A key figure in establishing photography as a fine art, Ida Kar’s photographs are sublime black and white portraits of well-known artists of the 20th century. Her shots provide a meticulous record of the cultural atmosphere from the late 1930s to the middle of the 1970s.
In front of a portrait of Georges Braque, you realise Kar’s intentions: to represent not just the artist, but his/her context too. Her photographs are an insight into the artists’ working environment and the cultural atmosphere that influenced the intellectuals’ creative process.
The work captures the bohemian art world in London and Paris over more than three decades: subjects ranging from Jean-Paul Sartre and T.S. Eliot, to artists such as Man Ray and Barbara Hepworth.
The National Portrait Gallery recently held an exhibition of the photographs by Irving Penn, another, potentially more famous photographer, who worked during and beyond Kar’s photography. Where Penn’s portraits are infused with high drama and energy , Kar’s are more focused on creating a ‘space’ (literally the artist’s studio and figuratively the social scene) for her subjects, revealing her subjects’ hidden personality.