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Soldiers and Suffragettes | The Photography of Christina Broom
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Soldiers and Suffragettes | The Photography of Christina Broom

Picture of Gina Chahal
Updated: 8 December 2016
Soldiers and Suffragettes: The Photography of Christina Broom honours the exceptional life and work of the UK’s first female press photographer, Christina Broom. Broom’s career will be showcased in what is considered to be the first major exhibition of her work, held at the Museum of London Docklands.

Christina Broom began her career aged 40, as a photographer in 1903, when she became the main breadwinner of her household. She continued working in the photography trade for three and a half decades. With the help of her daughter Winnie, Broom photographed an incredible era of British history, including soldiers during the First World War, the Suffragettes, the Royal Family and her home city of London, as it went through a series of social and political upheavals.

The exhibition captures Broom’s pioneering spirit with the inclusion of her most momentous work, such as Suffragette processions, First World War soldiers, official photographs of the Household Division and events such as the Lord Mayor’s Parade, royal coronations, funerals and historical pageants. Accompanying the photographs is a range of Broom’s work in other mediums, such as original glass plate negatives. In addition to this, other personal items encapsulating Broom’s life and individuality such as letters, press passes, notebooks, a cuttings album and a handcrafted Suffragette banner are on display.

With a career spanning nearly four decades, the mother and daughter team developed 40,000 photographs, most of which were largely sold as postcards from her stall at the gates of the Royal Mews in London before being published by renowned newspapers and magazines like Tatler.

Broom’s natural talent can be seen in her photography of the capital, as she recognised the strong photographic potential of the city, from outside her Fulham home to East London. The ‘Suffragette Procession’ print illustrates Broom’s close attention to detail, as it focuses not only on the spectacle of the event but also the theme of observation as children and adults alike look on at the historical moment.

Although Broom herself never stated her position on the issue, she documented the campaigns of both the Suffragettes and the Suffragists. Broom was able to capture the artistry of the handcrafted flags, banners and dresses, as well as the sheer determination of the women, who were more at ease in the presence of a female photographer. The handcrafted homemakers’ banner in ‘The Prisoners Pageant’ photograph is on display at the exhibition, which brings the event to life even more. Through her position as a female photographer of the suffrage campaign, Broom documented womens’ shifting roles in society during the First World War.

The exhibition features a section entitled ‘A Woman Amongst Men’, which includes Broom’s work with the military. Despite being a civilian woman, the photographs reflect the mutual respect between the soldiers and Broom. As she took pictures in situ and without artificial light, unlike many of her contemporaries, Broom captured the natural comradery of the soldiers. The most poignant photo of this section is perhaps the documentation of the final moments of soldiers with loved ones before leaving for the front in August of 1914.

Anna Sparham, Curator of Photographs at the Museum of London, recalls Winnie Broom stating in a letter in 1975 that, ‘naturally the Museums are not interested in our lives-but glad of our negatives.’ Sparham has commented, ‘It excites me hugely to be proving this statement wrong as we bring these beautiful objects and imagery together for the first time in one space, for everyone to see.’

The book Soldiers and Suffragettes: The Photography of Christina Broom, published by Phillip Wilson, complements the exhibition. The book includes over 250 illustrated images and four critical essays from leading photography experts such as Anna Sparham and Hilary Roberts, Imperial War Museum Research Curator of Photography. It is available online and at the Museum.

Soldiers and Suffragettes: The Photography of Christina Broom will run from 19th June until 1st November.

Admission is free, and the exhibition is open from 10AM – 6PM.

Museum of London Docklands, West India Quay, London, 020 7001 9844