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I've been going through the book "Ida Kar: Photographer 1908-1974" by Val Williams (Virago Press, London 1989), the main delight of which is the many full page reproductions of Kar's work. I was particularly struck by the image on page 96 of Bridget Riley's ass. Riley stands with her back to the camera, one of her paintings towering over her, head turned so that we see her face in profile. What really grabbed my attention is Riley's ass: it's a great rear and this is a fabulous photograph. I dig Riley's work, and I like Kar's pcitures even better, particularly the way this photographer fuses her subjects with their environments.There are a slew of great portraits reproduced in this book: one time 'angry young man' and mega-successful Notting Hill antique dealer Bill Hopkins; writer Colin MacInnes; writer and film director Jean Cocteau; surrealist Andre Breton; coffe shop owners Brian and Susan Robbins; Italian Nuclear painter and polemicist Enrico Baj; architect Le Courbusier; absurdist playright Eugene Ionesco; and also a host of less interesting cultural figures (T. S. Eliot, Jacob Epstein, Bertrand Russell, Patrick Heron, Iris Murdock, Somerset Maugham, Stephen Spender, John Piper, Laurie Lee, Brendan Behan, Doris Lessing, Joyce Cary, Graham Sutherland, Stanley Spencer etc.). While the sitters I've just listed in brackets failed to produce anything of any cultural value, the portraits of them are nonetheless good and very much worth seeing. The accompanying text is short and in places rather sketchy but nonetheless merits reading at least once. Williams provides a strong argument for Kar's importance in getting photography accepted as an art form in England in the post-war period. Less convincing is her claim that Kar's best work was produced before her solo show at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1960. My own veiw is that Kar's finest portraits were created immediately after this exhibition. The Riley picture is a case in point, it is dated early sixties, and was almost certainly taken after the Whitechapel show opened on 22 March 1960. Apart from Bridget Riley's ass, among Kar's other great works are a series of shots taken circa 1961 of Terry Taylor (reforgotten author of classic London beatnik drugs novel "Baron's Court, All Change"). In three earlier (mid-fifties) shots of Taylor getting stoned, there is a woman posed with her back to the camera in a manner that echoes the Bridget Riley ass shot. The woman is the little known jazz singer Judy Johnson, and I'm afraid her rump isn't as good as Bridget Riley's ass. However,given the quality of the Kar portraits of Taylor, I find it disappointing that not even one of them is used in this Kar biography. Writing history means making ongoing corrections to what is already written and otherwise reproduced, and this Val Williams book is well worth looking at as a corrective to other accounts of London in the fifties. What we could do with is a fuller account of Kar's life and work, and a wider selection of her images. In the meantime, this Val Williams book is as good as it gets.

London Art Tripping


cover of Val Williams biography of Ida Kar

The Val Williams biography of Ida Kar.

Terry Taylor & Johnny Dolphin Allen in Tangier 1963

Here's a picture of Terry Taylor (on your left) with American beatnik poet Johnny Dolphin Allen in Tangier in 1963. I'd liked to have included some pictures by Ida Kar here, but the National Portrait Gallery who own the rights to this stuff charge £70 to put a little picture like the one above on a website, so if you want to start seeing some of Kar's great pictures here, then send me more than enough money to cover the costs! Obviously this picture of Terry Taylor, and the other groovy image of him we have in our Gallery, aren't by Kar.