© by The Face (#22 July 1990) »The Daisy Age« / Photography Corinne Day / Styling Melanie Ward / Makeup Shiralee Law / Hair Drew Jarrett / Images via TFS
Corinne Day, whose frank, unadorned photos of a teenage Kate Moss in the early 1990s helped inaugurate a new era of gritty realism in fashion photography that came to be called »grunge,« died last Friday at her home in Denham, a village in Buckinghamshire, England.
The cause was a cancerous brain tumor, said her agent, Susan Babchick. According to her web site, Ms. Day was 45, but public records indicate she was 48. Ms. Day’s passion to record the most profound human experiences with a camera was never more evident than the day in 1996 when the tumor was discovered after she had collapsed in New York. She promptly asked her husband to shoot pictures of her, and they continued the project through her treatment and decline. »Photography is getting as close as you can to real life,« she said, »showing us things we don’t normally see. These are people’s most intimate moments, and sometimes intimacy is sad.«
Corinne Day built her reputation on unrelenting visual honesty. She refused to airbrush the bags from under models’ eyes or de-emphasize their knobby knees. She eschewed pretty locations or even studios in favor of shooting people in their own environments. It added up to a startling detour from the glossy world of supermodels — »subversion,« in Ms. Day’s own phrase.
There were two defining moments along the way, both involving Kate Moss. The first was in 1990, when some of the first published fashion photographs of Ms. Moss, taken by Corinne Day, appeared in the British magazine The Face. One showed Ms. Moss topless; another suggested she was naked. She wore a mix of designer and secondhand clothes and no makeup over her freckles, and her expression was sincere. The photos seemed to usher in a new age of anti-fashion style. Artlessness became art. Some called it »grunge.«
The second moment, in 1993, was a shoot for British Vogue that featured a pale and skinny Kate Moss in mismatched underwear. A public outcry ensued, as some claimed that Kate’s waifish figure seemed to imply she was suffering from an eating disorder or drug addiction.
On her agent’s advice, Ms. Moss stopped working with Corinne, with whom she had become close friends. Ms. Day said she was tired of taking fashion pictures, anyway. »I think fashion magazines are horrible,« she said in an interview with the British newspaper The Observer in 1995. »They’re stale and they say the same thing year in and year out.«
The grunge aesthetic took hold for several years in designer imagery of the 1990s, most visibly in Calvin Klein’s influential fragrance and jeans campaigns, and also in street fashion, with the throwaway style of flannel shirts and distressed jeans, as popularized by Kurt Cobain and the burgeoning Seattle music scene.
Corinne Day’s eventually took fashion photos again, including ones of Kate Moss that are in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London. But her aspiration was to document the lives of the people she knew best, and her »Diary,« published in 2000, told visual stories, including those of a single mother struggling to survive.
Corinne Day was born in Ealing, a town in west London. She said that her mother had run a brothel and that her father had robbed banks. They divorced when she was 5, and her grandmother raised her. As a girl, she said, she liked to spend hours in the photo booth at Woolworth’s with her friends. She left school at 16, worked briefly as a trainee in a bank, then flew around the world as an airline courier. A photographer she met on a plane suggested that she take up modeling, and she did, for Guess Jeans. In Japan she met a filmmaker, Mark Szaszy, who taught her to use a camera — they would later marry — and she began taking pictures of the drab private lives of her fellow models, who seemed so glamorous in public. »There was a lot of sadness,« she said in an interview with The Guardian in 2000. »We couldn’t buy the clothes we were photographed in, couldn’t go out and do the things we would have liked to do as teenagers.« She took her work to the art director at The Face, who asked her to shoot some fashion pictures. She prowled the modeling agencies with a Polaroid and found Kate, whom she likened to »the girl next door.« They lived, worked and prospered together for three years. »Corinne’s pictures, you might say, made Kate, and Kate made Corinne’s reputation,« The Evening Standard said in 2007.
Corinne Day is survived by her husband as well as her parents and two brothers. Even at the height of her celebrity, in 1993, she told The Guardian that her personal sartorial goal was to look »unstyle.« »I don’t take fashion too seriously,« she said. (by Douglas Martin)
CORINNE DAY Website / on Wikipedia