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Bodleian Libraries celebrate visionary female photographer Helen Muspratt with retrospective
Paul Nash. © Bodleian Libraries.

OXFORD.- A new exhibition at the Bodleian Libraries will showcase the pioneering work of photographer Helen Muspratt (1907-2001), one of Britain’s leading photographers of the early twentieth century. Curated by her daughter Jessica Sutcliffe, this exhibition will highlight her ground-breaking work and innovative techniques, her intimate portrayal of life in Soviet Russia and portrait work from her studio in Oxford.

The exhibition tells the story of her work from her first studio in Swanage aged just 20 to becoming one of the most celebrated photographers of her age. This forthcoming display explores an extraordinary body of work in many different styles and genres from experimental photography using techniques such as solarisation, to social documentary and studio portraiture.

A chance viewing of an image by Man Ray in a photographic magazine, lead her to experiment with techniques such as solarisation, multiple exposure and rayographs that pushed the boundaries of photography practices in the 1930s. These fascinating images will be at the heart of the exhibition.

In the late 1930s Muspratt opened a studio in Oxford where Ramsey & Muspratt was established as an important local institution. Critical to all her work was her preoccupation with the face – its ‘shape and angle’ – and she became an eminent portrait photographer recording some of the distinctive figures of the twentieth century.

This exhibition marks the recent and important gift of the Helen Muspratt photographic archive to the Bodleian Libraries, including over 2,000 original prints and numerous surviving negatives. This retrospective forms part of Photo Oxford Festival 2020, the theme for which is Women and Photography and coincides with the centenary of the first woman matriculating and graduating from the University of Oxford.

Exhibition Curator Jessica Sutcliffe said: “I am delighted that the archive of my mother’s work has been accepted by the Bodleian in the city where she spent most of her working life. To mark the gift with an exhibition of her photographs is doubly pleasing and I hope it will be not only enjoyed by her customers from the past who may be unaware of her early experiments, but also by a new audience who will appreciate the scope and artistry of her work.”

Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian at the Bodleian Libraries, said: “Helen Muspratt was a great photographer making some of the most remarkable images by a British photographer of the last century. As a female professional she was also a pioneer, and the generous gift of her archive allows her artistic and commercial work – much of it undertaken in Oxford – to be preserved and made available for study and research.”

The Bodleian Libraries are grateful to Ellen Miller for her support of the exhibition and the Ampersand Foundation for its support of the photographic archives.

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Bodleian Libraries celebrate visionary female photographer Helen Muspratt with retrospective

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