The Book

Born into an army family in India in 1907, Helen Muspratt was a lifelong communist, a member of the Cambridge intellectual milieu of the 1930s, and a working mother at a time when such a role was unusual for women of her class. She was also a pioneering photographer, creating an extraordinary body of work in many different styles and genres. In partnership with Lettice Ramsey she made portraits of many notable figures of the 1930s in the fields of science and culture and she became one of the most eminent portrait photographers of the twentieth century. Her experimental photography using techniques such as solarisation and multiple exposure bears comparison with the innovations of Man Ray and Lee Miller, while her political convictions led her to produce important documentary records of the Soviet Union and the desperate situation of the unemployed in the Welsh Valleys. Critical to her work was a preoccupation with the face – her attention to the ‘shape and angle’ of the head lies at the root of all her work.

This book reproduces some of Helen Muspratt’s most important photographic images. The accompanying text by Jessica Sutcliffe is an intimate and revealing memoir of her mother, which offers a fascinating insight into her life, work and politics.

Jessica Sutcliffe’s book about Helen Muspratt, painstakingly researched and wonderfully written, will supply yet one more piece in the photo historical jigsaw which is the history of women’s photograpy.

(Val Williams, author of Women Photographers, The Other Observers; 1900 to the present)
Miners picking coal, S Wales 1937 (Helen Muspratt)
Miners picking coal, S Wales 1937 (Helen Muspratt)

Author:  Jessica Sutcliffe is an architect specialising in historic buildings. Following Helen’s death in 2001, she became increasingly aware of her mother’s importance in the history of twentieth century photography and stated: ‘Both Helen’s work and the story of her life are of considerable interest and many have suggested that a book should be produced combining the two. As her daughter and owner of the archive, it has fallen to me to carry out this task.’

Publisher: Manchester University Press

Designer: Alan Ward, Axis Graphic Design, Manchester

RESEARCH was carried out with help from many institutions including:

The National Media Museum, formally The National Museum of Film and Photography

The National Portrait Gallery

The British Library, Oral History & National Life Stories

Oxford History Centre

The Cambridgeshire Collection

Swanage Museum

National Museum of Wales

Guardian News & Media Ltd.

Archive Services, University of Westminster (Regent Street Polytechnic)

Lee Miller Archives, Farley Farmhouse

Lettice Ramsey: Photographs and biographical material were generously supplied by:

Stephen Burch, grandson of Lettice Ramsey (go to Stephen’s website).

Peter Lofts who took over the Cambridge Studio and has a gallery on his website of well-known portraits by Ramsey & Muspratt, Cambridge (go  to Peter’s website).