sat 19/10/2019

Gallery: Christina Broom's Soldiers and Suffragettes | reviews, news & interviews

Gallery: Christina Broom's Soldiers and Suffragettes

Gallery: Christina Broom's Soldiers and Suffragettes

Images from a new exhibition and book celebrate the unsung pioneer of UK press photography

Christina Broom: 'Women’s Social and Political Union Exhibition'© Christina Broom/Museum of London

There were female pioneers of photography before Christina Broom, most notably Julia Margaret Cameron. And others have hidden their light under a bigger bushel: Vivian Meier's body of work remained stashed away only to be discovered after her death. Broom's importance is partly one of timing: she prowled the streets of London at a time of great historical significance. As suggested by Soldiers and Suffragettes, the title of a new exhibition and book celebrating her work, she was a witness to the struggle for universal suffrage and the First World War.

Her career starrted late. In 1903, at the age of 40, she borrowed a box camera and taught herself to use it. A year later she was appointed official photographer to the Household Division and kept the post until her death in 1939, developing her photographs in a dark room in Chelsea Barracks. After the war her work was published in, among others, Tatler, Country Life and Illustrated London News.

A considerable archive of her work was put up for auction at Sotheby's in 2009 but failed to find a buyer. The Museum of London stepped in. The images, in their new exhibition and Anna Sparham's new book, attest to a fine journalistic eye. Her work has some of the stiffness of early portraiture, with subjects holding stonily still to give the lens time to capture them. But they also hint at an informality suggesting Broom had a knack for putting those in her viewfinder at their ease.

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