Snowdon: A Life In View – National Portrait Gallery

4th October 2014

Earlier this year, Lord Snowdon donated 130 original prints to the National Portrait Gallery which allowed the gallery to produce a small show of about 30 of those images to coincide with the release of his autobiography with the same name as the exhibition. (Quid pro quo?)

Following the study day visit to Zigzag I decided to use the rest of the day to visit this exhibition, primarily because the subject dovetailed nicely with the portrait module of Gesture & Meaning I’m currently engaged in.  Interestingly Lord Snowdon and Lord Litchfield, arguably two of the best known and talented British photographers of the mid-twentieth century, aren’t mentioned or referenced at all in the module.  Whereas Cecil Beaton, probably Snowdon’s nearest rival for acclaim as the ‘go-to’ photographer for celebrities and high-society, is, although Beaton is used as an example to express a certain style Snowdon’s style could be a counter to show what was happening at the time.

 From such a small number of images spread over the sixty year period of his career so far, it’s difficult to get more than a glimpse of his real talent as all the images are of people whom we want to look at simply because of who they are.  I’m sure that if there ever is an exhibition showing a series of images from less well-known personages his talent would be more obvious.  I think what I’m saying is that perhaps the subjects within the images of this exhibition ensure that his talent and technical expertise will show through more simply because of their illustrious personages.  Having said that, the images themselves are superb (of course) and for me this was the first time I’ve ever had chance to study his work in detail and so many images at one time.

I think the thing that stands out more than anything else for me is the way that all the subjects project an impression of relaxation no matter their pose, even the image of Sir Harold Evans here has a relaxed atmosphere even though he appears to be questioning the artist and doesn’t appear to be posing per se.  The lighting is also always subtle and not obvious where its coming from, something I always look at these days as I’ve become more aware of its influence on my own work.

I don’t think a review of each, or any, image is necessary as they’re all people with whom we’re more or less familiar so their appearance requires only a moments thought to picture them.  I think that I have to leave it that a visit to the exhibition is worthwhile, but not as something on its own, it’s too small and far too busy, getting near the frames to have a close look is a feat in itself, but to accompany another exhibition visit would round out a day.


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