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© Angela Williams/Audrey Hepburn 1964

© Angela Williams/ Audrey Hepburn 1964

Beauty in black and white

Audrey Hepburn – what an icon. There can’t be too many people who have not succumbed to the Hepburn style and charm. In photographs or film she was certainly a class act. And beautiful. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths went along to Lucy Bell’s gallery to check out that enigmatic beauty in some previously unseen photographs taken in 1952 and 1964.

© Angela Williams/ Audrey Hepburn 1964

© Angela Williams/ Audrey Hepburn 1964

A dancer, a model and star of legendary films – Roman Holiday, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, My Fair Lady – she was much sought after by photographers like Cecil Beaton and Norman Parkinson, who wanted to capture that gamine fragility.

Two photographers, George Douglas and Angela Williams, had extraordinary opportunities to meet and photograph her. Although fleeting, there was ample time for both of them to fall under her spell.

On a hunch that Hepburn was going to be a big star, George Douglas, a key Picture Post photographer, risked his savings to go to New York to try and meet her. At the time she was appearing as Gigi on Broadway but as yet had not starred in a film. He persuaded her to let him shoot her and had two days in New York photographing her shopping, sightseeing, applying her make-up and enjoying the freedom of Central Park. And in the process Douglas fell in love with Audrey Hepburn.

© Angela Williams/Audrey Hepburn 1964

© Angela Williams/ Audrey Hepburn 1964

Angela Williams’ experience was somewhat different. She did not have such free access to Hepburn. Williams was working with a journalist who was interviewing Hepburn at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. Photographers, generally, have limited time with their subjects – sometimes as little as 10 or 15 minutes. Consequently, they see the room beforehand, assess the ambient light and, if necessary, set up their own lighting. Williams laughed when I asked her what preparation she had. Virtually none. So she had to think on her feet and make the most of the available light.

Only 23 at the time, she had never been to the Ritz or anywhere as glitzy as that before. “I wanted to take her outside but there simply wasn’t time – so I played with the situation ­ using the chandelier and the mood to try and capture a personal view of her.”

Now with digital cameras there isn’t the opportunity to study contact sheets from a roll of film and therefore see the good images alongside the not-so-successful ones. Even though Williams had so little time, the respected black and white printer Robin Bell apparently said that he had never seen so many really good images on one roll of film. Williams managed to catch her vulnerability, her charm, her sparkle, her style.

The results are grainy, partly due to the developing process and so were never used for the article. These images have been printed up 50 years after the event and some, like the back of the head, have been cropped on the advice of Norman Parkinson with whom she worked between 1962 and 1967.  These images certainly catch a timelessness as well as an indefinable essence.

© Angela Williams/ Audrey Hepburn 1964

© Angela Williams/ Audrey Hepburn 1964

They might be grainy but they are sharp enough to see the hairs on the back of Hepburn’s neck. Instead of her coquettish look a back view of her head is poignant and enigmatic, capturing a private, secret view of the star. It was “a moment in time when our lives brushed – she was like a frail butterfly – exquisite and captivating. Gentle – firm, vivacious and quiet.”

 

This exhibition coincides with the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition Audrey Hepburn: Portrait of an Icon.

An afternoon with Audrey Hepburn/George Douglas and Angela Williams Until 15 August at Lucy Bell Fine Art, 46 Norman Road, St Leonards-on-Sea TN38 0EJ. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-4pm, or by appointment.

 

Posted 17:05 Wednesday, Jul 8, 2015 In: Photography

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