See Suffragette 'Selfies' At Museum Of London Docklands
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
Museum of London Docklands' latest exhibition is a remarkable photography show focused on the work of Christina Broom.
Widely considered the UK's first female press photographer, Broom captured a wide variety of subjects over a 35-year period from 1903 until her death in 1939. Soldiers and Suffragettes — the first major exhibition of her work — opens today, and is a real treasure trove of pictures, video clips, artefacts and more.
In the show, the story of Broom's deceptively 'normal' life (she grew up in a modestly well-to-do family in Chelsea, inherited property, and set up a stationers shop) and 'subtle' photographs come together to create an explosive portrait of a unique slice of British history. On the one hand, Broom is just a petite, independent woman with a camera and an impassive, business-like eye for a saleable image. On the other, this is a remarkable, talented outsider documenting the singularly powerful pageantry of the Suffragettes, snapping exclusive shots of the Boat Race, capturing poignant pictures of the royal family. and infiltrating barracks during the First World War.
Her outstanding achievements become clear when you consider that subsequent approaches to photograph soldiers in a similar way in the Second World War were refused. Things would never be the same again; but thanks to Broom's photos we can glimpse an isolated moment in British social history.
The exhibition benefits from being bang on trend: the rise in street photography, Instagram, the First World War anniversary, a forthcoming feature film about the Suffragettes. One wall offers something as close as we can possibly get to Suffragette 'selfies': singular women, staring straight out of the picture, a real "I was there" souvenir, snapped on the day of the Women's Exhibition, printed overnight and available to purchase the very next day. Broom looks with a dispassionate lens (there are no records of her supporting the cause or otherwise), but you can't help thinking her sex offered her closer access to her subjects.
Elsewhere the poignancy of pictures of smart soldiers in military garb, full of bravado, presumably unaware of the horrors to come, mixes with the sense of a unique artist at work: an unconnected, self-taught woman, invited to photograph the great and the good of British military society at this turbulent time. Look out for the heartbreaking group shot including Kipling's son, John, his thick glasses reflecting blindly into the lens.
Lovers of London street history mustn't miss one fun, interactive exhibit which plots Broom's photos on a map. Click on the location, and you'll be treated to her best London landscapes: turn-of-the-century Oxford street, Exhibition Road and Earls Court are both familiar and alien to modern eyes. It's just another highlight in a multi-layered must-see show.
Soldiers and Suffragettes: the Photography of Christina Broom runs at Museum of London Docklands from 19 June-1 November. It's free to enter.
Read more about Suffragettes in London
Last Updated 19 June 2015