David Bailey and Bruce Weber Capture Harlem on Their Camera Phones

Published September 4, 2013

ABOVE: DAVID BAILEY ON LOCATION WITH HIS NOKIA 1020.

Few would refer to legendary fashion photographers David Bailey and Bruce Weber as “boring old farts”—aside from Bailey himself, of course. Between them, Bailey and Weber have shot for virtually every noteworthy fashion publication in existence, capturing the world’s most beautiful women, legendary actors and musicians, and, in Bailey’s case, even our very own Andy Warhol. The iconic photographers have been pals since Grace Coddington introduced them at a dinner party over 30 years ago; but, despite their mutual admiration and decades of working simultaneously, the two have never collaborated. Or rather, they had never collaborated until this summer, when they took to the streets of Harlem armed with Nokia smartphones.

The day after a sweltering nine hours on location in Harlem, Bailey and Weber relaxed in the air-conditioned rooftop bar at Soho’s James Hotel. “If it takes a picture, I’m going to use it,” says Bailey of using the Nokia 1020 smartphone to capture the neighborhood’s vibrant locals. Neither Bailey nor Weber are traditionally phone camera enthusiasts: they don’t use Instagram and neither knows what a “selfie” is. Bailey did, however, find at least one advantage to working with the phone as opposed to his usual bulky 10×8. “You can take it in all sorts of naughty places,” he says, grinning. Though the London-based photographer is not particularly well acquainted with Harlem, former New Yorker Weber was the ideal tour guide. “It was always my favorite place in New York,” says Weber. “I collect records and I used to go up there and get a lot of great vinyl.”

What is most apparent when Bailey and Weber are together is their appreciation for one another’s work. “Every time I look at his pictures I learn from him,” says Bailey of his colleague. Weber credits Bailey for teaching him to “go there,” a trait the swinging British photographer is famous for. Bailey recalls a time in which he “went there” while making a documentary about Warhol. “He said ‘I won’t do it unless we go to bed together,’ ” Bailey recalls. “So we did the interview in a bed together.”

Yes, this was an opportunity for Nokia to show off their fancy smartphone camera in the hands of two masters; but for Bailey and Weber it was simply another opportunity to do what they love, this time in the company of an old friend. Perhaps the only unpleasant aspect was the heat; but Bailey, being the seasoned professional he is, found a way to work around it. “There were a bunch of kids who had opened up a fire hydrant and water was spraying out,” says Weber. “And guess who was in it with all the kids? David.”