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Florence Bridgeman and snapshot photography of a Family

In my role as a curator at Harewood, I’m often asked: What is your favourite object in the collection?

This is always a really difficult question to answer as there are so many remarkable things to choose from. But a series of objects that I always really enjoy coming back to and revisiting are the photograph albums put together by Florence Bridgeman, 5th Countess of Harewood, which document life at Harewood during the late 19th and early 20th century. This was a time when ‘snapshot’ photography was just emerging, following the invention of much more portable and easy to use cameras; photographers were no longer bound by the rigidity and formality of studio portraiture, and women, in particular, seized the opportunity to photograph the world from their point of view.

Florence’s photographs capture all sorts of domestic scenes at Harewood which contrast the very formal depictions of the Lascelles family that we’re used to seeing hanging on the walls of the State Floor. Her photographs show her children – Harry, Madge and Eddy – having fun and playing games on the terrace, her dogs, skating on the lake, horse riding, picnics and trips with friends to local beauty spots, hockey and cricket matches, dressing up, bicycle rides and weekend parties.

Florence’s images were made for private consumption, produced to preserve her own personal memories. Not only do they give us a sense of what it was actually like to live at Harewood during this period, but they also capture informal and honest family moments, that, for me, tell us so much more about the personalities of the individuals involved than any commissioned portrait.

Though perhaps my favourite thing about Florence’s pictures is that they always put a smile on my face. She seems to have had a real talent for capturing playful situations – her friends and family sword fighting with sticks, switching clothes or balancing glasses of water on their heads, for example – but there are also many inadvertent shots that are entirely recognisable to modern photographers, such as the chaos of a group photograph, the blurry outline of a pet portrait, and even the photobomb. These pictures really help us relate to Florence as a photographer, but also to her family and the place they called home.

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