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Helen Muspratt: Photographer

[ Exhibition )

Black and white solarized photograph of a woman with dark with dark fabric draped over her shoulders. She looks down to the photographs bottom left.

Helen Muspratt, Tess Mayor, solarized portrait, 1933 © The Estate of the Artist

Helen Muspratt was one of the leading women photographers and portraitists of her generation.

From the age of just 21, when she set up her first business on Swanage high street, she went on to build a successful career as a portrait photographer. She captured iconic subjects such as the writer C. P. Snow, the influential neuropsychologist Oliver Zangwill and the artists Francis Newbery, Paul Nash and Eileen Agar.

Several of her most significant portrait commissions came through her business partnership with Lettice Ramsey, which was to be one of the most significant features of Muspratt’s working life. ‘Ramsey and Muspratt’ established their first photographic studio in Cambridge in 1932 and became known for their natural, unaffected style of portraiture that was widely acclaimed for being modern and progressive.

The pair also trialled new photographic processes informed by the surrealist Man Ray, in particular solarisation, which Muspratt also pursued independently with striking results. A dramatic set of solarised portraits of the theatrical family, the Spencer Watsons, was to be one of her finest achievements, revealing her extraordinary capacity for technical innovation.

In each of her ventures Muspratt was guided by a powerful sense of equality and compassion for others. These convictions emerged most strongly in her surprising divergence into photojournalism, most notably a series captured during a tour of the Soviet Union in 1936. Her confrontational and insightful photographs of women on a collective farm near Kiev emphasises the diversity of her vision and technique.

This exhibition traced the formal development of Muspratt’s photography, bringing together examples of her studio portraits, documentary photographs and technical experimentations with solarisation.

The exhibition was accompanied by the book Face: Shape and Angle, written by Jessica Sutcliffe, Helen Muspratt’s daughter. Published by Manchester University Press and on sale at the Pallant House Gallery Bookshop, it contains many reproductions of Muspratt’s most significant and striking images.

What the press said

With their classic beauty, compassion and monochrome boldness, Muspratt’s photographs continue to resonate.

Daisy Schofield, Royal Academy of Arts

Want to know more?

If you’re conducting research into this artist or another aspect of Modern British art and would like to use our library and archive, please contact Sarah Norris, Collections Manager on s.norris@pallant.org.uk.

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