08
Jan
14

Exhibition: ‘Edith Tudor Hart – In the Shadow of Tyranny’ at the Wien Museum, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 26th September 2013 – 12th January 2014

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More images from this wonderful photographer who was a low-level Soviet agent while exiled in Britain after the Second World War and who destroyed most of her photos as well as many negatives out of fear of prosecution in 1951. Thanks to contemporary research we can begin to see the vision of this artist. In her photo essays, an impassioned record, she imaged social injustice and showed it to the world… creating her own inimitable style and a “comprehensive and freestanding body of work.”

“Her photos are impressive for the quality of the dialogue with those portrayed and the social context is always visible and tangible. “The women, children and workers photographed by her seem less objectified and, to some extent at least, are placed in a better position to represent themselves,” writes Duncan Forbes, curator of the exhibition.” (press release)

The quality of the dialogue with those portrayed. You can feel that in these images, that the photographer has a care and respect for the people that she is photographing, probably more so than the photographs of Bill Brandt from the same period. She seems to have more connection and concern for her subject matter. I love their grittiness, poignancy and above all their humanity. Look at the arrangement of figures in Family, Stepney, London (about 1932, below) as the viewers eye is led by the two staggered boys on the bed up to the eldest daughter, looking away off camera, while the mother steadfastly gazes directly into the camera clutching her youngest daughter tightly. The smile on the little girls face is a joy.

“No Home, No Dole” was the reality of life in London back then, with the Great Depression taking hold. I remember growing up in the 1960s and things weren’t much better in my grandmothers house, even the old farmhouse I grew up in. No hot running water, my mother bathing us kids in a tin tub on the kitchen floor with water heated up in the kettle on the stove. It was subsistence living for we were the poorest of the poor. That Edith Tudor Hart had the courage of her convictions and recorded these environments shows a human being of great moral character. That the images still survive we are grateful.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Wien Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. View the exhibition online catalogue.

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“If curator Duncan Forbes and photographers Owen Logan and Joanna Kane have resurrected an amazing archive, Tudor-Hart’s own life is curiously out of focus. Her struggles and sorrows are mute beneath the weight of her images. Her late life feels only half-lived: she struggled under the scrutiny of the security services until her death in 1973; she destroyed much documentation, including her list of negatives. As a woman photographer with left-wing associations, work became scarce. As a communist and a suspected traitor she was blacklisted and in the 1950s she gave up photography altogether.

What’s left, or rather what has been patiently reconstructed, is an impassioned record of the terrible long shadow of ­tyranny in Europe, and of a ­divided Britain that makes you both deeply ashamed and ­occasionally proud.”

Moria Jeffrey review of the exhibition 04/07/2013

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Edith_Tudor_Moving-and-Growing-WEB

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Edith Tudor-Hart
From the series Moving and Growing
1951
© Wien Museum

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Edith Tudor-Hart. 'Unemployed Workers' Demonstration, Trealaw, South Wales' 1935

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Edith Tudor-Hart
Unemployed Workers’ Demonstration, Trealaw, South Wales
1935
© Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004

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Edith Tudor-Hart. 'Prater Ferris Wheel, Vienna' 1931

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Edith Tudor-Hart
Prater Ferris Wheel, Vienna
1931
© Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004

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“The rediscovery of a great Austrian-British photographer Edith Tudor-Hart (1908-1973), who is known in Austrian history of photography as Edith Suschitzky, belonged to the group of those politically engaged photographers who faced political developments in the inter-war years with socially critical force.

Edith Suschitzky studied at the Bauhaus in Dessau and worked as a photographer in Vienna around 1930 – while simultaneously a Soviet agent. In 1933 she married an Englishman who likewise had close connections to the Communist Party, and fled with him to Great Britain. There she created brilliant social reportage in the slums of London or in the coal mining areas of Wales, today some of the key examples of British workers’ photography. The exhibition is the first monographic presentation of Edith Tudor-Hart’s work. As well as the period in England, a selection from the early Viennese works are on show. Her unpretentious, documentary-influenced photographs on social themes come mainly from the collections of the National Galleries of Scotland

Following Barbara Pflaum, Elfriede Mejchar and Trude Fleischmann, the Wien Museum is once again putting on a solo exhibition dedicated to a great Austrian photographer: Edith Tudor-Hart (1908-1973), also known in the annals of photographic history by her maiden name Edith Suschitzky. She belonged to the group of politically engaged male and female photographers who, from the 1920s onwards, responded to political developments from a socially critical standpoint – both in Austria and in exile in England, where she became an important figure in the Worker Photography Movement. The exhibition, which was previously on show in Edinburgh, is the first ever overview of the work of this in equal measure fascinating and significant artist. It arose out of a cooperation between the National Galleries of Scotland and the Wien Museum and has been curated by Duncan Forbes, the long-standing Senior Curator of Photography at the National Galleries of Scotland and the new Director of the Fotomuseum Winterthur.

Edith Tudor-Hart was born in Vienna in 1908 as Edith Suschitzky and grew up in a social-democratic household; her father ran a workers’ bookshop in the Favoriten district of Vienna and a revolutionary publishing house. She had contact with the Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ) and the Communist International already from a young age and both charged her with tasks – with legal party work as well as with intelligence activities. Early on, Tudor-Hart become interested in pedagogy; she completed training in the Montessori method and moved in circles that promoted radical, anti-authoritarian school and education reforms. It was likely the period of study at the Bauhaus in Dessau (1928-1930) that first brought her to photography, even though Tudor-Hart is listed in the archives only as a participant on the famous preparatory course and not as a student in the photography department. Her first pictures were taken in about 1930 and “show a technically accomplished photographer, who explored subjects such as the deprivation of the working class and the reform-oriented culture of Austrian Social Democracy as well as the threat posed by military and fascist forces” (as the historian of photography Anton Holzer has written). At the same time she embarked on a career as a photo journalist for illustrated publications.

It was the period in which, thanks to technological advances, photography in the mass media had gained immensely in importance. From the beginning, Tudor-Hart viewed the camera as a political weapon that could be used to document social injustices; she had little time for the formal experiments of the avant-garde. Photography had ceased to be “an instrument for recording events and became instead the means to bring events about and to influence them. It became a living art form that involved the people” (Edith Tudor-Hart). Her first photo series, published in the magazines Der Kuckuck, Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung and Die Bühne, include a reportage on the deprived East End of London and a series on everyday life in the Vienna Prater. That she was a Communist and yet was working for a social-democratic publication such as Der Kuckuck was down to the fact that the KPÖ played a minimal role in the media (and political) landscape of Austria – in this respect the young photographer had to adapt to the commercial realities of her profession. However, she was also active for the Soviet news agency TASS and, in addition, she continued with her intelligence activities. She was described by a fellow agent as “modest, competent and brave”, ready “to give her all for the Soviet cause”. This eventually became Edith Tudor-Hart’s undoing: when the Austrian government moved against Nazis and Communists, she was arrested without further ado. In the same year she married the English doctor Alexander Tudor-Hart, which allowed her to escape to Great Britain in 1934. “When one views Suschitzky’s photographic work from her Vienna years, it becomes clear that already in her early period, she created a comprehensive and freestanding body of work,” writes Anton Holzer.

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Among the miners in Wales

In exile, Edith Tudor-Hart’s photographs took on a sharper socially critical edge. She went with her husband to South Wales, where he practised as a doctor in the coal mining region. The economic crisis had hit heavy industry and mining in northern England particularly hard and in many small towns and villages, nine out of ten men were unemployed. The photos from the mining and shipbuilding region of Tyneside also tell of crippling economic hardship and social decline. With her pictures, Tudor-Hart clearly stood out from the mainstream of British photography, characterised at that time by a bourgeois, somewhat sweet and sentimental aesthetic. Her photos are impressive for the quality of the dialogue with those portrayed and the social context is always visible and tangible. “The women, children and workers photographed by her seem less objectified and, to some extent at least, are placed in a better position to represent themselves,” writes Duncan Forbes, curator of the exhibition. During the slight economic recovery of the mid-1930s, Tudor-Hart was able to build up a photo studio in London: “Edith Tudor-Hart – Modern Photography” it said on her headed paper. She specialised in portraiture and was also able to obtain some advertising work, for example for the toy manufacturer Abbatt Toys. In addition, she supplied photos to new British illustrated publications, including the magazine Lilliput and the popular paper Picture Post, as well as to government departments such as the British Ministry of Education. For her, working for the traditional papers of Fleet Street was, however, not an option. Alongside the equally consistent and nuanced workers’ photography, Tudor-Hart concentrated on work with children, especially after the Second World War, and in this she could call on a wide network of contacts. These included the Austrian paediatrician and curative educator Karl König as well as Anna Freud and Donald Winnicott, two of the leading protagonists of child psychoanalysis. She was concerned with issues of child welfare, heath and education and received commissions from agencies such as the British Medical Association, Mencap and the National Baby Welfare Council. In contrast to the static, studio-based portrait photography customary at the time, Tudor-Hart showed families and especially children as natural and lively.

After the Second World War and with the onset of the Cold War, Tudor-Hart’s personal situation worsened as she was still active as a low-level Soviet agent. In 1951, shortly after the Soviet spy Kim Philby was interrogated for the first time, she destroyed most of her photos as well as many negatives out of fear of prosecution. “Her life as a partisan for the Soviet cause ended with her a defeated and demoralised woman,” writes Duncan Forbes. She stopped publishing photos at the end of the 1950s, presumably at the request of the British secret services. Despite being questioned numerous times she was never arrested. Edith Tudor-Hart lived out her final years until her death in 1973 as an antiques dealer in Brighton.

That her photographic work was rediscovered is thanks to her brother, the photographer and cameraman Wolfgang Suschitzky. He saved a number of negatives from destruction and, in 2004, presented his sister’s photographic archive to the Scottish National Galleries. This exhibition and catalogue make Edith Tudor-Hart’s exceptional work accessible to a wider public for the first time. The exhibition was on show at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh in spring 2013 and, after its run at the Wien Museum, will also be on display in Berlin. For the first time, it offers an overview of Tudor-Hart’s work from her years in both Vienna and England; many of the photos have never been seen before. Furthermore, the first comprehensive work on this great Austrian artist is being published on the occasion of this exhibition.”

Press release from the Wien Museum website

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Edith Tudor-Hart. 'Family, Stepney, London' about 1932

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Edith Tudor-Hart
Family, Stepney, London
about 1932
© Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004

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Edith Tudor-Hart. 'Gee Street, Finsbury, London' about 1936

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Edith Tudor-Hart
Gee Street, Finsbury, London
about 1936
© Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004

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Edith Tudor-Hart. 'Unemployed Family, Vienna' 1930

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Edith Tudor-Hart
Unemployed Family, Vienna
1930
© Wien Museum

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Edith Tudor-Hart. '"No Home, No Dole" London' about 1931

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Edith Tudor-Hart
“No Home, No Dole” London
about 1931
© Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004

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Edith Tudor-Hart. 'Self-portrait, London' about 1936

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Edith Tudor-Hart
Self-portrait, London
about 1936
© Scottish National Portrait Gallery / Archive presented by Wolfgang Suschitzky 2004

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Wien Museum
1040 Vienna, Karlsplatz 8
T: +43 (0)1 505 87 47 0

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday and public holidays 10 am – 6 pm

Wien Museum 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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