When I lived in Brixton in the late Eighties, schoolgirl Kate Moss (dressed in her school uniform) was a regular fixture on the buses which passed by my Tulse Hill Estate abode. She was making her way into the West End from her Croyden home and, no doubt, she was passing her amateur portfolio around the model agencies and magazines of the Soho fashion jungle.
While Moss was trundling into town Corrine Day was a wannabe photographer also trawling the Soho main drag, looking for an unknown adolescent model with whom she could work on something fresh, something which ran contrary to the prevalent Reagan/Miami Vice/Lets Dance ethos which declared that it was hip to be square. After looking through a pile of portfolios in an agency one day she came across scrawny fourteen year old Kate Moss, sought her out, and became her friend. They listened to Nirvana and The Stone Roses together. They did photographs in back yards and sitting rooms until, one day in 1990 when the young model was fifteen, they went to Camber Sands to do a session. When the images they caught that day appeared in style bible The Face, they gave birth to the "grunge look" or "junkie chic."
"I liked her as soon as I saw her," Day said. "I think there was a bit of narcissism there because she was 5'7". and skinny like me. I'd been tortured at school for my shape, and had a hard time for it as a model. I thought she'd have some of the problems I'd had, and wanted to help." Moss said, "Corinne just wanted to bring out everything that I hated when I was fifteen. My bow legs, the mole on my breast, the way I laughed".
Those Camber Sands images are generally thought to have changed the course of fashion photography. Day said that, "The "grunge look" as people called my style, simply showed girls as they really are, without make-up, styled hair, and flattering light."
Cut to 2006 and the Kate Moss bandwagon, despite some bumpy rides and colorful detours, rolls on apace. Day's Camber Sands photographs - and some of the contact sheets from that historic session - went on show yesterday at Gimpel Fils, a London art gallery of impeccable repute.
The Gimpel family are now fourth generation art dealers, having started in Paris when the great grandfather sold, amongst others, Renoir. The London gallery was founded in 1946 by brothers Charles and Peter Gimpel. In the 50s and 60s they were associated with the avant-garde, giving Lynn Chadwick and Anthony Caro their first shows, alongside exhibitions of Marcel Duchamp and Yves Klein.
The opening party was a nicely subdued affair attended by beautiful looking women aged between sixteen and seventy, art-buying kind of guys in suits, and some buff dude/male model/Hoxton-style young men. Despite the presence on the door of two formidable looking, but pleasant, ponytailed bouncers, there was no sign of Kate Moss.
I'm used to seeing her around town in the company of mutual friends or hanging out with certain well known men at scene watering holes like The Boogaloo. Given the life she leads (and the sort of pressure she was under during the whole Pete Doherty melee), Kate is always a nice girl. In a manipulative fashion world full of users and assholes, she is an exceptionally agreeable, civilized presence. If Corrine Day's photographs are anything to go by, she was always a pleasant person. There is a tenderness or incorruptibility about these long-ago images which seems, with the benefit of hindsight, profoundly commercial and beguiling. You'd buy a used car off that 1990 girl. Ironically, it is the more demure images which are the most beguiling, thought the topless shot of her wearing a crown is brimming over with what it is to be human.
All the works are on sale in an edition of 10 and prices start at ¬£5000.
Corinne Day - Fifteen Gimpel Fils, London, 21 February - 1 April 2006
A chance encounter with Kate Moss... Behind the Counterculture #14
Joe Ambrose has written 12 books, the most recent being Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. He is currently writing a book about the Spanish Civil War.