Bruce Bernard (1928-2000), one of the most gifted picture editors of modern times, had an outstanding eye for choosing exceptional photographs.
In 1996 the artist and collector James Moores invited him to assemble a collection of photography on his behalf, giving him complete freedom. The result was a captivating and highly personal gathering of images.
The exhibition presented key pieces from the 1840s to the 1990s, featuring many of the greatest practitioners of photography, including William Henry Fox Talbot, Diane Arbus, Julia Margaret Cameron and Man Ray, as well as entrancing images by anonymous and less well-known photographers. This was the first opportunity to see the collection on public display.
A selection of Bruce Bernard's own photographs of the studio of Lucian Freud were shown at the entrance of the Photography Gallery in September and October.
Bruce Bernard began as a painter in the 1940s, and became friends with outstanding British artists of the time such as Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews. He was a member of the Bohemia that met in Soho’s bars and clubs in the decades after the Second World War.
In the 1960s Bernard found his true metier as a picture editor. He worked on the Purnell History of the 20th Century in the late 1960s and joined the Sunday Times Magazine in 1971.
While there he produced a major series of articles and later a book titled 'Photodiscovery'. This revealed Bernard’s flair in recognising and publishing extraordinary photographs – whether they were known masterpieces or hitherto unseen ones by reputed masters or by the anonymous.
When James Moores invited him to build a collection of photographs in 1996, Bernard spent the next five years travelling in search of photographs, regularly visiting art and photography fairs in Basel, New York and Paris. He attended auctions and frequented galleries and private dealers, eventually building up a collection of 100 works. He also acquired works by photographers whom he knew well such as Ken Griffiths, Chris Killip, David King, Don McCullin, John Riddy and Graham Smith.
The Bruce Bernard Collection is a record of one man’s reactions to the variety of photographic eloquence. It includes astounding early masterpieces such as The Soliloquy of a Broom (1843) by Henry Talbot (the inventor of positive/negative photography) and pioneering studies of movement, such as a chronophotograph by Etienne Marey (about 1900).
There are modern classics by such masters as Dr Paul Wolff and André Kertesz and raw documents from the ‘Naked City’ of 1940s New York by Weegee. There are also delicate photographs of artists’ studios, a ‘Happening’ photographed by Robert Frank and mysterious night photographs.
The photographs were displayed in order of acquisition, rather than chronologically, and this is how they feature in the book of the exhibition published by Phaidon Press.
The exhibition provided a great introduction to the power and subtlety of photographic imagery, from snapshot to family portrait to film still to outright blue chip classic.
Written to accompany the exhibition Bruce Bernard: 100 Photographs