Author interview - James Clarke, 'Bond, Photographed by Terry O'Neill'

Photographer Terry O’Neill first began shooting Sean Connery as James Bond on the set of Dr No, signalling the start of an incredible creative collaboration that was to last decades and capture various actors in the title role. Now writer James Clarke presents O’Neill’s archive, including many rare and never seen images, in his book ‘Bond: Photographed by Terry O’Neill, The Definitive Collection’. We chat to him about the photographer and spy we all love.

How important were the Bond films to Terry O’Neill’s photographic career?

Terry's first on-set Bond-movie work was on Dr No but, and this, to some degree, reminds us that, at the time, it was just another job for him: it seems slightly unbelievable to us now but Terry never kept an archive of those particular images from that particular film.

What do you think his photographic style brought to the work?

Terry's background in photography for newspapers in the mid-1950s stayed with him terms of how he thought about the composition of a given shot; and I think that is particularly true of the material that he captured on set. He very clearly lends an immediacy to the event he is recording. In our book, I find that his images of cast and crew working through fight scenes really communicate a concentrated, collaborative energy.

What do the images reveal about the working environment of the Bond film sets?

As well as the creative energy that Terry was able to capture images of, his images also reveal something of the fascination of having a Bond movie filming on location. One has only to look at the section in the book showing Connery on location in Las Vegas for Diamonds Are Forever to get a sense of that.

Can we glean what O’Neill’s personal thoughts were about the work and his subjects?

I think it's fair to say that Terry took a very low-key approach to his work and really saw it as that. Having said that, it seems to me that as his relationship with the Bond movie-world developed he grew increasingly affectionate towards it and spoke very warmly about a number of longstanding friendships that came out of the work he did. Indeed, in the book we have a really lovely conversation with Jane Seymour that was conducted specifically for the book and she, in turn, talked with such affection for Terry and the work that they did together, most significantly ahead of production beginning on Live and Let Die in 1972.

What do the shots reveal about the different characters of the stars?

What comes across is a certain intensity whether it's Connery, Moore, Brosnan or Lazenby. That intensity might be geared towards dramatic tension but equally there's a playful intensity that his images capture, too, usually in the more candid shots taken on set and also in a given portrait scenario.

O’Neill’s portraits of Connery and Moore are well known, so how come so many of these images have never been seen before?

Back in early 2019, Terry started to work on this book and as he started to go through his archive at Iconic Images in London, he was amazed at just how many on-set photos there were that had not yet scanned. It's useful to know that when the original photos were taken, only a few were ever sent off to press outlets to help promote the film. What that has resulted in is a wide range of images that were never made available to the press and so, for fans of O'Neill and fans of the Bond movies, they are getting to see images that are in print for the first time. As a fan, I know all too well that goosebump moment when you see an image from a given film that you've never come across before when you think you've seen them all. I've said this elsewhere but with Terry's passing last autumn, the book has become even more acutely a celebration of his work.

How did his 'Bond photographic style' evolve with the films?

Critically, Terry's images have played a key part in shaping our collective recognition of what makes for a Bond movie. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as his familiarity with cast and crew evolved over the years, Terry's images became more immediate and he was able to find opportunities for capturing those quiet moments at the edge of, or far beyond, a given film set. For me, the images that carry the most appeal are the more candid ones that capture a moment of repose between takes or just speak to the friendship that he enjoyed with his colleagues on set and on location.

What made him the perfect photographer for the job?

I talk about this at more length in the book but Terry ventured into movie-work subsequent to having established himself as a photographer who had tapped into the newly emerging youth culture of the late 50s and early 60s and I think this affinity and sense of what was considered cool and urbane by people, and which really resonated with them, allowed him to bring that out in the images of big movie stars.

What challenges did he face on set?

There were certainly technical challenges in terms of reconciling his lighting needs with the arrangement of lighting for a given set. Whilst it's not everyone's favourite Bond movie, the spoof Casino Royale is included in the book. Terry documented it so thoroughly and entertainingly and, from his accounts, the tension between Peter Sellers and Orson Welles on the set of that film took some negotiating.

How well have the images aged?

The images have aged very well and they are a really key resource now for understanding the power that a pop culture character like James Bond has on peoples' imaginations. Also important is that Terry's images really played their part in the evolution of the 'event movie' release. Nostalgia, it would seem, plays a big part now in how we look at Terry's images. And, as a broader note, some of Terry's images from the Bond era capture something of a very specific broader cultural experience, namely the arrival of affordable, commercial air-travel. The glamour of that mode of transport was certainly part of Bond's appeal. It's been said many times before, too, but Terry's images of Connery and Lazenby and Moore and Brosnan and Craig all play their part in shaping the allure and appeal of Bond as a style icon.

What makes them still so sought-after today?

Terry's images have such appeal because they express not only that Bond vibe but, more broadly, his images of the Bond movie-world speak to a certain glamour.

Any O’Neill anecdotes about the work you can share with us?

Certainly, our book has its share of such stories but two that stand out are the recollections Terry shared about his work on the fractious set of Casino Royale and also his very warm recollections of working Connery in Vegas. One of the other anecdotes that we narrate in the book relates to the famous image of Connery hitting a golfball on a moon-set at Pinewood during production on Diamonds Are Forever. That's a classic example of Terry recognising the combined appeal of pop-culture (Connery as movie star), a character (Bond) and a big global event (astronaut Alan Shepard playing golf on the Moon during the NASA mission there in February 1971).

Which are your favourite photos and why?

My favourite images include the material that captures the staging of fights on the set of a couple of the movies and another is a colour image of Connery in character as Bond in Las Vegas looking rather downbeat. Whilst I know that Casino Royale starring David Niven is not considered 'canonical' in the Bond movie world it is an essential Bond film in terms of Terry O'Neill's contribution to the Bond movie-world and there is an image, that we have in the book, of David Niven standing still as an explosion goes off all around him. It's like a live action 'Looney Tunes' image. Also among my favourites are the images that we have of George Lazenby as Bond.

How did you select final images and what were the main challenges for you with the book?

Well, we spent some time during the summer of 2019 working through Terry's Bond archive at Iconic Images in London and the key decision we made was to organise the first part of the book around the actors who have portrayed Bond: Connery, Moore, Lazenby, Brosnsn, Craig. Terry just wasn't around the Bond movie-world when Timothy Dalton portrayed the character, hence there being no images from The Living Daylights or Licence to Kill in the late 1980s. We also found that we had so many images of the actresses in and out of character during their work on a given Bond movie that we wanted to do all we could to showcase those women.

Terry’s Bond portraits, especially those of Sean Connery and Roger Moore, are some of his most collected prints. When it was announced that a new Bond film was forthcoming, Terry started to work on this book – around the start of 2019, just before I came on board - with the original intention to publish around the same time as the new film (No Time To Die). As Terry started to go through the files, we were amazed at how many on-set photos were in the archive that were not yet scanned. Back when the original photos were taken, only a few were ever sent off to press outlets to help promote the film and so the good news for us and for readers with this book is that so many of the on-set images that are included in it are being published here for the first time and so it’s incredibly satisfying to share them with the world.

Find out more about 'Bond: Photographed by Terry O'Neill, The Definitive Collection'