I realise that in my blog yesterday I didn’t really do justice to Helen Muspratt, other than being deeply impressed by the quality of the photographs in the small Pallant House exhibition – their intensity, the interest of the sitters, her use of solarisation, and my wrong understanding of Ramsey & Muspratt as relatively conventional studio photographers (I thought they must be because of the family photographs). In fact, now that I have read the excellent biography of her by her daughter, Jessica Sutcliffe, Face, Shape and Angle, her life was obviously as magnificent as her art: a daughter of the raj, brought up in Swanage, she studied photography at Regent Street Polytechnic and then set up a successful studio in Swanage. When she moved to Cambridge in 1932 to join forces with Lettice Ramsey, she became an ardent communist, made friends with many of the young communists of the time (there are photographs of the Apostles with Anthony Blunt looking wet) and ended up travelling to the Soviet Union and marrying an Old Marlburian communist, Jack Dunman, who was a friend of John Betjeman. Quite a life !
The other small exhibition at Pallant House was a small display of photographs by Helen Muspratt, one half of the studio of Ramsey and Muspratt who ran a photographic studio above a row of shops in Cambridge and who took a rather sultry photograph of my mother in the 1930s which I own, but can’t find, as well as of my grandfather. They later moved to Post Office Terrace where they bought an existing photographic studio and used Wittgenstein to advise on the decoration. Her photographs were brilliant, as well as of brilliant people (she was helped in her choice of sitters by the fact that Lettice had married Frank Ramsey and was the lover of Julian Bell). One of the most amazing portraits was of Oliver Zangwill, who I knew as a whisky drinking Fellow of King’s, but had obviously been startlingly good looking as a young neuropsychologist.