On 28 February 1974, Rolling Stone magazine published a remarkable interview between rock icon David Bowie and famed author William Burroughs. David Bowie had recently retired the Ziggy Stardust persona and was opening a new chapter of his music career. This encounter between the two icons – Bowie was a huge admirer of Burroughs – became one of the classic pieces in rock journalism ever published. Terry O’Neill’s image of the two accompanied the feature.
Terry remembers the encounter well. “It was only a few weeks after I first photographed David Bowie that he rang-me up. I remember him saying ‘you have to come over to the office and meet the most interesting person.’ It was hard to turn down an opportunity like that! When I arrived, David introduced me to William Burroughs. I have to admit, I wasn’t familiar with Burroughs or his work. I could tell that David was absolutely inspired by this guy. I just thought, well, I’ll just take some photos of Bowie with this man, and that would be that. Little did I realize how important those photographs would be.
“A few months later, Rolling Stone magazine reprinted one of my photos as a full page to go along with a long interview with David Bowie and William Burroughs. Only then after reading the interview, did I realize how important William Burroughs was – especially to David. At the time, I didn’t connect the author of Naked Lunch to the man I met in the office. And I got some great shots of them together.
“I gave David one of the Kodak test prints from that shoot. He graffitied the print; colouring the suits, adding some bright orange to his hair. He wrote on top of that image ‘2 Wild Boys’ and on the side scribbled ‘B&B.’ This is the image most people know, because David was very smart and kept it. He was not only a genius, but he kept a very extensive archive of his work, including costumes, shoes, scripts, notes and art. The original print, embellished by David, was a big part of the V&A’s extraordinary exhibit ‘Bowie Is’ that now is on tour world-wide and opens in Barcelona later this Summer. It’s an extraordinary exhibition.
“It was only recently that my original prints were discovered. I thought these negatives were either destroyed or thrown-away. You have to remember, back then photographers didn’t think to keep their negatives for future use. Photos, especially of celebrities, rock-stars and so forth, were for the press the next day – and that was it. When we were completing my book ‘Bowie by O’Neill’, that I published last year, that we were able to locate these images. I worked with my printer and production team and I’m thrilled we are finally able to offer this as a signed, fine-art piece.”