21
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Edith Tudor-Hart: In the Shadow of Tyranny’ at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

Exhibition dates: 2nd March – 26th May 2013

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Another photographer unknown to me, who “attempted to use the camera as a political weapon, aligning her practice with the wider worker photography movement” and produced “images that show a sophisticated realism, marked by their directness and capacity to communicate issues of inequality and deprivation.” In other words she was using photography to fight the good fight, producing photographs that interrogate issues of poverty, unemployment and slum housing.

But there is more to Tudor-Hart’s photographs than just social realism otherwise they would not hold us so. Beyond a perceptive understanding of light and the formal elements of the picture plane there is that ineffable something that a good photographer always has – the ability to transcend the scene, to capture the chance encounter – be it the look on a woman’s face, the ensemble of children preparing vegetables or the untitled man ‘In Total Darkness’ (with traces of Eugene Atget). The aesthetic of engagement, the ability of her photographs to speak directly to the viewer in a vital, dynamic way, also speaks to the life of the photographer: studied at the Bauhaus, an agent for the Communist party, I would have liked to have met this artist.

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Many thankx to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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2---Unemployed-Workers’-Demonstration,-Vienna-WEB

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Edith Tudor-Hart
Untitled (Unemployed Workers’ Demonstration, Vienna)
1932
Modern silver gelatine print from archival negative
30.30 x 30.00 cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004
© Photograph by Edith Tudor Hart

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3---Man-Selling-Fruit,-Vienna-WEB

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Edith Tudor-Hart
Untitled (Man Selling Fruit, Vienna)
c. 1930
Modern silver gelatine print from archival negative
30.30 x 30.10 cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004
© Photograph by Edith Tudor Hart

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6---Caledonian-Market,-London-WEB

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Edith Tudor-Hart
Untitled (Caledonian Market, London)
c. 1931
Modern silver gelatine print from archival negative
27.70 x 27.50 cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004
© Photograph by Edith Tudor Hart

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9---Drying-Room,-Pit-head-Baths,-Ashington-Colliery,-Northumberland-WEB

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Edith Tudor-Hart
Untitled (Drying Room, Pit-head Baths, Ashington Colliery, Northumberland)
c. 1937
Modern silver gelatine print from archival negative
30.30 x 30.10 cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004
© Photograph by Edith Tudor Hart

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“The life and work of one of the most extraordinary photographers in Britain during the 1930s and 1940s is the subject of a major new exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Based on extensive new research, Edith Tudor-Hart: In the Shadow of Tyranny, is the first full presentation of the Austrian-born photographer’s work. The exhibition presents over 80 photographs, many of which have never been shown before, and includes film footage, Tudor-Hart’s scrapbook and a selection of her published stories in books and magazines.

During the 1930s, photography became implicated in the vital political and social questions of the era as never before. The enhanced technological capacities of the camera and faster printing processes offered left-wing political activists new techniques for popular mobilisation. The medium took on a sharper social purpose, breaking down the traditional divisions of culture through its quality of immediacy and capacity for self-representation.

Edith Tudor-Hart was a key exponent of this aesthetic of engagement, with images that show a sophisticated realism, marked by their directness and capacity to communicate issues of inequality and deprivation. In a turbulent decade, she attempted to use the camera as a political weapon, aligning her practice with the wider worker photography movement. Tudor-Hart’s photography dealt with many of the major social issues of the day, including poverty, unemployment and slum housing. Her imagery is a vital record of the politically-charged atmosphere of inter-war Vienna and Britain during the Great Slump of the 1930s. After 1945, Tudor-Hart concentrated on questions of child welfare, producing some of the most psychologically penetrating imagery of children of her era.

Tudor-Hart’s life story as a photographer is inextricably tied to the great political upheavals of the twentieth century. Born Edith Suschitzky in Vienna in 1908, she grew up in radical Jewish circles in a city ravaged by the impact of the First World War. Her childhood was dominated by social issues in a culture acutely aware of the impact of the Russian Revolution. After training as a Montessori teacher, she studied photography at the Bauhaus in Dessau and pursued a career as a photojournalist. However, her life was turned upside down in May 1933 when she was arrested whilst working as an agent for the Communist Party of Austria. She escaped long-term imprisonment by marrying an English doctor, Alexander Tudor-Hart, and was exiled to London shortly afterwards. Notoriously, Tudor-Hart continued to combine her practice as a photographer with low-level espionage for the Soviet Union and was pursued by the security services until her death in 1973.

Tudor-Hart’s photography introduced into Britain formal and narrative features that derived from her training on the Continent. Her method initiates a dialogue with those she photographs, very different from the more distancing imagery of the photojournalists. Along with thirty or so German-speaking exile photographers, many of Jewish origin, Tudor-Hart helped transform British photography. After the Second World War, rejected by Fleet Street and the British establishment, Tudor-Hart turned to documenting issues of child welfare. Her photographs were published in Picture Post and a range of other British magazines. By the late 1950s she had abandoned photography altogether.

Commenting on the exhibition, Director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Christopher Baker, said, ‘We are really pleased to be staging this thrilling retrospective of Tudor-Hart’s photography. It combines stunning images with an intriguing life-story and illuminates a turbulent period in European history. Tudor-Hart was one of the great photographers of her era.’ Edith Tudor-Hart: In the Shadow of Tyranny is drawn largely from the photographer’s negative archive, which was donated to the National Galleries of Scotland by her family in 2004. The exhibition travels to the Wien Museum in September and will form the first complete presentation of her work in Austria.”

Press release from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

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12---Children-Preparing-Vegetables,-North-Stoneham-Camp,-Hampshire-WEB

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Edith Tudor-Hart
Untitled (Children Preparing Vegetables, North Stoneham Camp, Hampshire)
1937
Modern silver gelatine print from archival negative
30.20 x 29.80 cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004
© Photograph by Edith Tudor Hart

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13---Basque-Refugee-Children,-North-Stoneham-Camp,-Hampshire-WEB

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Edith Tudor-Hart
Untitled (Basque Refugee Children, North Stoneham Camp, Hampshire)
1937
Modern silver gelatine print from archival negative
30.20 x 30 cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004
© Photograph by Edith Tudor Hart

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5---Child-Staring-into-Bakery-Window,-London-WEB

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Edith Tudor-Hart
Untitled (Child Staring into Bakery Window)
c. 1935
Modern silver gelatine print from archival negative
35.30 x 30.00 cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004
© Photograph by Edith Tudor Hart

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8---‘In-Total-Darkness’,-London-WEB

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Edith Tudor-Hart
Untitled (In Total Darkness, London)
c. 1935
Modern silver gelatine print from archival negative
27.70 x 27.50 cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004
© Photograph by Edith Tudor Hart

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Scottish National Portrait Gallery
1 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 1JD
T: +44 131 624 6200

Opening hours:

Monday-Wednesday, Friday-Sunday 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
Thursday 10.00 am – 7.00 pm

Scottish National Portrait Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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