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Indepth Arts News:

"Recent Gifts of Photojournalism"
2003-08-11 until 2003-11-02
Victoria and Albert Museum
London, , UK

This display of 40 photographs celebrates two important recent gifts of photographs to the V&A's photography collection and explores four key themes in mid 20th century photojournalism. During the past year, the V&A photography collection has been greatly enriched by two important gifts of mid 20th century photojournalism; a large body of photographs from the archive of the John Hillelson Agency, one of the most important picture agencies in post-war Britain; and a group of photographs by David Seymour ('Chim'), one of the founding members of Magnum. Together these gifts form a rich and diverse record of some of the best photojournalism from the 1930s to the 1970s. The photographs will be on display for the first time at the V&A.

40 photographs from these two gifts have been selected for the display by the distinguished art historian Professor David Alan Mellor, this year's V&A/University of Sussex Research Fellow.

The display explores four key themes of mid 20th century photojournalism, embracing the culture of the period: celebrity; the spectacle of politics; the faces and behaviour of citizens of the modern world; and the challenging experience of modernity. Each section will contain a group of about 10 photographs.


This section contains photographs from the 1930s-1950s that show how public figures, from artists and intellectuals such as Frida Kahlo, Virginia Woolf and Albert Einstein, to film stars such as Marlene Dietrich and Gloria Swanson, shaped their public image for the camera and a mass audience. A comparison between staged portraits and clandestine shots suggests the tensions between the controlled photo story and the candid, surveillance image.


Much early photojournalism of the 1920s and 1930s concentrated on the spectacle of political summits and conferences as the world slid towards war. Erich Salomon, for whose work the term 'candid' photography was coined, became famous for gaining entrance to the hitherto hidden world of political conferences, diplomatic conferences and court cases, and taking photographs of public figures in what he termed 'unguarded moments'. His work led the way for investigative journalism. Pictures by Erich Salomon and his contemporary Lucien Aigner are included in this section, along with later photographs that explore how politicians came to style themselves for the intrusive gaze of the photograph, and how photographers came to use clandestine photography for political purposes.


A new kind of humane photography embodying liberal-left aspirations was promoted in photo-magazines in Europe and the USA during the 1930s and formed the basis for post-war 'concerned' photography. The work of David Seymour ('Chim') was central to this development. This section contains examples of his reportage of the Spanish Civil War, the aftermath of World War Two and the establishment of the state of Israel. Also on display will be work from the 1930s by Lucien Aigner, and examples of work by later generations of photographers, including Ernst Haas and Mary Ellen Mark.


This section looks at representations of modernity from the 1930s to1960s and the alliance of photojournalism with a highly technologised world. Photographs of space travel, skyscrapers and of the first Concorde celebrate progress and technical advance. The photographs in this section include work by Ernst Haas, Frank Horvat and Howard Sochurek.

The photographs on display have had a working life in picture agencies and the production process of magazines. To show how they may have appeared in print, a selection of photo-stories from the 1960s will also be on display.

A Turkmen Bride Rides on a Camel
The bride is seated on a covered litter,
called a kejebe, which is draped with three
large knotted-pile trappings with tassels.
North Afghanistan, mid 1970s
Photo: Roland and Sabrina Michaud
Courtesy: The John Hillelson Agency, London

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