Christina Broom: A pioneering photographer

By anna sparham on 4 Apr 2014
'The Bermondsey B'hoys' taken by Christina Broom, c1914

‘The Bermondsey B’hoys’ taken by Christina Broom, c1914

It is almost a year now since I first laid eyes on an extraordinary private collection of photographs by Christina Broom. Mrs Albert Broom, to use her professional name, was a very familiar woman to me because of our existing collection of her work – around 300 glass plates including fantastic suffragette processions and events. I thought I knew about her to a certain degree. So it was with great eagerness that I delved into the dusty boxes and albums of this remaining content.

At this point I was quite oblivious to how much her life story would entice me over the forthcoming months. As I browsed through the hundreds of photographic postcards I soon realised I had so much to learn about the breadth of her work in London, ranging from Royal events, society occasions, the Boat Race through to most substantially the Guards of the Household Brigade. By the second time of viewing I was hooked. Alongside the mass of compelling photographs, the personal letters and ephemera relating to her entrepreneurial London life drew me in – it was impossible to ignore.

Soldiers say goodbye to their families at Waterloo station, 1916

Soldiers say goodbye to their families at Waterloo station, 1916

It was with the fast approaching centenary of the First World War that we considered this acquisition for the museum. Broom photographed between 1904 and 1939 and saw the war through her photography of the soldiers going to and returning from the Front as well as documenting London before, during and after that time. From the outset however I also wanted to focus on this work of a woman photographer; a woman who was unique, intriguing, skilled and largely underappreciated, her story not yet being widely told. That Broom was 40 when she taught herself photography, and that her daughter Winifred made all the prints, is in itself a great story opener.

So since the exciting day of the collection’s arrival in the museum, after succeeding in acquiring it, I’ve spent several hours scratching the surface of the contents, finding my way around the photographs and ephemera, and uncovering little gems of interest. The ambition to share Christina and Winifred’s story in full is I hope going to be realised. And this week is where it all begins, with the opening of a small introductory display and the announcement for a larger scale exhibition in the pipeline.

A portrait of photographer Christina Broom

A portrait of photographer Christina Broom – here’s another great image of her from the Imperial War Museum

 

This collection, to which I feel a great attachment, has gone global. On Monday as I skipped to the newsagents for the first piece of press about the acquisition I was struck by her intense portrait staring back at me from the front-page of the Guardian. I was so pleased that, 75 years after her death, she was having her moment, on the front-page no less, this pioneer for female press photography. Winifred wrote in one of her letters that ‘museums are more than happy to have our negatives, but are not interested in our lives’. How mistaken she was.

4 thoughts on “Christina Broom: A pioneering photographer

  1. Piero says:

    Beautiful pictures!

  2. John Hampshire says:

    Anna Sparham the exhibition curator came to Fulham last week to address the Fulham and Hammersmith Historical Society about Christina Bloom. The talk was fascinating, not just presenting the evidence of her photographs but giving an insight into how she was able to have the confidence of her subjects and gain the support of Senior Army Officers and Royalty to give her access. A really engaging talk so relevant to us as she worked from Munster Road. Those of us that have not seen the exhibition will certainly be doing so soon. Many thanks to the Museum of London and to Anna Sparham for giving up her evening.

  3. Shawdian says:

    How proud I feel about Christine Broom the Official Gaurds Photographer and how disappointed I am that I have never heard of this Lady until I accidently came across the page on this website. Women were treated atrocious not given public recognition for so many subjects of importance, should they have been carried out by a male, would be spread all over records and newspapers and schools with pride.
    Now wonder women of that time fought for their rights. It took Blood, Sweat and Tears but eventually got there. Mrs Brooms photographs are raw showing real feelings these men and women were going through in WW1. Men going off to War and the females left behind worried sick and doing their best to keep the ‘Home’ going for when or ‘if’ their loved ones returned. It is all in the faces of those she photogaphed, no ‘smile now & say cheese!’ I look forwad to viewing more of Christine Brooms work.

  4. Shawdian says:

    Apologies for missing off the ‘a’ in Christina Brooms name! I was not wearing my glasses.

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