Sunday 23 October 2016

Portraits of cultural figures head to gallery after being saved from bulldozer

Published 14/10/2016 | 15:26

A portrait of Daniel Day-Lewis was among those saved
A portrait of Daniel Day-Lewis was among those saved

Portraits of Daniel Day-Lewis, Alan Bennett, Tilda Swinton and Salman Rushdie which sat in a warehouse destined for demolition are heading to the National Portrait Gallery.

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The photographs are by British photographic team The Douglas Brothers, who spent a decade capturing leading figures from the worlds of art, literature, film, music, sport and fashion.

They sat in a disused storage unit in London's King's Cross for 20 years.

The brothers - real life siblings Stuart and Andrew Douglas - stored their photographic archive in the lock-up that was earmarked to make way for redevelopment.

But Andrew said that, after the storage company "took over a year to track us down" to warn them about the demolition, "it was nearly too late".

Stuart said: "The building was about to be demolished. Ten years of work came very close to ending up as landfill."

After discovering that the building had been condemned, the brothers contacted London-based artist manager Tim Fennell to retrieve the images, who said that he " had 48 hours before the building was bulldozed".

"I retrieved 30 crates of negatives and prints that hadn't seen the light of day for nearly two decades. It was a remarkable body of work, just sitting there, forgotten," he said.

The National Portrait Gallery has now acquired their portraits of leading British cultural figures photographed in the 1990s.

Fourteen of their "evocative and atmospheric portraits" were accepted for the National Portrait Gallery's Primary Collection.

They also include Shaun Ryder, Damon Albarn, Bryan Ferry, Eric Clapton, Ian McEwan, John Le Carre and Kenneth Branagh.

The brothers, who are now based in Los Angeles, were once described as "the most desirable photographers of their generation".

They began working together in the 1980s, producing photographs for the magazine press and music industry.

Their photographic partnership ended in 1995, when they pursued separate careers in the US directing movies and commercials.

They were the last people to photograph Rushdie before the author went into hiding following the death threats made against him over his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses.

Dr Phillip Prodger, head of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, London, said: "The Douglas Brothers produced some of the most distinctive portraits of the 1990s.

"Although their photography has since become less well known, this is work that has stood the test of time. Making use of older, historic processes, their pictures are still as fresh and exciting as the day they were made, and make a wonderful addition to the national collection of photographic portraits."

The Douglas Brothers' portraits will go on display at the National Portrait Gallery in August 2017.

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