One of a handful of outstanding British photographers of her generation, Ker-Seymer’s work defined a talented, forward-looking network of artists, dancers, writers, actors and musicians, all of whom flocked to her Bond Street studio. Among her sitters were Evelyn Waugh, Margot Fonteyn, Cyril Connolly, Jean Cocteau and Vita Sackville-West. Barbara Ker-Seymer (1905-1993) disdained lucrative ‘society’ portraits in favour of unfussy ‘modern’ images. Her work was widely admired by her peers, among them, Man Ray and Jean Cocteau. Her images as a gossip-column photojournalist for Harper’s Bazaar were the go-to representations of the aristocracy and Bright Young Things at play. Yet as both a studio portraitist and a photojournalist, she broke with convention.
Equally unconventional in her personal life, Ker-Seymer was prefigurative in the way she lived her life as a bisexual woman and in her contempt for racism, misogyny and homophobia. Fiercely independent, for much of her life she rejected the idea of family, preferring her wide set of creative friends, with the artist Edward Burra, ballet dancer William ‘Billy’ Chappell and choreographer Frederick Ashton at its core.
Today, Ker-Seymer’s photographs are known for whom they represent, rather than the face behind the camera, an irony underpinned by the misattribution of some of her most daring images to Cecil Beaton. Yet her intelligence, sparkle, wit and genius enabled her to link arms with the surrealists, the Bloomsbury Group, the Bright Young Things and, most gloriously, the worlds of theatre, cabaret and jazz.
With unprecedented access to private archives and hitherto unseen material, Sarah Knights brings Barbara Ker-Seymer and her brilliant bohemian friends vividly to life.