Art & Photography / Who, What, Why

Royalty, Soldiers and Suffragettes

Unlikely photographer Christina Broom is celebrated in a new show that traces the creation of modern Britain through her work

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11. WomenÔÇÖs Social and Political Union Exhibi
Women’s Social and Political Union Exhibition stand, probably at Claxton Hall during the Women’s Parliament, February 1908

Who? Her pioneering work earned her the title of Britain’s first female press photographer, yet Christina Broom originally turned to photography in 1903 because of financial necessity. Her husband out of work due to injury, the 40-something Broom found herself in need to provide for her family. Unlike other female photographers at the time whose work was limited to the studio, Broom took her camera out in the city, documenting London’s most important historical events. Over the next 36 years, Broom took around 40,000 photographs, which she printed with the help of her daughter Winifred and sold as postcards from her stall near Buckingham Palace.

What? Despite the social relevance of her work, Broom’s name remained widely unknown, but, more than 70 years on, a new exhibition at the Museum of London is seeking to give her the recognition she deserves. Soldiers and Suffragettes: The Photography of Christina Broom is a collection of 2,500 of Broom’s works, featuring prints of Suffragettes demonstrations, including photographs of leader Emmeline Pankhurst, and pictures of the men of the Household Division. During her career as a photographer Broom became close to the Royal Family, for which she took many portraits; she captured British soldiers leaving for the front in World War I, and was there to photograph them upon their return. Of course, many never did, including Rudyard Kipling's son John, who was photographed by Broom alongside his father and colleagues shortly before his death.

Why? This is the first major retrospective of Broom’s ground-breaking work, offering an extraordinary opportunity to retrace history. Recording some of the most significant moments in the history of early 20th century Britain, Broom’s photographs are an invaluable contribution to society, an achievement so big that Queen Mary once advised Winifred Broom to keep her mother’s negatives safe “for posterity where people may go and look at prints when they have more leisure”.

Soldiers and Suffragettes: The Photography of Christina Broom is at the Museum of London Docklands from June 19.

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