Tate Britain Level 2
20 May – 26 August 2002
Bruce Bernard, who died in 2000, was a highly respected picture editor and writer of books on photography and painting. He is less well known for his activity as a photographer, and disliked being described as one. In fact, throughout the last twenty years of his life Bernard took photographs and produced a substantial and highly distinctive body of work whose subjects encompass travel, architecture, sculpture and portraits. In May 2002 Tate Britain will be opening an exhibition of Bernard’s photographs of five leading British artists whom he knew; Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Euan Uglow. It is the first to concentrate on Bernard’s photographic portraits.
The exhibition will comprise twenty-four of Bernard’s photographs, including images in black and white and colour. In concentrating on the depiction of these important painters in the setting of their studios, Bernard’s powerful images are fascinating documents in themselves. They are also remarkable in their combination of a painter’s eye for composition, with qualities of compassion and truth to the subject. Bernard wrote:
For me a real photograph is an image mechanically contrived or conceived by its taker in such a way that it mysteriously becomes a potent fact in its own right - though only with the help of things just beyond his perception or control. It is also like any other proper picture in that nothing can be either added or taken away from it without diminishing it.
Bernard was born in 1928 and attended St Martin’s School of Art. Although he failed to complete the course and subsequently regretted not realising his ambition to be a painter, he nevertheless developed a considerable knowledge of art. This expertise, and a reputation for unerring critical judgement, formed the basis for the many friendships with artists which he forged during the heyday of Soho in the 1950s. Bernard - and his brother, the journalist Jeffrey Bernard - were familiar figures in the artistic haunts closely associated with London’s equivalent of bohemia: notably the Colony Room, the French Pub and the Caves de France. The writer Daniel Farson later observed, ‘Whereas Jeffrey exploited his charm, Bruce positively suppressed his’.
After leaving St Martin’s, Bernard drifted from job to job, but in 1967, became picture researcher on Purnell’s History of the Twentieth Century, and found his true direction. He was soon made picture editor for the series, and then from 1972 to 1980 was picture editor of the Sunday Times magazine, achieving considerable renown. During that time he began work on the series that eventually was published as a much admired book: Photodiscovery: a century of extraordinary images, 1840-1940. After leaving the Sunday Times he worked as a writer and editor, going on to publish a sequence of successful books on art and photography. His final book, Century, a survey of the twentieth century in photographs, was published in 2000 to great acclaim. At the same time as he worked on Century Bernard assembled a major collection of nineteeth and twentieth-century photographs for a collector. This collection, entitled the Bruce Bernard Collection, is the subject of an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum opening in September 2002.
The works in the exhibition at Tate Britain have been made available by, and in consulation with, Virginia Verran, Bruce Bernard’s close friend, executor and custodian of his estate. Paul Moorhouse, Tate Curator, has selected the exhibition with her and is also preparing an accompanying publication.
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