Saturday 25 November 2017

Shaw's pictures tell a whole new story

Grainne Cunningham

THOUSANDS of photographs taken by George Bernard Shaw are to be made available to the public for the first time, shedding new light on his public and private life.

One of the country's greatest writers, Shaw, born in Synge Street, Dublin, in 1856, is best known for his 50 plays and his distinction as a essayist and wit.

But the remarkable collection of some 20,000 images document a prolific literary and political life and offer glimpses into his inner world.

After his death 60 years ago, the Irish playwright bequeathed his home in the English village of Ayot St Lawrence to England's National Trust which in turn transferred his photographs to the care of the London School of Economics (LSE) which he co-founded.

Shaw, who bought his first camera in 1898, was part of the first wave of keen amateur photographers and kept up his hobby until his death in 1950.

His collection includes fascinating photographs of travels with his wife Charlotte through Ireland including Dublin, Parknasilla, Co Kerry, as well as mainland Europe, New Zealand and South Africa.

According to Sue Donnelly, head archivist at the LSE, the photographs "document the people he knew, the places he visited, his interests in politics, the arts and literature".

"They offer an amazing view of his life. He was a very keen amateur photographer," she said, adding that there was "something for everybody in the collection".

National Trust curator for the East of England, Fiona Hall, said: "For me, the most interesting aspect revealed in the collection is the contrast between 'GBS' the public figure and 'Bernard Shaw' the private man. There are many portraits of Shaw himself, both self-portraits and those taken by others.

"The shots of GBS, the celebrity, show him unsmiling, dressed smartly and holding a prop such as a cane. More intimate shots show him relaxed, surfing, picnicking, and striking poses from famous sculptures, including Rodin's Thinker," Ms Hall said.

Shaw once said, "The camera can represent flesh so superbly that, if I dared, I would never photograph a figure without asking that figure to take its clothes off" but he is the only subject to have done so in the collection, with shots of him on the beach or taken by his wife.

"He clearly had a highly developed sense of fun and was very comfortable with his public and private personas," Ms Hall said.

Around 70pc of the photographs in the collection were taken by Shaw and images include film stars such as Vivien Leigh and Stewart Granger, writers HG Wells and JM Barrie and leading political figures of his time such as Lady Nancy Astor MP.

Other photographs in the collection include images taken by TE Lawrence ('Lawrence of Arabia'), a close friend of Shaw and his wife, during his participation in the Arab Revolt (1916-18).

Many of the items are in a fragile condition and conservation work has been undertaken to prevent further deterioration. The first images from the project can now be viewed now online. The project will be complete in summer 2011 when around two-thirds of the collection will be available to view.

The son of a civil servant, Shaw moved to London at the age of 20, four years after his mother followed her singing teacher there.

A vegetarian for 60 years, he was an outspoken critic of formal education, believing that it stifled the intellect.

He reluctantly accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature (1925), at the behest of his wife who believed it to be an honour for Ireland and was awarded an Oscar in 1938 for his work on the film 'Pygmalion'.

As well as his plays, he wrote many essays on the social issues of the day as well as five novels and many shorter pieces.


Irish Independent

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