Christina Broom: Soldiers & Suffragettes Exhibition

Yesterday I was lucky enough to head down to the Museum Of London Docklands to see the Christina Broom exhibition. 

Who is Christina Broom I hear you ask?

Well, Broom is an incredibly kick-ass photographer, considered to be the first female photojournalist in the UK. She made her living documenting everything from royal occasions, to the suffragette movement and WW1 soldiers. This exhibition is the first of it's kind as her work has generally not been recognised to date. 


And I can tell you it's an absolute joy. 


This is a beautiful exhibition hosted in one of London's loveliest gallery spaces and the photography is so impactful it gets a bit emotional by the end.

I honestly walked around in a bit of a daze. 

Every so often I come across a photographer and I am just blown away by the humanity they manage to pour into their work.

It happened with Vivian Maier and it happened yesterday with Christina Broom. 

I was trying to pinpoint what is is about her work that has that impact on me and of course it is practically impossible...

You can't pinpoint magic.

But there is a nostalgia and art in these shots that isn't often found in early photojournalism and certainly not in the subjects she is photographing. 

We are used to seeing pictures of suffragettes being dragged off, or in conflict. In Broom's pictures we see behind the scenes. We see strong, dignified women- perhaps captured so because they are being photographed by an equally strong, pioneering woman.

These pictures were by far my favourites of the exhibition. Because shutter speeds were slower back in the day, there are many crowd shots that feature one or two women in focus with the rest of the picture vignetted with beautifully blurred swirls of Edwardian women and banners and London streets.

They are so perfectly poetic. 


They feel rare.


There is a lack of politics in her work and perhaps this is what lets the art really shine through. The aesthetic of every shot is delicious. You can tell she is a stickler for uniformity and perfection. This is likely down to the fact that her work had to be commercial. She was selling these pictures as postcards to support her family, so they had to have that style. 

Even her pictures of soldiers during WW1 are beautiful. 

Their injuries are never her focus, their humanity is. There are some stunning pictures in this section of the exhibition; Portraits of young men with children, soldiers eating together, crowds of them looking at her and cheering. They are all very intimate, delicate almost, but in no way exploitative.

Broom actually knew a lot of the men she was photographing very well, and it shows in the work. What you have are subjects that are at ease in front of her lens, which allows her to reveal a side to these men that other photojournalists at the time rarely exposed. Many of the pictures actually reminded me of shots my Grandfather took during WW2 of his friends, in the sense that they feel like pictures taken for personal reasons. 

When most women photographers at the time were working exclusively in studios taking portraits, I do feel a lot of respect for this little lady who was carting her heavy camera and tripod all over London. She was a woman in a man's profession, thrusting herself into the action and pioneering what was an emerging genre. To do that and nail these pictures- well that's impressive!

 

I do urge you to head over to see this exhibition for yourself. It opens on Friday and it's free- so no excuses. I have a lot of love for this so I will probably be there...

I'll be the one in the corner crying over how beautiful it all is. 

 

Jess x