Fred Daniels: Cinema Portraits

Pioneer of British film stills and portrait photography, Fred Daniels (1892-1959) will be celebrated in a new display which opens at the National Portrait Gallery on 28th September. The display will include his studies of film stars including Elizabeth Bergner, Leslie Howard, John Mills, David Niven, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Tilly Losch, James Mason, and Anna May Wong.

Born in 1892 in Churchover, Warwickshire, Daniels was educated at Bablake public school, Coventry. He excelled at painting, later moving to Paris in the early 1920s where he became friends with Scottish colourist J.D. Fergusson. Fergusson commissioned Daniels to photograph his wife, the acclaimed dancer and choreographer Margaret Morris. Daniels’s studies of Morris, taken at the Chateau de Deux Rives, Dinard, Brittany, and in the Foret D’Arc, Normandy, were collected in the 1925 publication Margaret Morris Dancing.

Plate XXX from Margaret Morris Dancing (1925): ‘Frieze Silhouette’

One of Daniel’s early important commissions as a photographer came in 1929, when he was recruited by director E.A. Dupont to take stills and publicity portraits for Piccadilly, starring Anna May Wong and Gilda Gray. In the same year, Daniels also photographed actress Joan Barry in connection with Dupont’s film Atlantic, a fictional drama based upon the story of the RMS Titanic. After these first experiences in film, Daniel’s wrote the essay Art in Film Production for magazine Windsor (October 1929), and the future direction of his career was certain.

After working on several Herbert Wilcox films including Sorrell and Son (1933) and Victoria the Great (1937) starring Anna Neagle, Daniels established his own studio at 17 Coventry Street, Piccadilly. In 1941, he met filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, photographing Laurence Olivier and Leslie Howard, the stars of their wartime drama 49th Parallel. The film won an Academy Award for Best Original Story, and its success led to Powell and Pressburger establishing their own production company, The Archers.

NPG x88682; Laurence Olivier in ’49th Parallel’ by Fred Daniels. © estate of Fred Daniels / National Portrait Gallery, London

In the following decade, Daniels worked on many of The Archers key films, including A Canterbury Tale (1944), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), and Black Narcissus (1947). His last major assignment for the company was in 1949, photographing David Niven at Elstree and Shepperton Studios on the set of The Elusive Pimpernel.

Daniels’s work for The Archers is the subject of a new publication, The Archers: Powell & Pressburger Portraits /Portrety Fred Daniels by Nigel Arthur and Ewa Reeves. Nigel Arthur was awarded a bursary by the Understanding British Portraits network in 2011, and he and Ms Reeves have collaborated with the National Portrait Gallery on this forthcoming display. They will also present a lecture at the Gallery on Daniels’s career and legacy on 18 October 2012.

Neil Libbert: Photojournalist

In recent months it has been a great pleasure to work with Neil Libbert in preparation for the first solo display of his photographs, which will open at the National Portrait Gallery (Room 32) on 17 September 2012.

The display of ten key portraits from 1958-1984, many of which will be shown for the first time, will celebrate his fifty-five year career as a photojournalist. Portraits on display will include of a young Helen Mirren (1969) taken inside her flat at a time when she was playing Cressida in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Troilus and Cressida, and studies of Kingsley Amis, Francis Bacon, Edward Burra, George Best, Patrick Lichfield, and Harold Pinter.

Born in Salford, Libbert studied at the Regional College of Art in Manchester before starting to work as a photographer and opening his own studio in the city in 1957. He joined the staff of the Manchester Guardian, and moved to the paper’s London office in 1961. Libbert stayed with the Guardian until 1965 before working under contract to The Sunday Times, the New York Times, Granada TV and the Illustrated London News until 1968 when he again became a freelance photographer. He still regularly covers performing arts photography for the Observer.

Libbert has made his enduring reputation through street photography and reportage. Acclaimed photojournalism includes his coverage of the homeless, and his coverage of the Brixton riots in 1981. In 1999 he was Nikon News Photographer of the Year and his exclusive coverage of the bombings in The Admiral Duncan pub, Soho was recognised by a World Press Photo Award.

Sir Winston Churchill with Sir Charles Wheeler at Burlington House for the annual banquet of the Royal Academy. Photograph: Neil Libbert

First Exposure: Photographs 1961-2010

‘First Exposure’ opened at the National Portrait Gallery this week; a display of twenty recently acquired photographs shown for the first time, and selected from a much larger group of images acquired in recent years.

The photographers represented in this display range from those who emerged in the 1960s including Peter Akehurst, Jurgen Schadeberg and Eric Swayne to contemporary practitioners such as Julian Anderson, Ellen Nolan and Abigail Zoe Martin.

Full details of the display can be found here and recent photographic acquisitions can be explored via the Gallery’s New Portraits page.