with the great drummers there. He thought that the best way to travel frequently and inexpensively to the USA would be to get a job as an air steward for BOAC. The airline at that time had no vacancies for stewards but suggested he took a vacancy in their technical photographic unit, which he combined with time at an art school and he then became interested in photojournalism.

At first, O'Neill worked as freelance at London Airport, later was offered a stunt as a reportage photographer at Heathrow. This was followed by three years in Fleet Street, with O'Neill at 21, the youngest photographer in Fleet Street taking pop pictures for the up-tempo Daily Sketch.

One thing lead to another and O'Neill quickly became a significant image-maker and one of the group of talented young photographers who helped create the photographic icons of the 1960s and create part of the buzz that became Swinging London. The peer group that emerged in this decade included David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy from the East End and Patrick Lichfield and Lewis Morley from other backgrounds.

Terry O'Neill's film connections and fifteen-year relationship, including a three-year marriage (1983-6) to the Hollywood star, Faye Dunaway, helped contribute to his profile and success internationally, particularly in America, from the 1970s onwards. His important commissions from American based international magazines such as Life and later the film magazine Premiere have all added to his reputation, whilst in London, his work is most frequently seen in the glossy pages of the Sunday Times Magazine.

Exhibitions at Alon Zakaim Fine Art:

Insider, 30 Cork Street, 15 May - 23 June 2013

Infamous, 5-7 Dover Street, 1 May - 8 June 2012