25 years ago photographer Derry Moore, the 12th Earl of Drogheda, captured a certain type of Englishness with his book, The Englishman’s Room. Featuring men he describes as “mainly upper class and all sharing certain criteria of taste,” the images were of a world that he believes “has now largely vanished.” For his latest venture, An English Room, Moore has therefore decided to broaden his list of subjects, providing a more eclectic view of contemporary England and its luminaries. The volume contains Derry’s photographs of people at their houses and at locations that hold significance for them – the meanings of which unfold through each individual’s descriptions and recollections.
This new project brought Derry to various places around England as well as the rest of the globe – historian William Dalrymple chose the Zafar Mahal (the Palace of Victory) outside of Delhi, for example – and through his lens Derry offers insights into the private lives, and tastes, of national treasures such as artists Gilbert and George, who are photographed in the living room of their Queen Anne house on Fournier Street. Once one of the more notorious roads in the East End of London, the two now keep their home sparsely decorated with well-chosen Victorian furniture. “We started to collect nineteenth-century furniture in the mid-1970s because it was both available and affordable,” they write. “In addition it seemed to us that it was being discriminated against, just as we ourselves were at the time; anyone who mentioned ‘Victorian’ meant ‘Victorian rubbish’. We felt we were in the same boat and therefore decided to defend it.”
"Through his lens Derry offers insights into the private lives, and tastes, of national treasures"
Playwright Alan Bennett chose to be photographed in a room he decorated himself at a previous home in Primrose Hill, pro-hunting activist Otis Ferry at the lavish stables at Seaton Delaval Hall, designer Cressida Bell in her colourful kitchen fashioned after the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, and actor Stephen Fry in a dressing room at The Apollo Theatre, which he describes as his oasis of calm before a show.
“Although it could be argued that the title An English Room is misleading,” Derry writes in his introduction, “we have a farmhouse in Wales, a bookshop in Paris, a villa in Greece, a palace (albeit a ruined one) in India, not to mention plenty of places that are not rooms at all – I feel that there is still an essentially English quality in all of these places.”
“Seeing people’s choices has been fascinating and instructive,” he continues. “Would my own choice be based on associations or aesthetics, on memories or practicalities? I really don’t know.”
Text by Ananda Pellerin