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The Brighton Magazine

Selected Brighton Magazine Article
Thursday 24 April 2014

Dilapidated Filing Cabinet In Brighton Unearths Unseen Photographs Of Hollywood Stars

A unique archive of photographs of Hollywood stars from the 1940s/50s/60s, many of which have never been seen before, will be going on show in Brighton in May as part of the Artist Open Houses festival.

The exhibition will pull images from a wide range of negatives that include images of Gary Cooper, President Harry Truman, Audrey Hepburn, Dirk Bogarde and Peter Sellers. 

Alongside the celebrity images are many others, which give fascinating social and historical record of the period - including the Queen's rat-catcher and Britain's first female chimney sweep.

The archive belongs to Brighton based photographer George Douglas, who worked for many years at Picture Post and Life magazine amongst other publications. 

George died in 2010, leaving an enormous and diverse archive to his good friend and fellow Brighton based photographer Roger Bamber

Bamber discovered thousands of negatives in a dilapidated filing cabinet when he inherited George's house in Silwood Road. 

George had bought the house back in 1964 and though he spent much time in California, he still spent his summers in Brighton and retired to live in the house full time in 2007 until his death in 2010. 

2014 marks the 50th consecutive year that Silwood Road has been lived in by a photographer.

Now a third Brighton photographer, Nigel Swallow, is setting up studio in the house and will be exploring the archive, reprinting many of its images and exhibiting them to the public for the first time as part of the Brighton Artist Open House festival.

George was born in Rottingdean, East Sussex, but in 1939 moved with his mother to Dallas, Texas. 

He trained in aeronautical design engineering, and then worked for the Garrett AiResearch Corporation in Santa Monica, California, but his heart was not in it. 

The Leica camera he bought from a pawnshop consumed his spare time and once he had sold his first picture, for $30, he handed in his notice.

He sold his first photographs to the Los Angeles Times in the 1940s and moved to Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1948, where he was in charge of photography for the Sun Valley News Bureau, taking pictures of famous visitors including Gary Cooper and President Harry Truman. 

In 1949 he moved back to LA and began his career as a celebrity photographer with a picture of Angela Lansbury for Life magazine.

But it was an English magazine that intrigued him. 

He noticed that Life photographers he admired had trained in London on the Picture Post, which specialised in 35mm photography and a documentary style: 

"I knew this was the future and I wanted to work with people who were making it happen," he wrote. 

He set off for England in 1950. A set of pictures of two children with their pet boa constrictor got him through the door and became the first of many assignments he undertook for Picture Post. 

He fell 'more than a little in love' with Audrey Hepburn when he spent a fortnight photographing her in New York as she prepared for the Broadway production of Gigi and became friends with the novelist Paul Gallico and the actor Peter Sellers.

In 1956 he photographed Walter de la Mare. The author, then 83, watched with amusement as George ran about organising the shoot, and told him: 

"I envy you, to you I am an old man, but in my mind I am as young as you are at this moment. 

"With age, the body becomes a prison; every day the bars get tighter." 

He died shortly afterwards. When George himself was 78 he wrote: 

"That has affected me since. Now I myself begin to feel the bars and the jail the body will become."

Picture Post closed in 1957 and George turned to women's magazines and the TV Mirror. 

In 1964 the Beatles asked him to become their photographer on the set of A Hard Day's Night. 

Paul McCartney had been impressed by George's portraits of his then girlfriend Jane Asher but two weeks at the Twickenham Studios besieged by screaming teenagers was enough to persuade George that he was not cut out for pop photography.

In 1970 he returned to California to care for his mother. He and his wife, Jill Renton, ran an antiques business in LA, then, in 2006, moved back to England. Both George Douglas, photographer, born 8 March 1922; died 28 December 2010.

The Artist Open Houses offer the chance to buy artworks directly from the artists and makers themselves. 

There is hugely diverse selection of art works on show; from original paintings, prints, graffiti arts, ceramics, textiles to photography, sculpture, crafts and jewellery and many other media. Entry to the Artist Open Houses is free.

The festival will see around 200 houses and studio spaces across the city opening their doors to exhibit the work of over 1,000 artists and makers over the four weekends of May.`

George Douglas Open House, 14 Silwood Road, Brighton BN1 2LF. Full listings can be found at www.aoh.org.uk

by: Mike Cobley

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