Sylvia Syms by Ida Kar, 1950s © National Portrait Gallery, LondonA good few weeks back I attended the press view of pioneering photographer Ida Kar, who is currently being immortalised in all her glory in a retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery. Comprising the first exhibition in 50 years solely dedicated to the work of Kar, Ida Kar: Bohemian Photographer 1908-74, presents just shy of 100 photographs from her extensive archive, including dozens of glorious vintage bromide prints. Theatrical photography at its best, Kar deployed her flair for drama; telling a story through each portrait, narrated by her signature use of shadow, expression and props.
Often found at the heart of the creative avant-garde, Kar was the go-to photographer of her day, capturing all the luminaries of her era, paving the way for subsequent portrait photographers such as Cecil Beaton and Norman Parkinson who would in turn be propelled to the same celebrity status as their sitters. In this glittering exhibition striking portraits of artists such as Henry Moore, Georges Braque, Bridget Riley, Man Ray and Le Corbusier and writers such as Iris Murdoch, TS Eliot and Laurie Lee offers a fascinating insight into the cultural life of post-war Britain.
Gustav Metzger, 1962 by Ida Kar © National Portrait Gallery, LondonMy favourite portraits exhibited were those of artists depicted in their studies in front of works in-progress, all posing for portraits looking directly at the lens – expressing a genuine trust and bond between sitter and subject. Through these works I believe that Kar explores the boundaries of internal space with an underlying ambiguity as to whose studio has set the scene; presenting a puzzle unsolved.
Russian-born and of Armenian heritage, Kar Worked for prestigious titles such as Tatler, travelling extensively capturing revolutions and environmental issues on her way. A true legend in her own right, Kar was instrumental in encouraging the acceptance of photography as a fine art when, in 1960 she became the first photographer to be honoured with a major retrospective in London, at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. If you haven’t seen this stunning exhibition yet, I genuinely implore you to do so.
Ida Kar: Bohemian Photographer 1908-74 is open until 19 June 2011