“Stars,” an exhibition of works by late British photographer Terry O’Neill, opens at New York’s Fotografiska in June with an eye on the celestial plane. Or something close enough: the 110 images, snapped between 1963 and 2013, sees O’Neill train his lens on earth’s biggest celebrities at work and at play—engaging in some cricket on break, lounging by the pool after winning an Oscar, commanding a stadium-sized audience. It’s proof finally that celebrities are, in fact, not like us.
Born 1938 to Irish parents in Romford, Essex, O’Neill started his career in the technical photographic unit of an airline at London’s Heathrow Airport. He acquired an Agfa Silette camera to photograph people around the facilities for fun, and caught a picture of home secretary Rab Butler slumbering, “surrounded by a group of African chieftains dressed in full tribal regalia,” Fotografiska exhibition manager Phoebe Weinstein told Artnet News.
That shot got O’Neill a job at the British tabloid Daily Sketch in 1959, where he documented Britain’s rising youth culture, befriending the Beatles and the Rolling Stones before they were big. He went on to accompany the likes of Elton John and David Bowie on tour—and married actress Faye Dunaway six years after iconically capturing the morning after her first Academy Award.
O’Neill later switched to Leica, which he stuck with for most of his career. “The Leica was very important to me,” he once said. “It was a fabulous camera to use—quick as a flash, anywhere, any time.” With it, O’Neill immortalized boxing legend Muhammad Ali, filmmaker Spike Lee, and numerous players of James Bond through the ages. Though best known for his candid shots, his posed images do not lack for a looseness and spontaneity either.
“Stars” marks O’Neill’s largest U.S. exhibition to date—and his first museum solo show in New York City. There, visitors can explore his work according to subject matter and theme. “There is a lot of crossover with the subjects that Terry photographed, but he was also very dedicated and close to certain subjects,” Weinstein said. “I believe the way the exhibition is organized reflects that.”
And why now for an O’Neill retrospective? Well, Weinstein offered, excusing her pun, the stars at this moment have simply aligned.