Saturday, 5 March 2011

YES! Armenian “bohemian photographer who made history” Ida Kar restrospective at the National Portrait Gallery in London

I cannot believe I have not heard of her before... Now I am all excitement in anticipation of the exhibit.

A must see exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, London. From 10 March to 19 June 2011.

"Russian-born, of Armenian heritage, Ida Kar (1908–74) was instrumental in encouraging the acceptance of photography as a fine art. Her subjects were the most celebrated figures from the literary and artistic spheres of 1950s and 1960s Europe and Russia. They include artists such as Henry Moore, George Braque, Gino Severini and Bridget Riley and writers such as Iris Murdoch and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Taken in the environments in which they lived and worked, the photographs on display offer a fascinating insight into post-war cultural life. Comprising several iconic portraits and many never previously exhibited,  the exhibition is drawn from the Ida Kar Archive, acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1999."

The Guardian writes about forthcoming exhibition of Ida Kar: “Unlike many of her famous subjects, Ida Kar, a once sensational bohemian photographer, has slipped into obscurity.”

Below are selected extracts form The Guardian review, accompanied by some of Ida Kar’s works via the National Portrait Gallery in London.
“Ida Kar was an Armenian, a bohemian and a fiercely distinguished artist who made history. Her exhibition at the Whitechapel in 1960 has been described as the first one-person photography show to be held in a major London gallery. It made her name, but her fame has been slowly slipping away over the decades. It should now be revived thanks to a new look at her work at the National Portrait Gallery, full of striking images of familiar and unfamiliar faces. Some of her subjects, like herself, have drifted away towards neglect and obscurity, but others – Ionesco, Braque, Sartre, Shostakovich, Bertrand Russell, TS Eliot, Andre Breton, Doris Lessing, Bridget Riley, Ivon Hitchens – have held the frontline. She knew how to get hold of the famous and the about-to-be famous. She was a hustler [...]”

“Born Ida Karamian in 1908 to Armenian parents in Russia, she served her apprenticeship and found both friends and a metier in modernist Paris in the late 1920s. In the 30s she rejoined her family in Egypt, where she married an Egyptian photographer with whom she set up a studio."

© National Portrait Gallery, London: Ida Kar, Still Life, Egypt, early 1940s

"She married her second husband, the artist and writer Victor Musgrave, in Cairo during the war, and the couple came to England in 1945, to austerity and Soho and the Colony Room club, to a land of coffee bars and struggling writers in bedsits."

© National Portrait Gallery, London: Ida Kar, late 1950s

"London became her home terrain, which she conquered by camera and from which she set off on excursions to other settings and other countries – to the St Ives of Patrick Heron and Peter Lanyon, to a Stalin-haunted Moscow, to an ethnically dressed Armenia, back to Paris and some of her most famous sitters, and on to Cuba in 1964. This was a hardworking freelance life with no institutional support and little comfort, at times awkwardly poised between art, photojournalism and celebrity portraiture. (At one point she was reduced to accepting a commission to photograph zoo animals, a move that did not serve her well.) She felt strongly that photography was undervalued as a form and treated without respect, and she was right: David Sylvester, discussing her Whitechapel exhibition on The Critics on the Third Programme, denied that photography could ever be "a true art".

“She told the Whitechapel's director, Bryan Robertson: "We are going to make this show the most exciting photographic event since The Family of Man." And she had her wish. It was a sensation.”

“As a woman, Kar had to fight her way, and her struggle to be taken seriously made her at times difficult, temperamental and autocratic. She was no feminist. Politically she was of the old-fashioned left, a sympathiser of Moscow, East Germany and Cuba, and she was certainly not in the vanguard of the rising feminism of the late 50s and early 60s. When asked by Queen magazine why she photographed so few women, she replied: "I photograph famous people, and famous people are mostly men. Beauties leave me cold."

© National Portrait Gallery, London: Ida Kar, Unknown man; Ronald Frederick Henry Duncan, 1951

"And if one looks carefully at the portraits of the women who did receive the accolade of her solicitations, she really does not do some of them very well.”

© National Portrait Gallery, London: Ida Kar, Gina Lollobrigida with her bust by Sir Jacob Epstein, 1952

“Those who live by the camera shall die by the camera, and be resurrected by it. Ida Kar (who also liked to wear a hat) is back on view at the National Portrait Gallery, outfacing mutability and the unimaginable touch of time.”