To mark the release of the late photographer's new book, muse and friend Tara St Hill recalls memories of Day and gives a rare glimpse into her unseen archive
Corinne Day was the photographer of a generation – the woman credited with launching Kate Moss’s career, she spent the 90s working for magazines from The Face to Vogue and establishing a raw, documentary-style aesthetic within fashion photography. When she died of a brain tumour in 2010, she left behind an indelible legacy that is celebrated in a new book May The Circle Remain Unbroken complied by her husband, Mark Szasy, and her best friend and collaborator, stylist Tara St Hill. To mark the release of the book, we spoke to St Hill and reveal never-before-seen images given to her by Corinne Day.
”I was 16 when I met Corinne. My boyfriend at the time, George, came home one day and said that this girl Sarah (who I later realised was Sarah Murray) had come up and asked if her friend could photograph him for a magazine called The Face. He told me that she lived in Soho – I said, “a girl who lives in Soho isn’t going to photograph you, are you mad?!” but out of curiosity we went into town the next day. We found Brewer Street and buzzed up to the second floor and Corinne was there. We spent the afternoon hanging out, chatting and smoking spliff and arranged to meet a week later at a studio. That was the first shoot I saw her do – a punk story. I loved it, loved that day, watching that shoot.
Corinne and I got on so well that we ended up spending a lot of time together – four days a week I was sleeping on her sofa or she was round mine – and she was always taking pictures, the whole time. It was just pictures of us all hanging out but we’d put stuff on people – like, Rocky did not have leopard print creepers and a V-neck, sleeveless jumper, that was not his style! So, there was a certain amount of manipulation with the images; yes, the coffee table had that stuff on it but we’d move it around, make it look better. I’d always help her make stuff for the shoots she did and we’d chat about ideas and go shopping together. One day, Mark was just like, “Why don’t you style?” Until then, I hadn’t thought about it at all. I was like, “Yeah, why don’t I?”
The first thing we ever properly did together was for Ray Gun magazine, shooting Georgina Cooper. Young girls would constantly come to the flat with their books and I remember the day that Georgina came because she had this little false tooth in the gap between her teeth. We asked her to take it out and she did, and it was major so, we were like, “let’s do it!” We put her in this 80s batwing dress with leopard print down one side that we found in a charity shop – everything we used was vintage, we were constantly looking for stuff and taking it to pieces. One day we found a red dressing gown in a charity shop for two quid and turned it into a dress that we used in Cigarettes & Alcohol [the Oasis video] because it had this little Japanese symbol on it. I’ve still got it. We’d just sit around together sewing and pinning and making shit, looking through books – we’d see something we’d love, an idea, an image, something that someone was wearing and it’d set us on a path. And we’d get fixated on ridiculous things – I was obsessed with beer cans that were flattened in the road, so we did one story for Purple magazine where we made a belt out of them. We had Mark drilling holes in them all and fixed it all together with paperclips.
I suppose that I wasn’t very business-minded because I just loved doing it, but commercial jobs came up: pop stuff, promos, working with bands – people like Oasis, Blur, The Pogues, Aphex Twin, The Cranberries, Adam F. Adam F was only into the super-minimal, so one time he turned up at my place in a white car, wearing a white outfit, and he lived in this beautiful white house. I was living in a burnt-out squat in Newington Green where all the grates and vents had melted into looking like monster faces and all of the banisters were warped. It was an amazing place, but his face was horrified. I was like, “Err, here are your clothes!”
Then, in 1998, I had my daughter, Mia. Me and Corinne worked together for a few years after that, up until around Mia was about four and my Crohn’s Disease got really bad. Then, Diary came out and it put a bit of a strain on things – it was funny because people who knew me knew that I was a stylist and that I was Corinne’s best friend, but the book didn’t necessarily tell that story, it made me look a bit unprofessional. I didn’t do anything that anyone else wasn’t doing but, in my case, it was all out there. But we worked through it and I sorted myself out, concentrated on staying well. Then, when I found out Corinne was ill, we got back to spending as much time together as we could. It was really strange because, right at the end, we ended up in hospital together. She was at UCH – which is where I go for my Crohn’s – and we were only two floors apart. I was in the middle of a six-month stint there, and she was in for a good long while too. I felt really blessed that I got to spend that time with her, with Mark, chatting, just being with her. You don’t often get to be there like that at the end.
After she died, I spent a lot of time with Mark. We buried Corinne on the day before Mia’s 12th birthday, and we had the funeral in the back garden of her cottage. Then, a year later, we had Mia’s 13th birthday there – it seemed really right, really important. Corinne made a huge impression on Mia, she used to make such a fuss of her. She was there the day that she was born and then, when Mia was two, she made me this beautiful book filled pictures of the two of us. Mia has brilliant memories of her. She’s 16 now, she doesn’t keep much, but she has the things that Corinne gave her.
Then, a few years ago, Mark came to me and said he was making the book and showed me an edit of pictures. I had a look and thought there were some stuff that needed to be in there and wasn’t – so he said “Well, are you gonna help then?” So, we met at the gallery where the archive was and started back at box number one – and there are a lot of boxes. We did two days a week for two years. There were points towards the end when I was in hospital, sitting with Mark and a thousand pictures covering my bed, removing stuff, putting stuff in. Some of it would make us laugh but other days were really, really difficult and there were times when we’d end up with twenty, thirty pictures of Corinne and nothing else. We had to be hard about the choices we made, what we were trying to say with the book. It was difficult to get it down to 200 images – and then the whole process began of ordering them all.
At that point, we thought it was really important to get someone else in who we both trusted – so I spoke to Donald [Christie], who was a dear friend of us all, and asked if he’d look at it. There came a point where we were so entrenched in it all that we needed a fresh set of eyes that wasn’t so emotionally involved, where there wasn’t so much at stake. And then we asked Neil [Moodie] to come in one day, to give his opinion. It was an amazing day because we were all in the office together, feeling like we were finally in a really good place to move forward. At that time, the book was going to be called England’s Dreaming but we were sat there, talking about the book when I said “It’s really special, Donald being involved, Neil, you and I, the circle has remained unbroken.” Corinne loved 13th Floor Elevators, and that song, and Mark just looked at me and the new name suddenly just happened. Because that’s what it was – all the people in the book were a part of her life, people whom she loved dearly, and everyone that’s been involved in it has been someone who she cared about a lot. It just was perfect. I burst into tears. I knew she’d love it. I know she’d really love it all.”
May the Circle Remain Unbroken is published by Mörel Books, and will be available in stores from Thursday.