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A pioneer of modern photography: Edith Tudor-Hart

— February 2014

Associated media

Edith Suschitzky, Unemployed Workers’ Demonstration, Vienna, 1932 Modern silver-gelatin print, 30.3×30cm National Galleries of Scotland, PGP 279.20

According to Edith Tudor-Hart,  by the mid-1930s photography had ‘ceased to be an instrument for recording events and became a means for stimulating and influencing events. It became a living art embracing the people’.  This was written in 1936, during the decade of fearful struggle between the forces of Fascism and its opponents throughout Europe. Despite her very English sounding name, she was Austrian by birth and started her career as a politically committed photographer, working in Vienna, as Edith Suschitzky.  She married Alexander Tudor-Hart, a British doctor, and moved to London, when it became clear that she would no longer be safe in Austria on account of her Communist beliefs  and her Jewish origin.

This was a time of growing popularity of illustrated magazines and this was where her work was to be frequently seen. In Vienna she published articles on the poverty of Whitechapel and the Caledonian Road market, headlined as ‘the market of naked misery‘, and yet it is hard to ignore the vitality and personality of the participants, haggling over piles of old shoes, one trader looks just like Steptoe senior (a character in a 1960s British TV sit-com). 

There remains though the undoubted pathos of the underfed, unemployed buskers and the disabled war veterans begging in the streets of both Vienna and London, who were also her subjects.  In the magazine, Lilliput, she shows, in one full-page image, the care and attention bestowed on a dog attending a poodle parlour opposite a full page image of the squalid conditions endured by a family living in an East End basement. Such photographs as that of a young girl, raggedly dressed, unable to turn her eyes from the unobtainable treats in a confectioner’s window, could obviously be used in campaigns for social reform (if not revolutionary change). Yet a respectful humanity and optimism generally empowers her work. A Stepney family, in their overcrowded, claustrophobic room, reveal a grace and determination to survive... Cassone subscribers, click here to read on.

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