Glenn O'Brien on Corinne Day

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Kate in jumper on chair, 1991
Kate in jumper on chair, 1991Photography by Corinne Day; From May the Circle Remain Unbroken, 2013

On the release of May the Circle Remain Unbroken, writer and cultural commentator Glenn O'Brien considers the life and work of one of Britain's great photographic talents

We owe so much to Corinne Day. In her brief career, cut cruelly short by the brain tumour that killed her, she not only coined a style – becoming what Glenn O’Brien calls “the first punk fashion photographer” – but she helped create an icon in the shape of a teenage Kate Moss, and record a zeitgeist in the shape of 90s grunge culture. Ultimately she walked away from fame back into the arms and security of her friends, leaving behind a legacy both of iconic fashion photography and the simple day-to-day existence of her inner circle, visual stories of young people, hanging out. This month, nearly four years on from her death, Morel Books publishes May the Circle Remain Unbroken, a collation of Day’s early, personal work, and to mark its release, here we present an extract from Glenn O’Brien’s fantastically powerful introduction.

Corinne Day’s photographs changed fashion photography. She started the new thing and even though that was twenty years ago now, it still looks new. She was sort of to fashion what the The Clash were to rock – socially revolutionary, anti-snob, idealistic, funny, blunt… the purest and fiercest of them of them all. A former model, she learned how to use a camera from her boyfriend Mark, and was soon shooting for The Face. She wasn’t a technician but she knew how to take a perfect picture because she had a perfectionist’s eye.

Corinne was the doyenne of what came to be called it grunge. She was genius at what Andy Warhol called “getting it exactly wrong.” The word grunge, apparently a meld of grubby and dingy – was borrowed by the press from a term in use to describe Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, and various other bands from the Pacific Northwest.  Before the musical moment, grunge was just another word for filth, a sort of shabby persistent filth. After the musical moment it became another word for realism, a sort of dissident undercover form of beauty.

"Corinne was the doyenne of what came to be called it grunge. She was genius at what Andy Warhol called “getting it exactly wrong.”"

Ultimately Corinne returned to her world, a world “hors de commerce.” A world of friends and mates, not contacts. A world of dreamers. A world of originals, not copies. Not a world of conspicuous consumption and frenzied fashion but a world of “that’s good enough for me.” And that’s why these pictures look as fresh today as they did the day they were made – they are about the timeless quality of the real live moment and making it up as it happens.

Text by Glenn O'Brien

May the Circle Remain Unbroken is published by Morel Books on April 28.