During our recent visit to Liverpool we called into the Open Eye Gallery located in a shiny new building in the Mann Island development which stands on the waterfront between the Albert Dock and the Pier Head. The gallery, which was founded in 1977, is “the only gallery dedicated to photography and related media in the North West of England.” They moved to their new premises in 2011.
One of the two exhibitions currently showing featured photographs by Edith Tudor Hart selected from the gallery’s archive collection. There’s another, larger, exhibition of her works also taking place in Edinburgh in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery at the moment.
She was born Edith Suschitzkyin 1919 in Austria. The daughter of a socialist bookshop owner, she remained a committed socialist for all of her life. She trained in photography at the Bauhaus in Dessau, intending to work as a photojournalist. With the political climate becoming increasingly difficult, after being arrested as a Communist sympathiser, she left Austria in 1933 moving to the Rhondda Valley in South Wales with her husband, Alex Tudor-Hart, who worked there as a G.P. After they separated she moved to London. She died at the relatively young age of 64 in 1973.
Most of the reviews I’ve read of both the Open Eye and Edinburgh exhibitions mention her role as a Soviet Spy and association with the “Cambridge Spies”, Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt.
Her work reflected her political commitment. There were three main themes evident in the relatively small collection on display at the Open Eye. First of all photographs from Austria of political gatherings, street demonstrations and other scenes relating to the political struggles taking place in that country during the period.
The photographs from her time in South Wales also depicted political demonstrations but also included industrial landscapes from the mining industry and scenes of working class life.
Demonstration, South Wales (1935)
Photographs taken in London continued the latter theme
Gee Street, Finsbury, London (1936/7) – this could quite easily have been taken in many other parts of the country and could easily have been used as an illustration in George Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier
and she also took a series of pictures illustrating the care and education of disabled children at the Fountain Hospital in London.
Fountain-Hospital, London (1951)
Her photographs were published in a number of magazines, including the Listener, but I suspect that here communist sympathies meant that she had difficulties in obtaining work and probably accounts for her being relatively unknown. By the the late 1950s she had abandoned photography altogether.
I found her photographs to be very beautiful, despite their often grim subject matter. The compositions were excellent. And they were effective at making her political points. They showed the awful conditions in which working class people lived before the Second World War, but were not mawkish or sentimental. They serve as a reminder of how things used to be before the advent of the Welfare State which is despised so much by some of the people currently in charge of the UK.
Edith Tudor- Hart deserves to be much better known and the Liverpool and Edinburgh exhibitions are, belatedly, bringing her work to the attention of a wider audience.