Tag Archives: photography

David Hockney – Tate Britain

hawthorn-blossom-near-rudston-2008

With so many exhibitions running in London all the time, it can be difficult to choose between them, especially when everyone is now asking you to pay the best part of £20 for the privilege. But good news for the culturally overwhelmed because there is only one exhibition you need to see this year – David Hockney’s retrospective at Tate Britain. It is 2017’s must-see show and one that will undoubtedly last you all year, allowing you to impress your friends with your knowledge of nearly 60 years of Hockney’s spectacular work.

There are several things that have long made Hockney’s work particularly distinctive, his vibrant use of colour, the way he captures light whether it be the cloudier tones of Yorkshire or the startling clarity of the LA sun, and the deeply personal representation of everything that appears in his work. Of course all artists show us their view of the world, but Hockney at nearly 80, has spent a lifetime painting, drawing and photographing his friends, family and partners, as well as the places he lives or spent time. As you wander through the rooms at Tate Britain – much like the David Bailey show at the Portrait Gallery 2 years ago – it becomes clear that you’re seeing Hockney’s story unfold. This is art as biography.

Most of the exhibition is in chronological order, which is a sensible approach from curators and means you can observe the clear evolution of his style and technique from his days as a student at the Royal College of Art to his most recent work made with iphone and ipads.  And while the early work looks quite different, everything here is distinctively Hockney and this approach means that the consistency of his style can be observed. The early work is quite abstract and may surprise those who have only seen his later creations, but this laid the foundations for the way he would represent reality and the interaction of objects and people. And of course these early works feel like a young man trying to understand himself, particularly in a place where homosexuality was still a criminal offence, and the repeated inclusion of sentences in the pictures feels like you’re in Hockney’s head.

His painting We Two Boys Cling Together from 1961 has the simplicity of a child’s drawing but it evokes quite mixed emotions in the viewer; there’s love clearly, anger too in the frantic brush strokes, but also this sense of incongruity as the heads float away from the bodies suggesting thought and reality are not yet in tune. Turning the corner into the second room and Hockney’s focus on people, which will run through his entire career, shows how that illusion became concrete with depictions of couples in everyday harmony including Domestic Scene [1963] in which one man helps his partner to shower. This may not be the famous work you’ve come to see but its inclusion tells us important things about Hockney’s development as an artist, as well as his personal experiences, so don’t hurry past it too quickly.

When Hockney arrived in LA in 1964 something in his work shifted, and a fascination with linear form, colour and light would dominate his work for years to come. In Room 4 you finally get to see that transition in some of his most famous pieces, including A Bigger Splash from 1967 which contrasts the roller-painted water and endless turquoise sky with the time-consuming construction of the white splash of water created supposedly by a figure we cannot see from a diving board that also isn’t moving. It’s an incredible piece that seems to create stillness and movement effortlessly, but the secret is the way Hockney uses different lines of varying lengths to give his work dynamism, and something that you will notice for the rest of the exhibition.

A Lawn Being Sprinkled, David Hockney [1967]

A Lawn Being Sprinkled [1967]

Next to it, is A Lawn Being Sprinkled comprised of hundreds of individually created blades of grass, where Hockney uses length to show depth and distance in the picture. It’s impossible to see on digital recreations or even that well on postcards, but its effect is remarkable, especially against the white sprinkler sprays dotted evenly across the lawn and the flat smoothness of the house and sky. The diagonal white lines of the window denoting reflected light in Peter Getting Out of the Pool [1966] also sit purposefully alongside the crosshatching of the garden chair, the geometric perfection of the window itself and the pool tiles, while being challenged by the swirling pink and white tangles of the pool. There is a real sense of ease and warmth in these works which accounts for their continued popularity especially on a cold dank February day in very troubled times.

Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures), David Hockney [1972]

Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures) [1972]

But Hockney’s fascination with the relationship between people, displayed so well in Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) from 1972 as his ex-boyfriend appears to jealously observe Hockney’s assistant, leads neatly into his late 1960s and 1970s works on couples. The famous Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark picture that you can normally see in the Tate for free is here, as is a fascinating image of Hockney’s own parents from 1977 that shows a separate togetherness. In almost every image in this room, one person is clearly the master in the relationship, and while Hockney’s mother looks sweetly at the viewer, his father is hunched over and engrossed in a book as if he has better things to do than pose for paintings. We see the same power dynamic in American Collectors [1968] depicting Marcia Weisman in shocking pink as her thin, brown-suited husband stands limply by, mirrored in Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott [1969] as the Met Museum curator dominates the canvas on a plush pink sofa, while his painter boyfriend looks on as if unsure whether he’s coming or going.

One of the most fascinating elements of this exhibition is the chance to see work you don’t normally associate with Hockney’s exuberant coloured paintings. The delicacy of his drawings is almost astonishing after the scale and hit of the work before and Hockney’s light touch in images of Auden or his own self-portrait is really surprising. As I mentioned above it is Hockney’s use of the line that makes these images so interesting, using only a few skilled representative dashes to create personality and in some places it puts you in mind of the later work of Quentin Blake and Raymond Briggs.

Hockney also experimented with collage photography and a room filled with layered photographs which he uses to instil liveliness in the static image, leads neatly into my favourite part of the exhibition, the images of the Grand Canyon and Yorkshire which were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 2012 and took ideas of scale to a new level. The winding mountains and roads you see in his early student work take form here as pathways and valleys sweep through abundant countryside, often in startling luminous colours. Seeing two contrasting landscapes side by side, the red and orange desert of southern America with the lush greens and bursting pale yellow flowers of Yorkshire, is an almost overwhelming immersive experience. Composed of nine individually painted canvases, Grand Canyon is a collision of purples, reds and oranges that suggest the heat and aridity of Arizona, while a related image takes the colour saturation to almost fluorescent levels which again digital or paper copies just cannot replicate, you have to see it.

may-blossom-on-the-roman-road-2009

May Blossom on the Roman Road [2009]

The Yorkshire work from 2006 onwards, when Hockney came home, is for me some of the best of his career and a culmination of everything this exhibition has shown you. Best of all is the two panel Hawthorn Blossom Near Rudston [2008] which shows a red painted road with lines of blue depth that intersects the picture, framed by luscious grass verges and hedges filled with wild flowers and bursting yellow blossom moving in the breeze. The individual lines of grass and dots of flowers and leaves are romantic and calming in equal measure. Nearby, May Blossom on the Roman Road [2009] shows Hockney continuing to play with technique as a van Gogh inspired blue swirling sky meets abstract-formed hedges and abundant foliage. The scale and effect of this work is just glorious.

Some stunning pencil sketches of Yorkshire follow plotting particular spots through the seasons as well as the immersive video of The Four Seasons which mimics the layering of photograph from earlier with a sensitivity to the opportunities of modern technology. Finishing the show are the ipad and iphone creations that Hockney has more recently embraced and despite being an entirely different way of creating art still have his distinct style and voice.

The Tate’s exhibition was always going to be a hit, but even on this opening weekend, it’s clear that it’s been carefully planned to enhance the viewer experience rather than just packing people in. Despite the panic and two days with no online booking, tickets are still readily available and entry, even for those with timed tickets, is controlled in waves to ensure there’s no overcrowding. And it works because you can get close to every piece with very little jostling, and while most people are rushing through to the major works, taking your time means not only do you get the full story but by room 7 of 12 you have plenty of space.

The chronological approach allows you to see Hockney’s life story develop, while observing his experiments with technology and the development of his technique. Not just light, colour and personality but his skilled use of lines throughout his career. So take you time – you can easily spend 90 minutes or more in here – and enjoy it all because this is a spectacular experience that people will be talking about for a long time to come.

David Hockney is at Tate Britain until 29th May, before transferring to Paris and then New York later this year. Entrance is £19.50 or £17.70 without donation and concessions are available.

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Vogue 100: A Century of Style – National Portrait Gallery

The Second Age of Glamour is Beauty by Cecil Beaton

The National Portrait Gallery has had a very nice line in fashion photography over the years including an impressively insightful David Bailey retrospective in 2014. To celebrate the centenary of Vogue Britain, established in the midst of the First World War, the NPG presents a glamorous walk through the decades of a magazine that has reflected a changing taste in clothing as well as the political, economic and cultural influences of the day. Last year’s Alexander McQueen show at the V&A – arguably the greatest fashion exhibition ever to hit London – has changed how the history of fashion is presented and, although there are no clothes on display here, its influence can be felt in the in both the curation and more dynamic design of this exhibition.

London’s art scene is doing a roaring trade in photography exhibitions at the moment; some such as the Imperial War Museum’s Lee Miller: A Women’s War, can be seen viewed as a companion piece to the Vogue show, covering some of the same images including those of Miller in her early days as a model as well as her military work during the Second World War. Other shows such as the brilliant Strange and Familiar at the Barbican cover much of the same period but offer two very different interpretations of the world. Haute couture fashion is often seen as ‘aspirational’ and much of the material on display at the NPG reflects how women wanted to look in particular decades and the pages of Vogue can be interpreted as a history of how Britain wanted to be seen – whereas Strange and Familiar shows us who we really were – and seeing both in quick succession is an eye-opening insight into the last 70 years.

Vogue 100 actually starts in the here and now with modern covers and unexpectedly a film showing models in close up, playing in a mirrored alcove so everywhere you look are reflections upon reflections (one of the elements surely inspired by the McQueen show). Then you can trace a path back through the decades of celebrities and approaches, ending up where it all began in 1916. Trendy as it may be, it wasn’t clear what this backward-looking approach was supposed to give us, so instead you can defy the crowds as I did and march yourself all the way back to the 1920s (there’s no exit here you will still have to walk back anyway) and start from there, seeing the developments in fashion, photography and in the magazine’s approach to the cultural world it represents unfolding before your eyes.

Whichever way you chose to go this is clearly an exhibition about the artists that have made Vogue what it is today rather than the story of its production, editorship or backroom dramas. Instead we see how popular culture was presented and influenced by the pages of this magazine through the choices of models, designers, photographers, celebrities and actual artists who drew works for the early spreads or, like Picasso, were featured in the magazine itself. In the unique world of Vogue this walk through the twentieth century sees hemlines rise and fall as quickly as empires, and economic shifts in the aftermath of war and depression that affect fabrics choices and shoot locations.

The 1920s and 30s show a selection of early prints in decorated glass cases which is a nice touch reflecting the particular style of each era and the major players of the day. From a dancing Fred Astaire to stylish swimsuits for men and women (an image recently used as the cover for a novel about Hemingway), from society “it girls” to Horst’s famous corset images – which you may have seen in Horst’s own retrospective at the V&A last year – this decades represent a stagey look to the images with models in formal, often classical poses against pillars or architecture that infer the silhouette of the outfit. Often ‘moody’, the use of lighting creates contrasts of light and shadow that add considerable atmosphere to the black and white prints, as well as an elegance that colour photos just never seem to emulate.

On to the 40s and the décor becomes a bold striking red as the NPG contrasts its war coverage of pilots and military workers with the New Look that Dior introduced after the conflict. It’s an interesting approach that offers both sides of the magazine’s work, although the Imperial War Museum’s exhibition on Lee Miller has all the best images actually. On the fashion side the increased use of sites of destruction to contrast the outfits is apparent particularly in Norman Hartnell’s work where elegantly dressed ladies stand in front of bomb sites as though to suggesting ‘fashion is indestructible’. Here also there is a greater saturation of bold colour advocated by those like Cecil Beaton who was a major influence on Vogue’s unfolding style. His 1946 image of a model dressed entirely in shades of red with red accessories against a red background entitled ‘The Second Age of Glamour is Beauty’ is a memorable example of this dynamic approach.

The full-skirted elegance of the 50s gives way to a much more relaxed approach to modelling in the 1960s as formal poses are replaced with ‘action’ shots of fashion in everyday lives. Twiggy of course will be familiar, careering along on a scooter or Jean Shrimpton relaxing in a series of coats for one shoot. New photographers were also part of this freer style with David Bailey in particular starting to document the more liberal times on location and with more experimental images.  By the time we reach the 70s and 80s it’s those experiments with colour and composition that seem to take precedence, and some of the more memorable images here are Claudia Schiffer on the back of a motorbike which in colour is a study in monochrome, and a model in a 20s-esque red bathing suite leaning on a swing which we learn was fashioned ad hoc on location, and harks back to that early image of the bathers on the platform.

Onto the 90s and the rise of the supermodel with that famous cover, and in more recent images you should get used to seeing that darling of British Vogue, Kate Moss who is everywhere. From the ‘heroin chic’ pictures that launched her more simple ‘every-girl’ look to the African Queen image of her in a desert, there’s no doubting her influence. As more and more magazines sought to challenge Vogue’s dominance, the photoessays become increasingly outlandish and surreal including a 40s bomber shown coming through a chintzy living room wall to advertise a khaki inspired trend and a stunning pink powder-puff shot of Lily Cole. Colour also continues to dominate as digital images allow even greater opportunities to retouch the pictures in pre-production, enhancing their fantasy-like suggestion and getting to the heart of that aspirational life Vogue has always wanted to present.

Vogue 100 doesn’t claim the magazine has profoundly changed the world, but for 100 years it has reflected society’s changing values while offering entertainment and escapism to its readers. While this show doesn’t tackle the story of Vogue itself or any of the controversies its pages unleash such as the size zero model and the doctoring of images by airbrushing to extremes it’s an interesting version of a history the magazine wishes to present. It has attracted important photographers including Horst, Cecil Beaton, David Bailey, Mario Testino and Patrick Demarchelier who have forwarded an artistic aesthetic that lifts what could have been a catalogue for expensive clothing to something more meaningful and inventive. And yes, it is all glossy photos of a world that doesn’t exist, but view it as an expression of a changing fantasy life and see it in partnership with the coincidentally contrasting show Strange and Familiar at the Barbican and both shows take on an added resonance that only adds to our understanding of the Britain we live in.

Vogue 100 is at the National Portrait Gallery until 22 May. Tickets are £17 without donation and concessions are available. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1


Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers – Barbican

Bruce Davidson - Hastings

Who are we and what have we been? This is the key question that photographer Martin Parr examines in the Barbican’s astonishing new exhibition which Parr has curated, of international photographer’s perspectives on Britain since the 1930s. What it means to be British and how the challenges of the twentieth-century shaped who we are has troubled historians for a long time, with cultural outlets recently beginning to catch-up presenting insightful exhibitions such as the Tate’s Artist and Empire show and Parr’s own exhibition at the Science Museum last year. But is how we see ourselves the same as how others see us? The answer is yes and no, and while the images displayed here are unarguably British, they show far more reality than our own nostalgic view of the last seven decades.

Our perspective of these years is a blur of pop culture images, heavyweight political stories and romanticised projections, a ‘Downton Abbey’ view of a history that never was. From the smiley victory rolled women of the 1940s to the mini-skirted dollies of the 60s and on to the power-suited greed of the 80s, our view is highly focused on metropolitan areas, especially London, and coloured by fashions, celebrity and periods of supposed societal ‘change’. But this is far from the Britain that the vast majority of people actually lived in and one of the most fascinating aspects of this exhibition is just how domestically unchanging Britain appears to be.

Through the eyes of over 20 external observers, we are a land of work and predominately working class people, of decaying buildings, unresolved industrial decline and poverty, but never of hopelessness judging by the number of happy looking scamps playing in the streets or people having a lovely night in the pub. There are the obligatory shots of bowler-hatted financiers and 60s youth enjoying rock concerts, but most overwhelmingly Britain is a place of Sunday football in the local field, of coal miners enjoying their tea, of seaside holidays and, unfortunately for all the republicans out there, of enthusiasm for the Royal Family, as flag-waving patriots hold street parties in honour of coronations, jubilees and royal weddings or happily sit among the detritus of London streets to catch the action first hand. Interestingly the middle and upper classes barely get a look in, this is a Britain of ordinary people living ordinary lives, battling in that charmingly stoical British way.

The abiding image of the exhibition is by American Bruce Davidson of two old people, sitting in their Sunday best in deckchairs on the beach at Hastings, drinking tea from a cup and saucer. Like Parr’s own work there is wry humour to this scene but also a clear human story of the obviously long-married couple at its heart braving the weather. It is so familiar an image yet seems long ago – who now would take an actual cup and saucer to the beach – but somehow this picture seems to epitomise everything we think about ourselves and interesting to see that it accords with how others also see us.  As a long-term London resident it’s also hard not to be drawn to the shots of the capital including Chilean Sergio Larrain’s beautiful tube escalator at Baker Street station shining up to the sky as well behaved commuters stand on the right and the man in the centre close to the camera gives it an inviting perspective (1958-59), or the wonderfully humorous image of a quirky old lady sitting on the shoulders of two upright gentlemen in Trafalgar Square as she tries to catch the Coronation of George VI in 1937 pictured by Frenchman Henri Cartier-Bresson.

And it is these ordinary folk that make this exhibition so enriching and combining so many images from across the UK it is clear we have never adequately resolved the problem of industrialisation. Edith Tudor-Hart’s dramatic 1930s portrait of the tiny backyard of a slum dwelling in which a mother and her six children are crammed into one half, divided by a small washing line, while surrounded by broken chairs and rubble on the high walls. Similarly she recorded a dramatic picture of a group of children having ultra-violet light treatment, presumably for skin conditions, that this collection implies are the result of living conditions. Bruce Davidson picks up this theme in the 1960s in Wales as factory towers emit smoke into the greyed countryside as a white-dressed bride picks her way across the field to be married, or a small bespectacled boy pushes his teddy and doll in a pram as the entire background is swallowed up in industrial smog. These images remind us that not only were so many places reliant on the industries like mining that have left social decay behind them, but were themselves a double-edged sword that brought tough urban living conditions for many that have barely improved since.

One of the most pleasing aspects of this show is how multiracial Britain appears through the eyes of these photographers. Cas Oorthuys from The Netherlands took a series of pictures of Oxford in the 1960s including one of a two black students in their gowns and what is presumably their friend on his bike. Frank Habicht’s picture of Vanessa Redgrave carrying a peace protest banner in 1968 and fellow German Candida Hofer’s shots of turbaned schoolboys in Liverpool also help to reinforce this sense of Britain as a more multicultural society than is often depicted and it’s worth looking at the crowds in many pictures to see this long-existent diversity.

Some of the more recent work on the ground floor of the exhibition adds to the regional, and at times highly politicised, feel of the exhibition including Japanese photographer Akihiko Okamura’s shots of Northern Ireland which give a sense of the effect of war in the1970s on the people living there including two dressed-up children at a street shrine with a backdrop of destruction in a terraced street, and various victory celebrations in Londonderry. Axel Hütte’s images of decaying tower blocks have a similar effect actually making you think about the lives they contain, and the unfulfilled hope of elaborate names like ‘Hamlet Court’.

But it’s not all doom laden stuff and American Jim Dow’s shop-window images benefit from improvements in photography that tap into our nostalgia for the corner shop, including the bountiful Scarborough sweet shop, a takeaway in Leicester and a wallpaper shop in Leytonstone all of which leap out at you. The move to digital images is captured brilliantly by Bruce Gilden’s stark and brutal portraits that end the show, of faces he captured around the country. Five intimidating faces glare down at you with very little background and instead you see every line and vein. These are not flattering shots by any means, almost grotesques in fact, as you see the bursting redness of alcoholism on ‘Peter’s’ nose, and the re-growing hairs on the eyebrows, upper lip and chin of the painted Essex women. But they’re not images to laugh at and somehow you can see the despair and hardship in their eyes which tells you that maybe nothing much has changed since the time of Tudor-Hart’s slum children. The fashions come and go, but the problems remain the same.

Strange and Familiar is an extraordinary exhibition that forces us to really think about who we are. As you walk through the decades and see Britain through the eyes of other people it certainly makes you think about how much has really changed. Each ages had its own concept of modernity but what is so clear in this exhibition is that only applied to a select few. There is a timelessness to it; outside of London, daily life hasn’t altered all that much, Britain is still decaying but life goes on. Most importantly, Britons still try to have a good time – we get dressed up, have a drink at the pub with our friends or a cup of tea and just get on with it. Unflattering it may be at times, but the perspective of these twenty-odd international photographers, under Martin Parr’s skilled curation, shows us that whatever happened to Britain in the last 70 years, life goes on.

Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers is at the Barbican until 19 June. Tickets are £12 with concessions available. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1.


Lee Miller: A Woman’s War – Imperial War Museum

Lee Miller

At the end of both the First and Second World Wars women were frustrated that they were expected to give up the ‘man’s work’ they had been doing and return to being housewives or objects of delicate beauty. Nowhere is this more obviously ridiculous than in the case of Lee Miller who in the decade before the Second World War transitioned from model to Vogue fashion photographer before going on to become a leading photo-journalist during the conflict, eschewing her former lighter focus to join soldiers on the front line immediately after D-Day, photograph the death camps and travel across Europe in the aftermath of victory to picture the dispossessed and destitute.

Yet Vogue wanted her to go back to taking pictures of the re-emerging clothing lines and millinery, forgetting all about the woman and the artist she had become. An exhibition at the Imperial War Museum which runs until April cleverly charts Miller’s career, from brushes with early surrealism and friendships with Picasso and Hemingway, through her fashion years to celebrations of all kinds of women’s work on the Home Front and eventual documentation of combat and its effects, with accompanying articles written by Miller herself.

Running chronologically, it opens with family photos accompanied by the horrific story of Miller’s rape as a 7 year old and some borderline inappropriate nude shots of a teenage Miller taken by her father as art. Yet later, Miller would often pose nude and several pictures in this exhibition as well as a model of her torso are included which imply a possession of her body and image that might well be unexpected given her early violent experience. One picture shows her naked and covered in camouflage paint beneath some netting which, the IWM cheekily observes, was frequently shown to recruits in camouflage training. On a more serious note, these images help to make sense of her perspective as a photograph which not only understands the role of the model having been one but also in the way she implies both strength and character in her sitters. Whether they are pre-war clothes horses or female mechanics fixing a wireless in the midst of conflict, Miller’s sitters are multifaceted and nuanced women, far more than just a two dimensional image on a page.

One of the more interesting things to learn in this exhibition is just how cleverly magazines like British Vogue were used by the government of the day to influence the way women behaved. From encouraging shorter hair styles which were more suitable for factory life to aiding recruitment for particular sections of the women’s forces, Miller’s photographs inspired and directed the public to aid the war effort. One shot that looks like a fashion piece shows an ordinary female sergeant in uniform sitting in what looks like an airfield, the picture’s style has a sheen of Hollywood glamour but the subject is a working woman in the middle of the working day – and the notes say it did wonders for recruitment. Miller recorded a number of women from 1939-1945 showing the breadth and skill of war work, from nurses and mechanics to WRENS and, in a particularly atmospheric picture, the silhouette of two searchlight operators lit from behind by the lamp pointing to the sky.

The final section of the exhibition signals a major shift in Miller’s work and career; no longer the semi-posed images with a call-to-action for Britain’s women, but the photo-documentation of the consequences and aftermath of warfare on both soldiers and civilians across Europe. Miller graduates to a more serious tone with shots of wounded men being operated on in hospitals, footage from D-Day and sites of destruction in Cologne, Paris and Romania. In a short period she travelled extensively through central and Eastern Europe documenting the chaos and destruction that she found, whether the country in question was an aggressor or victim of the Second World War. Some of the most startling are from Germany with initial shots showing women hanging out their washing in what looks like a totally unspoiled landscape, but these sit next to the devastation the RAF caused in Cologne as two women smoke on a bench amidst the rubble of former houses. Harder still are the shots from liberated camps where German civilians had been forced to view the consequences of their administration. Miller observes them with a critical eye, giving little sympathy for the Axis powers, but providing a fascinating record of defeat.

The shots of Paris too are intriguing, with images of women, we are told, deliberately dressing well with elaborate hair and make-up as a show of defiance against the Nazi occupation. Interestingly, however, this was misinterpreted abroad, particularly here where these images were thought to show Parisians living it up while Britons suffered to help liberate them. The effects of war and the things she photographed took their toll on Miller, however which is also recorded towards the end of the exhibition, and like many of the combatants who served we learn that the things she saw had a lasting effect on her, resulting in bouts of depression and alcoholism which plagued her later years, until her death in 1977.

There are a number of interesting personal items belonging to Miller in the exhibition which along with various cameras include her US uniform, various letters from before and during the war, as well as items once belonging to Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun which Miller stole from their German home when she went to photograph it on the day of their suicide – including a dressing table set and compact. Through this exhibition it’s clear that Miller was quite a force and someone that worked tirelessly during the war to represent women’s lives in her work. These days it’s not at all unusual for a model to turn her hand to other kinds of work from acting to running major fashion and beauty businesses, but they’re never quite able to shake off the ‘former-model’ tag – whatever is written about them it is often preceded by these words, and it’s strange to think someone’s first job will forever define them, as if we’d equally refer to someone as ‘former-Sainsbury’s checkout girl’. Miller undoubtedly faced these obstacles 60 years ago as this exhibition implies and while it’s sad that little has changed, it is also admirable that she overcame them to produce such meaningful and insightful work. It’s not always the most cheerful story, but this exhibition charts Millers various lives extremely well and a chance to see a familiar war from a new perspective.

Lee Miller: A Woman’s War is at the Imperial War Museum until 24 April. Tickets are £10 and concessions are available. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1.


Soldiers and Suffragettes: The Photography of Christina Broom – Museum of London Docklands

You’re going to be hearing a lot about Suffragettes in the next few weeks as we build up to the release of a new film about them staring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter and Anne Marie Duff, which premières at the London Film Festival in October (review to follow). In anticipation the Docklands Museum is hosting a brilliant exhibition about photographer Christina Broom whose dynamic photography captured not just the diverse and vibrant celebrations of women’s contribution to society in the early 20th century, but also the contrasting male world of military discipline, routine and service in the First World War. Broom is credited as being one of the first press photographers and her images laid the groundwork for later photojournalism.

It seems strange (albeit welcome) now to think that a female photographer could be permitted access to the British establishment and Royal Family, as well as the more anti-establishment Suffragette marches and events, but the images here speak for themselves, showing the incredible rapport Broom must have had with her subjects. As you arrive, a number of avenues are open to you, allowing you to enter a number of thematically curated rooms. One way will take you to the Suffragettes, another to soldiers and others to royalty and London. As Suffragettes are the flavour of the month I decided to head right.

Broom’s pictures celebrate the both the various achievements of women at the time and their organisation by photographing demonstrations and a number of fairs and events designed to showcase their work. The Women’s Exhibition of 1909 features heavily in this section with posed clusters of workers such as nurses and midwives, the female caterers of the event and leading lights in the world of Suffragette agitation such as Christable Pankhurst. Yet some of the best images, although clearly staged, capture some of the bustle of the day at the stalls, depict the promotion of the event or show a 1908 Suffrage demonstration where around 13000 women marched with banners, one of which is also on display.  There’s also a fascinating selection of portraits of Suffragettes wearing historical costume celebrating the women of the past and belief that the medieval period was the last time women had any proper sense of equality or freedom.

Just when you’re thinking that Broom must have been entirely in sympathy with these women in order to photograph them, the next room suggests that her pragmatism as a working photographer over-rode her political affiliations. Her images of soldiers are among the most interesting I’ve ever-seen, many of them pre-dating her Suffragette shots and continuing into the First World War, and capturing both the idea of military order and the more human notions of comradeship. Fascinatingly, the men being photographed seem entirely relaxed in Broom’s company, and having a woman with a camera involved in what are entirely masculine moments unexpectedly creates a sense of ease. The relaxed poses of the men as they glare happily into the camera are boosted by humorous shots such as a very tall soldier standing to attention next to a young and much shorter recruit, and also by considerably poignant ones as men say goodbye to their loved ones at railway stations before going off to war. The warmth of these pictures is such that it’s impossible not to feel a pang that many of these happy, smiling men would never return or if they did would be forever affected by what was about to happen to them.

In the next room, again Broom’s proximity to royalty is astonishing as she photographs them at the Royal Mews or driving in carriages. She similarly had access to some of the leading sporting events of the day, capturing atmospheric moments from the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race which are beautifully shot or horses at leading race events. It’s not hard to see why Broom has been attributed with the title of Britain’s first press photographer with work that so diversely captures major news stories, the emotional moments of protest and war, as well as the bedrocks of English life in this period. More than anything, her work can clearly be seen as capturing the look of her age in what are some incredibly skilled technical images. She liked to shoot out of doors to ensure real light (how very reminiscent of English master like Constable and Turner) which gives her work a naturalness that even in the most posed shots brings out the humanity in the sitters and the reality of what they were engaged in – be it an energetic rowing race or campaigning for the rights of women.

This new exhibition at the Docklands Museum is a timely and welcome insight into the early Twentieth-century, speaking to both the upcoming interest in the Suffragette movement as the eponymously titled film receives its premier at the London Film Festival, and a part of the ongoing commemoration of the First World War. More than anything, this exhibition introduces you to a fascinating woman, Christina Broom, who was trusted and welcomed by people from across that very class-ridden society. From the Royal Family to leading sportsmen, from Society ladies looking for equality to working-class boys off to war, Broom’s work is filled with warmth and affection for her subjects, and clearly theirs for her. Soldiers and Suffragettes is one of those rare exhibitions that doesn’t just shed new light on the time in which Broom lived, but also celebrates the fascinatingly diverse life of Britain’s first female press photographer.

Soldiers and Suffragettes is at the Museum of London Docklands until 1 November and entrance is free.


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