Be Original or Die by Madame Yevonde

I’m sure that as intelligent, astute human beings you’re familiar with the marvellous Madame Yevonde. I first came across her work when I was doing my photography GCSE evening course but I have to admit that I’d forgotten all about her until I stumbled across one of her portraits in a book I’m reading.

Madame Yevonde, or Yevonde Middleton to use her birth name, was a pioneering photographer of the 20s and 30s who popularised the use of colour in photography with the Vivex process. She was a total progressive who joined the suffragette movement and following an apprenticeship with Lallie Charles, the leading society portrait photographer of the day, set up her own studio at the wee age of 21. Her poppa was a printer and creative too and totally spoilt her, helping her set up the studio with a bit of his own moolah. She gave herself the more swanky sounding name ‘Madame Yevonde’ and made a name for herself snapping her society friends.

Sticking with the portraits but exploring her creative side, she introduced props, costumes and poses to jazz up her shots. By 1921 she was well established and started working for fashion mags and advertising agencies and was soon one of the decade’s rising stars as well as a megastar hardcore feminist. She had been elevated to the ranks of the Professional Photographers’ Association and became the first ever woman to address one of its meetings. She used the opportunity to talk about the subject of ‘Photographic Portraiture from the Woman’s Point of View’. She used the presentation to put forward the fairly revolutionary view that women would always prove to be better portrait photographers than men because of their innate sympathy, patience and intuition. Trufax!

Anyway, there’s no holding a good woman down and she was soon bored of black and white work. Luckily for her, colour photography kicked off on a commercial scale in the 30s and she got stuck into the world of Vivex with aplomb. This nifty but boring to write about process involved using separate cyan, magenta and yellow plates to create a full colour image which could be retouched and edited. Yevonde got totally involved with Vivex and produced piles of vibrant, surreal, highly original imagery. During lectures, she again brought up the idea that women were better at handling colour shots then men because it played an integral part in their daily lives through clothes and soft furnishings, lolssss.

Anyway, the highlight of her work in this field was the Goddesses series of images from 1935, which you can see in this post. Photographing society’s most influential women as Greek goddesses, nymphs, fauns and other figures from classical mythology. None of them would look out of place in Vogue Italia today, right??

Madame Yevonde continued working in Vivex until the manufacturing and processing plant was closed owing to the threat of the war. She was totally dependent on it and its closure marked the end of the era for her. Although she continued working throughout the war and worked right up to her death in 1975, she never found anything that replaced her beloved Vivex and considered all other processes far too crude in comparison. What a woman! You can read her entire biography at the supremely indepth Madame Yevonde website, which is also where all this pictures are credited to. You can buy used copies of the Goddesses book on Amazon at the moment and I promise you it’s worth investing in.

Pics from top:
Self Portrait with Image of Hecate, 1940

Lady Bridgett Poulett as Arethusa//The Hon Mrs Bryan Guinness (Lady Diana Mosley) as Venus

Mrs Charles Sweeney (Margaret, Duchess of Argyll) as Helen of Troy//Mrs Longdon as Persephone

Gertrude Lawrence as the Muse of Comedy//Baroness Gagern as Europa

All pics c/o Madame Yevonde c/o MadameYevonde.com

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