9 December 2006 - 17 June 2007
Room 31 case display
Born in Stockton-on-Tees, Walter Benington (1872-1936) began his photographic career by developing prints in the family bathroom. In 1891 he became apprenticed to a firm of glass-plate engravers in Shoe Lane in the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral. This iconic building became the subject of many of his important early photographic studies.
He first exhibited with the pictorialist photography group 'The Linked Ring' in 1896. This Photo-Secession movement, which operated in Britain between 1892 and 1910 included artist-photographers such as F.H. Evans, F. Holland Day and Alvin Langdon Coburn. They argued for 'truth' rather than for only beauty in photographic art. In 1902 Benington was elected to the Linked Ring and became known as the 'Housetopper', after his photographs of the urban views of London's skyline.
Benington was also a leading figure in the short-lived London Secession in 1911 and exhibited at the Photographic Salon, the Royal Photographic Society and the London Salon as well as contributing to international exhibitions.
1909 onwards: life as a portrait photographer
In 1909, Walter Benington turned to portraiture opening his first studio in Conduit Street, London. One of Benington's most celebrated early portraits is of the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska taken in 1914, and used in Ezra Pound's monograph on the artist (1916).
Following the First World War, Benington continued his portrait work as a freelance photographer for the firm, Elliott & Fry (active 1864-1963).
In 1919 Benington began a project to photograph leading 'Oxbridge' personalities. A selection were published in 1927 as Oxford Men of Note and Cambridge Men of Note. Included from these portfolios are photogravure portraits of economist John Maynard Keynes and Director of the Fiitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, Sir Sydney Cockerell.
His famous photograph of Albert Einstein was taken in June 1921, when Einstein came to London, at the invitation of Lord Haldane, to deliver an important lecture on his theories of Relativity. Einstein's visit captured the public imagination and The Sphere (18 June 1921) reproduced Benington's informal double portrait of Einstein and Haldane as its front cover with an inset of Einstein taken at the same sitting.
In 1929 Benington moved to Oxford to develop studios there on behalf of Elliott & Fry. The premises were later used by Lettice Ramsey and Helen Muspratt who worked as Ramsey & Muspratt. Benington continued to contribute photographs to the London Salon until a year before his death in 1936.