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Gloucestershire Business News

VIDEO: Exhibition celebrates the life of Gloucester’s most famous photographer

Gloucester-based charity Hundred Heroines has partnered with Sisters of the Lens, in association with the National Portrait Gallery, to bring a major new exhibition to the city.

Dorothy Wilding: 130 Photographs pays homage to Gloucester's pioneering photographer shortly after the 130th anniversary of Dorothy's birth at The Eastgate Centre GL1 1AG. The exhibition runs until May 23rd.

As well as the iconic portraits of the young Queen Elizabeth, the exhibition features life-size images of some of Dorothy's famous sitters, including Tallulah Bankhead, Cecil Beaton, Noël Coward, Vivien Leigh, Joyce Grenfell and Barbara Cartland.

Other works taken in her New York studio in the 1940s and 1950s include iconic portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and new stars of the 1950s, Yul Brynner and Harry Belafonte.

Dorothy was the first woman to be appointed as the Official Royal Photographer and this is the first exhibition of her work in the city where she was born.

Curated by Sisters of the Lens, the exhibition comprises some of Dorothy's iconic portraits reprinted in a large, contemporary style alongside smaller original prints and ephemera including books, magazines, coins and stamps featuring Dorothy's work.

Megan Stevenson of Sisters of the Lens said: "We are thrilled to be working with Hundred Heroines and the National Portrait Gallery to create this exhibition. It is so exciting to be bringing Dorothy Wilding's photographs to her birthplace and to display her work as one of the most famous portrait photographers of the twentieth century."

The three-month long festivities also include artist-led workshops, 'Gloucester Lates' (late night opening for our young visitors in the city), a pop-up photo-booth and schools activity packs.

City councillor Dawn Melville said: "It's so wonderful to have been told that Dorothy Wilding was born in Gloucester. Her plans to become an actress being thwarted was the country's gain as she became such an incredible photographer.

"As a famous society photographer, she must have had an incredibly interesting life and I can't wait to see more of her work. We all know the now-iconic portraits of Elizabeth II but to have a local exhibition of her other work will be a treat for all as well as extremely informative about the life of this interesting lady."

Born in Longford, Gloucester, in 1893, Dorothy Wilding wanted to become an actress or a painter. But as she lived with her uncle, who did not encourage these professions, she chose photography. "If they won't allow me to be an actress, or paint portraits, I'll do it through the camera instead."

Dorothy was self-taught, as a photographer, when she bought her first camera at 16, and managed to secure apprenticeships at two leading photographers working as a retoucher before securing an apprenticeship with a leading Bond Street photographer, the American born Marion Neilson.

At 21 she had saved £60 to set up her first studio and her works began to appear regularly in the press. She was the first woman to be appointed as the Official Royal Photographer (for the 1937 coronation) and already in great demand when the Dorothy Wilding studio was asked to take the first of the now-iconic portraits of the newly crowned Elizabeth II. Between 1952 and 1971, these formed the basis of The Queen's image on British postage stamps. Her inimitable style shaped an illustrious career in society portraits, many of which are on display in Gloucester.

Dorothy's pioneering work behind the lens paved the way for new generations of female photographers. Hundred Heroines and Sisters of the Lens are honoured to bring her name back into the limelight once more, spotlighting the work and life of this Gloucester Heroine.

This project has been made possible through the generous support of the Ampersand Foundation and the Association of Independent Museums New Stories New Audiences grant scheme, funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The downstairs gallery is only open for the duration of the show (until May 23rd) but Hundred Heroines have moved in permanently upstairs and it's a museum dedicated to women in photography.

For more information and details of events, please sign up to the Hundred Heroines mailing list or follow them on social media.

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