In Conversation: Mayotte Magnus and Tracy Chevalier
21 September 2018, 19:00
Ondaatje Wing Theatre
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Dame Marina Sarah Warner
by Mayotte Magnus
In 1977, the National Portrait Gallery staged a landmark exhibition, featuring nearly ninety portraits of eminent women photographed by Mayotte Magnus. It was the first photographic exhibition at the Gallery to focus exclusively on female achievement. To celebrate the Gallery’s new display of her photographs, which revisits some of those key portraits of women who have illuminated our world through their performances, music, artworks and words, Mayotte Magnus talks to novelist Tracy Chevalier about her life and work.
Mayotte Magnus (b.1934) spent her early years in Paris, settling in Cambridge on her marriage to George Magnus in 1959. She turned from painting to a career in photography, becoming a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 1973. Her acclaimed exhibition at the Gallery was subsequently shown at the Houses of Parliament to mark the 50th anniversary of the Act of 1928 that gave women electoral equality with men. In addition to commissions from magazines including Harpers and Queen, Magnus established a photography school with her second husband Jorge Lewinski (1921–2008), which they ran from their home in south London. Since 1998, Magnus has been restoring the Palais des Evêques de Comminges in Alan, near Toulouse and her most recent photography project has been exhibited as The Eye of Proust (2016).
Magnus’s photographs illuminate their subjects through her instinct for composition and harmony. She builds the image, normally in the sitters’ homes, following extensive research into their achievements. She says; ‘My interest in people, my fellow human beings, has always been there and photography is a means of expressing it
Tracy Chevalier was born in 1962 and grew up in the US. She studied English at Oberlin College, Ohio and moved to England in 1984, where she has since lived. She worked as a Reference Book editor until 1993, after which she studied for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. While she was studying, she began her first novel, The Virgin Blue, which was published in 1997, and was later republished. This was followed by further novels: Girl With A Pearl Earring (1999); Falling Angels (2001); The Lady and the Unicorn (2003); Burning Bright (2007), a novel about William Blake; and Remarkable Creatures (2009).
Tracy Chevalier’s most recent novel, New Boy (2018), is a retelling of Othello set in an American school in the 1970s.
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