Copyright Sandra Lousada 2009 courtesy Frances Lincoln Limited
While reading Sandra Lousada’s retrospecitive monograph, Public Faces Private Places, I am impressed with the intimate and sensitive portraits that she has been capturing for the last fifty years. Her subjects are predominately the public figures of the United Kingdom, both in their roles as actors and private personas that occur during the day-to-day behind the scenes.
Her portraits are mostly obtained while on commercial assignment for a large assortment of magazines, eventually including those published in the United States. While we may recognize her subject’s public persona, we may not have been able to identify the photographer behind the lens. Lousada has created a body of professional portraits that attempt to reveal her subject, and now this collection of photographs allow her own professional personality to quietly become a little more visible.
Perhaps Lousada’s ability to understand the private places of those who have public faces can be traced to her public family. Her grandfather was a MP (Oxford University) and author, Sir Alan Patrick (A.P.) Herbert, her “mum”, Jocelyn Herbert, a leading British theatre designer and her mum’s boyfriend was Gorge Devine, director of the English Stage Company. For her, Laurence Olivier just might be known as Larry.
Her start in commercial photography, especially for a woman in the late 1950’s, was more daunting that it is today. To begin as a studio assistant meant hauling enormous amounts of view camera equipment, lighting and associated gear required for commercial assignments, the domain of male assistant’s. To try to capture an assignment meant enduring the gender bias of the time, such as a straight forward rebuff she remembers from Vogue, “Only men do Beauty. Women can’t”.
Lousada was unknowingly in the middle of a big transition within the fashion industry, and the related fashion magazines. She was working during the pre-computer, instant on-monitor assessment & immediate feedback days. Perhaps it was an understanding by the series of editors that she worked with that created an editorial following, such as Willie Landels quote; “Sandra looked in her own way, with tenderness and kindness and understanding” and Felecity Clark, beauty editor while at Vogue; “We liked the soft quality of her results”.
Lousada states that she aimed to elicit as much of the real person in her photographs as possible, even on fashion and advertising shoots, creating circumstances whenever she can where the sitter or the models feels relaxed enough to move and gesture in a way that is true to themselves and habitual, and where they can almost forget that they are being watched.
In the informative Essay by Cathy Courtney, she states;
When she [Lousada] set out with her camera, it wasn’t with the aim of becoming famous. Her focus has always been on fulfilling the brief and on working as part of a team to deliver what was needed rather than on creating a professional persona whose identity was stamped on her photographs at the expense of their subject matter or the client’s requiremets. This restraint of ego has been an asset, allowing her style to develop almost subconsciously so that, as this book shows, her identity emerged through the body of her work rather than by calculated imposition. It may also have been something of a disadvantage, as the coherence and value of her output has not, until now, been properly celebrated.
Her photographs usually have a wide tonal range and she allows her subject to fall out of the frame, providing a candid and casual appearance. It is though she is an invisible observer, allowing her subjects to do what is they do with a minimum of interference. For her subjects to just be themselves, perhaps permitting their inner persona and personal habits to become more visible and be revealed.
She show us her ability to enter into a theater scene and capture the actors doing what they do best, be the character and off-stage, to allow them the space to return to normalcy. For Laurence (Larry) Olivier, to comfortably be seated and reading the newspaper while his two children look on, his daughter with rapt attention with her hair shimmering in the light. These were the days that you might still be formally dressed and relaxing at home, as I also note that his son is wearing a tie. I would guess that Olivier was probably reading the paper to them as he paged through it.
When dealing with her thematic projects, such as Hands, she has the ability capture the essence of her subject, such as the muscular and dusted hands of Sally Clarke, and create a sense of both power and sensuality. The lighting and shading create wonderful forms and lines in this study, which moves your eyes down to Clarke’s right hand manipulating the raw dough.
This book has thematic sections; Fashion, Babies, Hands, Actors, Couples, Writers, Artists, Architects, Musicians, Designers, Directors, Dancers, with a strong bent to theater performances. The majority of her portraits are in black & white, a preferred medium for her, with the fashion photographs and a few of the others in color.
Lousada is not known as well for creating iconic portraits, but has created a nice and refreshing body of work that does celebrate her subjects and not at the expense of her own individual fame. And she appears to be very comfortable with it.
By Douglas Stockdale