1900-1909 : (2) The elite in platinotypes
George Charles Beresford (1864-1938)
Beresford was not a member of The Linked Ring - a group of photographers with a particular aesthetic project. To see their exhibition catalogues, click here. FOr some examples of the work of one such member, Ralph Robinson, click here.
Beresford, by his friend, William Orpen
In 1902, a 38 year old Charles George Beresford (left) opened a photographic studio in Knightsbridge, London at Number 20 Yeoman's Row (See the picture on the left. The first house is Number 9. His studio was over on the right, just by that gas light. The black and white photograph is of the Number 23 he could see out of his window).
It had taken Charles quite some time to find out what he wanted to do in life. One of the dead ends of that search was the time he spent in the Indian Civil Service. as an engineer in the public service.
Having arrived in Bombay a year late, in 1886, by 1888 he was back in England on 'medical leave'. No one is quite sure whether he contracted malaria out there or whether he was simply unable to deal with the climate. Either way, he never went back. Instead he signed up to study at the Slade School of Art.
In that first year his studio did very well. And it continued that way for the next 30 years. In such a location, it was difficult for it to fail. Beresford had some talent, that is undeniable. Just look at the photographs. But he would be the first to admit that his privileged background had given him the time and opportunity to discover and develop the talent. It also gave him the money to be able to capitalise on it by opening a studio in an absolutely prime location in the great capital. In 1902, just as it is today, Knightsbridge, and in particular the streets off Brompton Road cost more than a few bob. And if that was not enough, his social background, meant that Beresford knew lots and lots of very rich and influential people without even trying.
The reason for this was because Beresford was a member of the family of the Marquess of Waterford, one of the most esteemed titles awarded in the British system of aristocratic oscars otherwise mysteriously known to adepts as the 'Irish Peerage'. It had its family seat in the Curraghmore Estate near a place called Portlaw in County Waterford, though Beresford himself was born in Drumlease, in Dromahair, in County Leitrim.
I don't know if he spoke with an Irish accent, but in Beresford we have a London aristocratic photographer at the heart of a self-perpetuating, ever expanding private club that was the social elite of Edwardian Britain, most of which was celebrated in their favourite magazine called The Sketch - a sort of high brow version of Paris-Match or Hello.
Beresford's own deep Anglo-Irish background gives a sense of the importance of 'Irishness' in Edwardian Britain, all the more so given the then current struggle in Parliament and beyond over the question of Irish Home Rule. His time in the Civil Service in India gives us a sense of the everyday importance of the sense of Empire. So many of his clients from day one will have some sort of connection with the Empire, be it the rich Sassoon family, or the Viceroy of India, or the sitters just back from a stint in Southern Africa fighting the Boer War.
And ofcrouse his interest in art placed him at the heart of the European-influenced British artistic and literary elite as it began to embrace 'modernity' in all its artistic and non-artistic forms, be it the humble bicycle, or the wonder of the cinema; the futuristic electric train or a banal cup of Bovril; the outrages of tariff reform and the scandals of the suffragette movement, the rise of mass democracy, the death of God, the discovery of the unconscious, and Cubism
The photographs Beresford took of the people who passed through his studio - actresses, artists, politicians, businessmen, aristocrats, lawyers, academics alike - give us a window onto and into a sense and feel of the time that was passing during those early years of the twentieth century. For that history can be seen and read in the clothes they wear, their very skin, the poses they make, the expressions on their faces and the look in their eyes,
What follows is an account of the first decade of the twentieth century, from 1900 to 1909, based purely on those visitors to Beresford's stuio in the first year of its opening, 1902