I’D know for years that great aunt Joan had been a photographer. A decade earlier I had even found a series of her photographs online: they were all of a pianist, Harriet Cohen, who had angular brows, a no-nonsense air and an impressive collection of gowns. The photographs were held by the National Portrait Gallery, and I bought some prints of them during a trip to London. But back then, that was as far as my search took me.
In 2014, I had another look. To my surprise and delight, a search of Joan’s name (plus “photographer”) yielded dozens of results – and even an online auction lot. “Chloe”, a nude, had been featured in Photograms of the Year 1951, and someone was selling the page on which the image featured (a seller of antiquarian books was later to wince when I mentioned this frowned-up practice). No sooner had I bought Chloe than another nude in the same format, “Juno”, was listed by the same seller. I was now officially a collector.
There were titbits of information elsewhere. A website decidated to model and actress Pamela Green had a paragraph about Joan – who had photographed Green on many occasions – and an appeal for further information. A scroll down to the bottom of the page revealed a comment from a man who was a neighbour of Joan and her husband Geoff when they lived in Plymouth in the 1970s – and who presumably had been searching for information about her, just like me.
I added a comment of my own, expressing thanks for the information and letting the posters know of my intention to find out more about Joan and start a blog about her.
It was exciting and inspiring to discover there were people out there who were interested in Joan’s life and career. They had given me enough pointers – a model, a studio, a decade – to make a start. For the next few clues I would look closer to home.