Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hoppe and Kar @ The National Portrait Gallery : four for a little over the price of one

I decided to visit the National Portrait Gallery to attend a guided tour of the Ida Kar exhibition. On arrival, I found that I could buy a ticket that included not only the Kar exhibition but also one by Hoppe. there were also a couple of free exhibitions; one a group of portraits by different photographers of Mick Jagger and another group of portraits by the highly accomplished, John Swannell.

So I started with a visit to the Edward Hoppe exhibition. He was a photographer of whom I had never heard yet one was quickly impressed by his Germanic precision that helped to make his subjects stand out and the variety of genres he covers. His images seemed to be a lesson in the best way to make photographs although of course, if there is a best way, it is always going to be dependent on the situation. Nevertheless, Hoppe's work is well executed and I like to see images that have been well crafted.

The National Portrait Gallery regularly stages photographic exhibitions of high quality. This is one they have not actually curated though since it has come over from America.

The prints are in black and white and although a few are vintage, many are more recent.

There is certainly wit here ... a shop that sells skeletons, making waxworks at madame Tussauds, a tatooist at work on a woman's back etc A curious way of looking at the body!

Some images have historical anecdotes with images of post-war London, street musicians of 1945 of whom one is legless yet upright, a reference to the war and its' heroism ...

There are also images from London before the Second World War as well as other places such as St.Margaret Hall in Oxford, the posh girl's school known as Rodean as well as a borstal in Aylesbury. The play between people and place is clearly evident.

Hoppe was also able to photograph eminent people such as George Bernard Shaw, King George V1'th, Einstein, Ezra Pound, Kipling, Henry James, Thomas Hardy ... such images are remarkable if only because of their subject matter.

Some of Hoppe's reflections are recorded. For instance, Thomas Hardy was someone who did not like to be photographed; he talked with great courtesy and charm making it almost impossible for Hoppe to photograph him who gave up hope of getting an image until Hardy suddenly said with a shy smile, "Would you like to take my photograph now!?" Hoppe made his images and came away with one of the best sets of photographs he ever made. This was in 1914.
Hoppe wrote of Thomas Hardy that, "His aged face had become a map of his Wessex and everything he found there is written in his countenance - climate, atmosphere, unflinching realism, his humaneness."

Some portraits stand out like one of Margot Fonteyn from 1935 while of particular interest to me was a photo-story about Santiniketan during which he photographed Rabindranath Tagore himself.


We were given a guided tour to this exhibition by a museum curator and the following is a mixture of her comments as well as my own observations.

She came from Armenia and had contact with the early Surrealists while studying in Paris during the late 1920's. She developed an interest in photography though trained as a singer until her voice started to fail. She met the poet and artist, Victor Musgrove, also an RAF officer, and moved to London with him. He gave her access to important people such as Bertrand Russell and Somerset Maugham.

Her black and white images often contain a wealth of detail; she used natural light with a twin lens Rolliflex as her camera.

Kar liked to make large images and staged a major exhibition at The Whitechapel Gallery during the 1960's.

Among those she photographed were Man Ray (surrealist and photographer) as well as Le Corbusier, the architect and designer.

Many of her subjects became friends if they were not already.

The well known photo-historian, Gernsheim, wrote of her work saying that she "depicts sitter in their own surroundings".

She photographed a lot of artists, one of whom was Augustus John. His aged face stares out with an almost startled expression. If this images resonates with me more than others, it is surely because my mother met him on more than one occasion and remembered him as being a rather lustful gentleman; my godmother married Daventry, one of his contemporaries, though the marriage did not survive the war.

She also photographed the ST.Ives group of artists which included barbara Hepworth.

Kar also photographed photographers such as Billy Brandt in 1968.

The Tatler wrote of her on 21 march 1962 that "Ida Kar is that rare thing - the artist photographer."

The artist Graham Sutherland wrote to her that "You certainly know how to get the best out of people ... ! "

The author Colim Mac Innes wrote that "an Ida Kar portrait is at once identifiable by its purity and distinction!"

Her interest i photographic portraiture was based around expression .

"Anyone who was familiar with Ida's work saw that she was not just a photographer,but an artist ... " Terry Taylor (one of her assistants who was also a writer, photographer and artist).

Although I looked around the other 2 smaller one room exhibitions I did not make notes. The Mick Jagger exhibition contained images by a number of photographers and although an interesting collection, seemed to be more about Mick Jagger than photography. The John Swannell series of prints was not only an interesting selection of people (some were models) but also examples of extremely well made photographs

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