Wednesday, 4 October 2006

SNOWDON HEIGHTS

I love photography and am in awe of the masters of the craft and especially the portrait photographer, because he or she is confronted with the challenge of having to capture likenesses of famous and, often, much-photographed faces in a way that reveals something we instinctively know to be true about them or swhich uncovers something which is startling and surprising…

I've many favourite photographers whose work spans several generations and a variety of styles from Cecil Beaton and Angus McBean via Karsh of Ottawa to Annie Leibovitz and Snowdon, an artist whose work (including many stunning portraits) is currently celebrated in a retrospective show at Chris Beetles Gallery in London.

In addition to pictures of Snowdon's ex-wife and other famous royals, are some fascinating character studies such as the young Tom Stoppard (above) photographed in 1967 - when he was still viewed as revolutionary dramatist - trying to ride a bike without wheels; Laurence Olivier - with manic eyes and rictus grin - as Archie Rice, the eponymous hero of John Osborne's The Entertainer


…J R R Tolkien, the Lord and Master of Middle-earth, snugly nestled - hobbit-like - among the gnarled tree-roots in a wood near his home in Bournemouth, the year before his death...


...and Ralph Richardson - eccentrically dressed in overcoat and scarf as if he has just arrived or is about to pop off - and obviously caught in mid anecdote: a whimsical portrait that looks contemporary yet, at the same time, harks back to the age of the Victorian cart de visite and a likeness, perhaps, of a Liberal politician or, maybe, a wealthy west country farmer...


There too many brilliant Snowdon photographs on show to permit the selecting of favourites, but an energised seventy-year-old Noel Coward in a pigeon-clouded Trafalgar Square is clearly so full of the joy of life that it makes me smile…


…while a Marlene Dietrich at the Café de Paris’ in London in 1955, with a drifting cigarette smoke spectre is the epitome of poise and icy sophistication…


…and Snowdon’s most recent - and cruelly artful - portrait of Baroness Thatcher, the failing former Prime Minister, uncharacteristically blowing us a kiss in 2004 is an image to raise a multitude of expected and unexpected responses ranging from contempt to compassion.


The exhibition, Snowdon, continues at Chris Beetles Gallery until 14th October. Also on show: Mervyn Peake: The Man And His Work, about which I shall blog another blog on another day...

[Images: © Snowdon]

4 comments:

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Scrooge said...

some nice pictures there Mr B


(visit Gramps Lamps for all your lighting needs)

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polkadotsoph said...

I've never seen that picture of Noel Coward before - it's enchanting... in stark contrast to the picture of Mrs T which is one of the most disturbing images I have seen in a while.

Scrooge said...

Mrs T is always disturbing. My generation regard her as the Angel of Death.