A month-long exhibition showing iconic shots of Frank Sinatra is at JBR’s Gallery One this March. Their creator, Terry O’ Neill, is one of the world’s greatest living snappers. His colourful career has produced intimate pictures of celebs from Judy Garland to The Beatles, and he even found time to squeeze in a short-lived marriage to Faye Dunaway. So why dedicate an entire exhibition to Frank? ‘When you’re working with someone you take them for granted, you know what I mean?’ is O’Neill’s easygoing reply. ‘It’s only after he died that I truly realised how great he really was. This is my way of sharing that with other people.’
‘This is a portrait I shot of him. It was really rare for him to pose for a picture. To be honest he couldn’t be bothered with it – the one thing he gave his all to was singing. He was the greatest singer of all time, without a doubt.’
‘This was during a break in filming. When Frank walked into a room your eyes would just go to him. He had this magnetic personality that drew you in. No one else I’ve shot had his presence. Maybe Paul Newman a bit, but nobody really came near.’
‘You get that feeling of vulnerability about him in this shot, don’t you?’ says O’Neill. ‘He’s just not aware of me; it’s not at all posed.’ The singer’s ex-wife, Ava Gardner, had written O’Neill a letter of introduction to Sinatra. ‘After that,’ says O’Neill. ‘I could shoot him doing anything. At the time I didn’t realise what an opportunity that was.’
‘Everyone’s always intrigued by how I ever got in the position to take “in the moment” shots like this. Ava Gardner opened the door for me and it stayed open for 40 years [Sinatra died in May 1998]. Frank was quite a good photographer himself – people don’t know that about him.’
Dressing room Frank
‘This was when I first met him in 1967, getting ready before a show. He was filming during the day and singing at night. I was doing a story for Life magazine. Frank’s marriage with Mia Farrow broke up and then he fell out with the writer, so the article never ran.’
Gallery One at The Walk, JBR, until March 30, free. Open 10am-10pm daily.