Celebrity Photographer: Getting to Know Terry O’Neill

Terry O'Neill has become one of the most famous celebrity photographers of all time, but his early ambitions had nothing to do with visual arts. Born on July 30, 1938 in London, England, O’Neill was a jazz drummer before he became a photographer. At the age of 20, O'Neill sought employment as a steward with British Airways. His goal? To play at clubs in New York and London between flights across the ocean.

He started his career as the youngest commercial photographer working at The Daily Sketch. It was his photographs of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles that set the standard for all pop-music and celebrity photography in the mid-20th century.

O'Neill has admitted that he was lucky to "start at the top," taking photos of top artists like the Beatles. "I stumbled into photography," he's quoted as saying.

Today, Terry O'Neill's work is hanging in top galleries around the world. As his career continued, he moved far beyond his job with the Daily Sketch and came to work for major publications like Vanity FairNewsweekLife, and Time magazine. His work also grew beyond photographs of celebrities. Today, his work expands photos of royalty, prime ministers, and presidents.

His First Celebrity Photographs

Terry O’Neill photographs of the Beatles started his career. The photographs were taken near the beginning of his time working at the Daily Sketch, when the band was recording their famous song called “Please Please Me”.

The photoshoot was a success, and the resulting photographs have gone down in history with the Beatles themselves. Soon after, O'Neill was asked which band he wanted to photograph. His response: Rolling Stones. He went on to photograph the Rolling Stones multiple times, with results that are now iconic.  

In the years that followed, O’Neill was called by many celebrities for photographs. It became well-known in the industry that his photographs are likely to become famous, thus boosting the subject’s career. It was this reputation that made his career skyrocket as it did.

Unposed, Iconic and Genuine

People have been analysing Terry O'Neill's portraits for decades. What makes his work so different? Why is an O'Neill portrait better than many other photographers?

Part of the beauty of his photographs is his ability to be in the right place at the right time. By gaining the trust of celebrities and connections in the media, O'Neill was able to capture images that no one else could.

Still, there's something else about O'Neill that strikes art lovers and enthusiasts. He has been known to capture images of famous, inaccessible people in moments of vulnerability. Take, for example, In Bed with Goldie Hawn, is a classic example of O'Neill's ability to capture famous figures in quiet moments. In this portrait, Goldie Hawn rests in bed, hair tousled, eyelids low as she stares into the camera. It is a moment caught in time, one most people would never see.

In another example, Audrey Hepburn's Dove shows Ms. Hepburn looking down while a dove rests on her shoulders. The actress herself seems almost unaware that a bird has landed casually and comfortably on her body. 

Moments Captured

Celebrities have the ability to remind us of ourselves. When we see a picture of an actor or actress, we remember their movies, how they made us feel, and what was happening in our lives when we saw them.

Terry O’Neill’s portraits capture those memories, and through his photographs, we relive those feelings. His portraits are full of raw emotion, beauty, and even a little nostalgia for old Hollywood and our own past.

Faye Dunaway’s Famous Photograph

Faye Dunaway’s Morning After photo taken the night after she won the Oscar in 1977 is perhaps his most popular. 

Lounging by the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Faye Dunaway stares out dreamily. Her expression is unreadable but somehow distant. People have long praised this photograph as being the quintessential Hollywood photo.

The appeal is more than her casual slouch in the lounge chair, and her distant, almost disappointed expression. It’s also the contrast of her natural, candid body language, set against the backdrop of a glamorous but empty hotel. In this photograph, she is larger than life and she looks much like the rest of us, tired after a long night. 

Collect Your Terry O’Neill Portraits at The Lyons Gallery

The Lyons Gallery carries Terry O’Neill prints of celebrities ranging from Robert Redford to Audrey Hepburn. Whether you’re a new or experienced collector, The Lyons Gallery prints are fabulous pieces that are a worthwhile addition to your collection.

Buy prints online or come to our gallery to see our collection in person. We’ll be happy to help you browse our selection or decide which print is right for you.