Photographs by Snowdon: A Retrospective
Anthony Armstrong-Jones married Princess Margaret in 1960 and became the Earl of Snowdon. Before, during, and after his marriage, Snowdon was one of Britain’s leading photographers. In 2000, the National Portrait Gallery in London mounted a large retrospective exhibition of his work, which included 181 photographs. A year later, this exhibition traveled to the Yale Center for British Art for its only American showing.
Photographs by Snowdon: A Retrospective covered fifty years of this remarkable photographer’s work. From an early stage, Snowdon deliberately moved away from the stately and stuffy English version of fashion and theatrical photography. He used a miniature camera and launched a new turning in British photography. Intimacy, intensity, and informality characterize his portraits of artists and writers, actors, and designers. “You have to strip people of their poses and disguises,” he once remarked. Whether it is the art historian and spy, Anthony Blunt, caught with a slide reflected in his eyeball, or J.R.R. Tolkien, gripped in middle earth by the vast roots of a spreading oak, British society, English writers and artists, performers and designers, nobles and commoners were caught with a new candor and style.
Photographers set the tone and carry the tune and atmosphere of the times. Snowdon caught the swinging sixties of London better than any photographer and has continued to be the poet and recorder of London as a center of artistic and creative vitality. This exhibition included some of Snowdon’s photojournalism, documenting locations abroad as well as the treatment of the mentally ill at home. “I am always suspicious if photographs are too beautiful,” he observed. A friend and associate of the famous and the glamorous, Snowdon surprises with his range of sympathy. This retrospective dramatized a rounded career with sharp edges.
National Portrait Gallery, London:
February 25–June 4, 2000
Yale Center for British Art:
June 16–September 2, 2001