Welcome to the photographic collection of George Bernard Shaw which takes you on his photographic journey from the 1860s to 1950. They serve to illustrate his and his friends' lives: giving us a tangible sense of personality and passions. We also get a glimpse into how the period looked and felt, both in the UK and abroad. The earliest negative we have found dates from 1898 and the earliest print from 1863, so we have a good idea of when he began taking images himself and started collecting other people's photographs: both of which he did until his death in 1950.
George Bernard Shaw's photographic collection falls broadly into themes: photographic techniques; GB Shaw in private and public; people; productions; and places. Within these there are countless crossovers and sub-themes. Here we present a selection of thirty eight prints and two negatives selected from approximately 20,000 photographic items to introduce you to the archive and Shaw's world.
Photography was still not a mass medium when Shaw began taking images and amateurs and professionals played around with techniques to see what they could achieve, whether it was the clearest or most artistic print they were after. Shaw was no exception and the collection contains many examples of his photographic adventures which often involved playing with light (say from a fire) or setting up a portrait as an artistic expression rather than a true likeness of the subject (he was very fond of using windows and doors in these). He also resurrected old techniques such as using gum bichromate which has a softening affect on the image. His negatives also developed from glass plates to plastic 35 mm and by comparing them we can see the difference in image tactility that using glass and plastics creates. All the above images were taken by Shaw.
Private & Public Spheres
Shaw cultivated a public persona which he referred to as 'GBS' and was rarely seen smiling or casual (in dress or demeanour), often he was carrying something like a cane or involved in an activity. His portrait was taken in many studios: an early one (1876) has him with his sister Lucinda whilst others show him 'at work' or formally sat, unsmiling (normally) and looking intently at the camera. The private Shaw liked to set up self-portraits with his camera and was altogether more relaxed.
Shaw knew, or met, a lot of people and some can be traced through the collection meaning their life is also illustrated, in particular Beatrice Webb (and to a lesser degree her husband Sidney, founding members of LSE) and Charlotte Shaw (Shaw's wife). His friendship with Harley Granville-Barker (and in part his wife Lillah McCarthy) and Mrs Patrick (Stella) Campbell is also documented, in the case of the former the plethora of images suddenly stops at the time the pair fell out. Shaw was a Fabian and founder of LSE and the collection includes images of politicians/political thinkers like Sidney Olivier and the aforementioned Webbs. He was also associated with the arts so we find portraits of artistic figures such as Augustus John. All the above images were taken by Shaw.
Shaw was a prolific writer. Now best know for his plays he also wrote non-fiction, including reviews of photographic shows, and the collection includes pre-production and production photographs. Two of his plays which were made into films are particularly well represented, Caesar and Cleopatra and Major Barbara. Images also exist for early runs of many of his plays including Pygmalion, Don Juan in Hell, Saint Joan and The Apple Cart. Also included are portraits of actresses, many taken by Shaw (see the glass plate under Photographic Techniques or McCarthy and Campbell portraits under People).
Shaw was born in Ireland although he settled in Hertfordshire at Ayot St Lawrence and kept a flat in London. His travels were encouraged by his wife, Charlotte, and he gained a passion for motoring holidays with his driver Kilsby around Ireland and continental Europe, stopping to take many photographs of places, people and artistic landscapes (sunsets were a favourite). At a time when many people never left their own shores Shaw went as far afield as New Zealand, Algeria and South Africa. The photographs show us how places looked but also introduce us to some of the people living in the landscapes. All the above images were taken by Shaw except for the two featuring him.
Man and Cameraman is generously funded by the LSE Centennial Fund.
For more information about the project please see: Man and Cameraman - revealing the photographic legacy of George Bernard Shaw.
LSE Archives also holds collections for the Fabian Society and Beatrice and Sidney Webb (Passfield Papers). Please see: Guide to holdings.
Copyright: text and digital images, LSE; photographs GB Shaw, reproduced by kind permission of the Society of Authors, on behalf of the Bernard Shaw estate.