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Felix Man Reportage Portraits 1929-76

1 October 1976 - 2 January 1977

Press Notice

Felix H. Man [1893-1985] occupies a secure place in the history of photography as the person who took photo-portraits out of the studio into “real” life. His artistic vision was stimulated by advances in camera design and film quality which made this possible (see Technical Note below).

Felix Man is best known in Britain for his work on Picture Post, with which he was intimately involved for much of its nineteen year run (1938-57), a good deal of that time as its chief photographer. After studying fine art and the history of art in Munich and Berlin before and after the First World War, he went into journalism in the mid-twenties and was soon engaged in photographic assignments, including “reportage portraits”, a term he coined himself. ‘I had no sittings’ he says: the photographs were taken in the course of a “Photo-interview”. Thus the method I used in portraying people was based on precisely the same principles I had developed as a photo-journalist: “writing with the camera instead of the pen” and leaving everything undisturbed in its natural conditions.’

The seventy or so photographs in the exhibition, nearly all of them in black and white (but including a series of colour photographs of great artists), cover a wide range of internationally famous names in the arts and politics, ranging from a candid and dramatic study of Mussolini in 1931, one of his most famous images, to portraits of David Hockney in 1970 and Paul Delvaux in 1976.

Technical note

Man’s innovatory technique was based on natural surroundings and normal room lighting (i.e. no flash), leading to informal studies captured in the course of conversation. The first camera to make this possible was the Ermanox – a small plate camera with a 1:1.8 lens; this, however, still had to be used with a tripod, the length of exposure varying from ¾ to ½ second.

In 1932 a new version of the Leica was brought out, which had the advantage of fast interchangeable lenses. Film, too, had by then been greatly improved, both in speed and in grain. Man therefore discarded the Ermanox and adopted the handier Leica. His first Leica photograph in this exhibition is the portrait of Maxim Gorky (no. 25).


(Please note: sitter’s biographical dates have been updated from the original hand list. Updated December 2012).

1. Conrad Adenauer, 1963 (Leica)

2. James Agate, 1939 (Leica)
NPG x1148

3. Monsignor Francis Bartlett (Leica)

4. Lord Beaverbrook, c. 1951 (Leica)
NPG x1149

5. Bernard Berenson, 1950 (Leica)

6. Elizabeth Bergener, London, 1934 (Leica)

7. Ernest Bevin, c. 1941 (Leica)

8. Sir Adrian Boult, 1935 (Leica)

9. Georges Braque, 1950 (Kodachrome 35mm)

10. Aristide Briand with his Chef de Cabinet, Léger, 1931 (Ermanox)

11. Benjamin Britten, 1941 (Leica)

12. Sir Alexander Bustamente, 1950 (Leica)

13. Pablo Casals, 1935 (Leica)

14. Marc Chagall, 1949 (Kodachrome 35mm)

15. Charles Chaplin, 1931 (Ermanox)

16. Sir Winston Churchill, 1954 (Leica)

17. Sir Kenneth Clark (Leica)

18. Sir Stafford Cripps, 1939 (Leica)
NPG x1151

19. Paul Delvaux, 1976 (Compact-Leica)

20. T.S. Eliot, c. 1943 (Leica)
NPG x1152

21. Jacob Epstein, c. 1943 (Leica)

22. Wilhelm Furtwängler and Paul Hindemith, 1930 (Ermonox)

23. Helmut Gersheim, 1971 (Rollei 35)

24. Lord Goodman with Graham Sutherland, c. 1973 (Leica)

25. Maxim Gorky, 1932 (Leica)

26. Martin Heidegger, 1949 (Leica)

27. Arthur Henderson with Lord and Lady Snowden, 1929 (Nettel)

28. Paul von Hindenburg, Berlin, 1931 (Ermanox)

29. David Hockney, 1970 (Leica)

30. Leslie Howard, c. 1940 (Leica)

31. Leslie Hurry, 1943 (Leica)

32. Edmund Husserl, 1929 (Ermanox)

33. Deborah Kerr (Leica)

34. Oskar Kokoschka, 1963 (Super Iconta)

35. Sir Osbert Lancaster, 1943 (Leica)

36. George Lansbury, 1934 (Leica)
NPG x1153

37. Pierre Laval, 1931 (Ermanox)

38. Evelyn Laye, c. 1943 (Leica)

39. Le Corbusier, 1950 (Kodachrome 35mm)

40. Fernard Léger, 1950 (Kodachrome 35mm)

41. Franz Lehar, 1930 (Ermanox)

42. Max Liebermann, 1930 (Ermanox)

43. The Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, 1942 (Leica)

44. Oliver Lyttleton (later Lord Chandos)

45. Monsignor Pasquale Macchi, 1974 (Rollei 35)

46. Harold Macmillan and Lord Hailsham, c. 1957 (Leica)

47. Felix H. Man, surrealistic self-portrait, 1947 (Leica)

48. John Masefield, c. 1945 (Leica)
NPG x1154

49. Henri Matisse, 1948 (Kodachrome 35mm)

50. Wonder-Rabbi Meier-Leifer, 1930 (Ermanox)

51. Joan Mirò, 1950 (Leica)

52. Henry Moore, 1946 (Leica)

53. Benito Mussolini, 1931 (Ermanox)

54. Paul Nash, 1943/44
NPG x11804

55. Laurence Olivier and Joyce Redman in Shaw’s Arms and the Man, 1944 (Leica)

56. George Orwell (Leica)
NPG P865

57. Pope Paul VI, 1970 (Rollei 35)

58. Pablo Picasso, 1950 (Kodachrome 35mm)

59. John Piper, c. 1944/45 (Leica)

60. Max Planck, 1930 (Ermanox)

61. Jean-Paul Satre, 1950 (Leica)

62. George Bernard Shaw, c. 1937 (Leica)

63. Max Slevogt, 1930 (Ermanox)

64. Matthew Smith, 1949 (Kodachrome 35mm)

65. Richard Strauss and Sir Thomas Beecham, c. 1947 (Leica)

66. Gustav Stresemann and Count Zech, 1929 (Contessa-Nettel)

67. Graham Sutherland, 1957 (Kodachrome 35mm)

68. Sybil Thorndike in Peer Gynt, 1943 (Leica)
NPG x1156

69. Arturo Toscanini, 1930 (Ermanox)

70. Siegfried Wagner, 1930 (Ermanox)

71. Franz Werfel and Alma Werfel-Marler

72. Lord Winterton, 1939 (Leica)
NPG P372

73. Sir Henry Wood, Queen’s Hall, 1938 (Leica)
NPG x1157

74. Lord Woolton, 1941 (Leica) 

Press Reviews

The exhibition was designed by the Barnet sculptor and designer, Edward Gould.

[...] Man is one of the great pioneers of photography, bringing photographic portraiture out of the rigid confines of the studio and allowing the sitter to feel, as he says, “at ease and comfortable in his own surroundings.”

Probably best known by his work for Picture Post, where he was chief photographer for eight years, the results of his revolution in photography are some of the most famous and striking images of this century.’

‘Ted Gould has created for the exhibition an unobtrusive environment which shows the photographs off to fine advantage and for once at a photography exhibition you do not come away feeling that the prints could be better appreciated in a book than hanging in a gallery.’

Luke Dixon, ‘Man of the moment’ in Barnet Press, 8 October 1976

‘The portraits on view at the NPG incorporate a fine sense of the snatched moment – and indeed Man refuses to acknowledge that he ever worked with sitters. “All my pictures were done”, he told me, “on the run, so to speak.”’

‘He regrets the days of photo-journalism, and maintains that television has kicked the feet from under today’s aspirants in the genre.’

‘Man felt that art photography, the sale of prints, has taken over as prime outlet for today’s young cameraman.’

‘Despair at the top’ in Amateur Photographer, 13 October 1976

‘Now we must say that Felix H. Man was a realist. He has composed his sitters in their natural surround, and has brought out their personal quality. They are all humans, from Dictators through to Cardinals, down to the artists ... all are famous people but they have allowed themselves to be quite friendly and natural. In the whole collection there is not a trick photo. This is portraiture as well as reportage.’

Cottie Burland, ‘Life and Individuals’ in Arts Review, 15 October 1976

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