My ideal job would give me licence to stare at people all day. Maybe I should have become a photographer, but while I get the depth of field thing (I think), I never really felt totally at one with a camera. Instead I have become the next best thing for a people-starer: a dress historian. My profession (no sniggering at the back!) provides me with a legitimate reason – or so I am telling myself – for gazing at others and for dissecting their appearance. I’m not too bothered whether someone is fashionably dressed or looks – or pretends to look – as if they don’t particularly care about their clothes. And when I say dissect I don’t mean judge. Whether the clothes are beautiful, ugly, boring or unremarkable (in my eyes or by general consent) is neither here nor there. I want to know why that particular person chose to wear that particular thing in combination with the other things they’ve put on. (Naturally my curiosity extends to accessories, jewellery, hair and make-up as well.)
Coldstream Guards looking through Christina Broom’s postcards for sale, Chelsea Barracks, 1906
This summer, postcards have been a hot topic in my house. In June I installed Soldiers and Suffragettes; the exhibition exploring the life and work of photographer and postcard publisher Christina Broom, including over 100 vintage postcards.
The exhibition Soldiers and Suffragettes: The Photography of Christina Broom created a unique opportunity to use Broom’s original glass plate negatives and recommission the museum’s darkroom and long-forgotten equipment.
The London that Christina Broom knew and embraced as she embarked on her ventures with photography in 1903 would profoundly shape her ambitions, subject matter and way of working. Tradition, pageantry and ceremony, in keeping with the era, interweave Broom’s work. This might be deemed fairly conventional. Yet her compositions, approach and the access she determinedly obtained, indicative of this photographer’s strength of character, define and distinguish her images from the work of her contemporaries. Read the full post
Against the leading Edwardian women photographers, Broom’s entrée to postcard production stood out as a unique business venture. She turned to producing picture postcards just as they were becoming a popular cultural phenomenon. Although pre-stamped official government postcards had been available for sending messages in Britain since 1870, the picture postcard offered a product that was original, functional and commercial. Read the full post
Photography has played an important part in shaping public understanding of the world’s armed forces since the mid-nineteenth century. John McCosh (1805–85), a Scottish surgeon and amateur photographer serving with the East India Company’s Bengal Army, created what are currently believed to be the earliest photographs of British soldiers between 1843 and 1856, a period which included the Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848–9). Elsewhere, an unknown daguerreotypist photographed American troops during the American–Mexican war of 1846–8. Despite the obvious constraints of early technology, both photographers captured the combination of ceremony and soldiering that forms the essence of military life. Read the full post
Mrs Albert Broom took some of the best photographs of the brave women who campaigned for the vote in London in the years up to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. One of the earliest of these images in the Museum of London’s collection is of the Suffragettes, members of the militant Women’s Social and Political Union, at their ‘monster’ meeting in Hyde Park on ‘Women’s Sunday’, 21 June 1908. Her last suffrage photograph captures the arrival of the Cumberland suffragists, members of the moderate National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, ‘Women’s Pilgrimage’ to the capital on 26 July 1913.
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In 1903, Christina Broom – Mrs Albert Broom, to use her professional name – propelled herself into the field of photography as a business venture to support her family. Rising from self-taught novice to a semi-official photographer for the Household Brigade, she emerged as a pioneer for women press photographers in the UK.
Born in Trier, Germany, and a graduate of the London College of Printing, Rut Blees Luxemburg’s work has been described as ominous and disconcerting, using large-format analogue photographs to capture a transient and sometimes disenchanting city. Ahead of London Dust, a small exhibition of her photography and film, opening at the Museum of London on 1 May 2015, we asked her a few questions about her work and the role London plays in its creation. Read the full post
Earlier this year, we acquired two works by one of London’s leading photographers, Rut Blees Luxemburg. They’re from her series London Dust, which takes an oblique look at the redevelopment of the City. The new acquisitions, plus a number of other works from the series, will be on display at the Museum of London from 1 May.