Curator of Photographs
As Curator of Photographs I am responsible for the acquisition, research and display of photographs in the collection spanning the period from the invention of photography in 1839 up until the present day. The Gallery holds over 250,000 original prints and negatives. Over the last thirty years or so, I have been responsible, with the help of my department, in making aspects of the collection better known through cataloguing and originating exhibitions and displays. A particular interest in rediscovering the work of British and international photographers whose works has been concerned with portraiture, particularly with British subjects, has been central to these activities. Although there is no specific photography space in the Gallery, there are changing spaces that become available periodically in which to show the important part photographic portraiture has contributed to British history, life and culture. As well as the huge number of popular displays noted in the past displays and exhibitions (since 1968) section of the website, there is also an archive of the feature, Photograph of the Month, that combines showing a previously unseen or newly acquired work with a topical event or anniversary.
My first degree was in Law, which I studied at Queen Mary College, University of London, followed by two years qualifying as a Barrister (Middle Temple). I subsequently took a post-graduate course in librarianship at Ealing Technical College, and worked for one year at an historical commercial picture library, the Mansell Collection, before joining the National Portrait Gallery as Librarian in October 1975. Three years later I curated and published my first National Portrait Gallery catalogue to mark the centenary of E.O.Hoppe in Camera Portraits by E.O.Hoppe, having become Curator of Photographs in the same year. In 1981 I curated my first major exhibition, Norman Parkinson: 50 Years of Portraits and Fashion, which was shown also in a reduced form in New York at Sotheby’s and at The National Academy of Design. Many years of research on the 8,000 plus negatives and prints by Howard Coster resulted in another centenary exhibition in 1985 including a complete listing of his work in the Gallery’s collection. Twenty for Today in the same year comprised a survey of 20 contemporary photographers whose work had appeared in the new style journals of the 1980s including the Face, Blitz, Ritz Newspaper and I-D. In 1988 the exhibitions Helmut Newton and Alice Springs Portraits were followed by research for the first monograph on Lewis Morley: Photographer of the Sixties (1989), including a trip to Sydney to meet with him. A major book written with John Kobal on the MGM photographer Clarence Sinclair Bull: The Man Who Shot Garbo became the template for a further series of successful exhibitions based on the same formula including Horst: Portraits (2001), and Beaton: Portraits (2004), as well as the forthcoming Man Ray: Portraits (2013)
Publications that have required deeper research over less well trod areas have included James Abbe: The Lure of the Limelight (1995), twice republished in larger formats but using my original research, and High Society: Photographs 1897-1914 (1998). The latter contained a series of biographies of leading Edwardian photographers that I had first started to explore in Edwardian Women Photographers. Currently, for a number of future displays, I am researching the work of the photojournalist Michael Peto, as well images of Vivien Leigh and the figures surrounding the Profumo Affair for Scandal ’63.
My most recent publications all relate to major exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery, including a collaboration with David Friend to produce Vanity Fair: Portraits (2008), working with Jon Savage to create Beatles to Bowie: the 60s Exposed (2009), as well as expanding my earlier biographical research on Hoppe to contribute to Hoppe: Portraits by Philip Prodger. Currently I am working on Man Ray: Portraits (2013) that will run from February to May and then tour to Edinburgh and Moscow; the first major survey of his photographic portraits to be shown in a British national institution.