** To order any of the books reviewed or any other book in print, at discount prices* and with free p&p to UK addresses, telephone the Country Life Bookshop on 0843 060 0023. Or send a cheque/postal order to the Country Life Bookshop, PO Box 60, Helston TR13 0TP
Book review: The Photography of Bedford Lemere & Co
Nicholas Cooper (English Heritage, £25, *23.75)
In 1976, Nicholas Cooper published The Opulent Eye, a volume of photographs of late-Victorian and Edwardian interiors that resurrected the reputation of the architectural photographers Bedford Lemere & Co, founded in 1861. Now, he has followed it with a second dip into the firm’s archive of some 25,000 images in the National Monuments Record. This volume is much broader in range, and includes among its 250 illustrations factories, pubs, hospitals, newspaper offices, department stores and even ocean liners.
The result is an enthralling depiction of British buildings at a time of technological innovation and exuberant stylistic diversity.There are other significant differences between this book and The Opulent Eye. Most importantly, the photographs are better reproduced: the illustrations have a pin-sharp sparkle that matches the ori-ginals. In 1976, the focus was almost exclusively on Lemere’s subject matter. Now that photographic history has come of age as a discipline, Mr Cooper devotes greater space both to the story of the firm that Lemere and his son, Harry, ran for more than 80 years and to the uses to which their photographs were put.
For an early advertisement, Ruskin wrote: ‘I am perfectly ready to recommend the purchase of your beautiful photographs… for every Art School in the kingdom.’ He and many others-notably architects and interior designers-valued primarily the clarity of Lemere’s images, the result of absolute technical mastery. Yet, as Mr Cooper explains, by the 20th century, the firm’s photographs began to seem stolid and unimaginative, compared, for example, with the lyrical quality that Charles Latham brought
to his work for Country Life in the same period.
Now, however, it is their documentary quality that makes them so gripping, especially as, unlike Country Life, they often include people, ranging from women packing soap in the factory at Port Sunlight in 1897 to the chefs in the kitchens of Gatti’s restaurant in the Strand, just a few doors from Lemere’s office. Perhaps my favourite is a 1919 photograph of the ladies’ boot department at Harrods, in which dainty boots are dotted about the floor as if their occupants had evaporated. A selection of these wonderful images is on show in an exhibition at the V&A until October 30.
** To order any of the books reviewed or any other book in print, at
discount prices* and with free p&p to UK addresses, telephone the Country Life Bookshop on 0843 060 0023. Or send a cheque/postal order to the Country Life Bookshop, PO Box 60, Helston TR13 0TP