National Portrait Gallery buys celebrity portraits saved from warehouse

Andrew and Stuart Douglas’s photographs of stars were rescued from building that was due to be bulldozed in London

A treasure trove of black and white portrait photographs of stars, including a pensive Bob Geldof and a baby-faced Damon Albarn, has been rescued from a warehouse that was on the point of being demolished.

Some of the photographs from the 1980s and 90s – including portraits of the actor Tilda Swinton, authors Salman Rushdie and Alan Bennett, and singer Bryan Ferry – have been given to the National Portrait Gallery in London, and will go on display there next summer.

A portrait of Damon Albarn from the collection.
A portrait of Damon Albarn from the collection. Photograph: National Portrait Gallery London

The archive was rediscovered when the London storage company where they were being held managed to track down the photographers shortly before the lock-up was to be bulldozed. Andrew and Stuart Douglas, two brothers who had been living and working in the US for more than 20 years, alerted their agent, Tim Fennell, in London, who rushed to the scruffy unit to save the images.

Fennell said: “I received a phone call asking me to drop everything, and clear a lock-up on a demolition site. I had 48 hours before the building was bulldozed. I retrieved 30 crates of negatives and prints that hadn’t seen the light of day for nearly two decades.”

Bob Geldof photographed by the Douglas brothers.
Bob Geldof photographed by the Douglas brothers. Photograph: National Portrait Gallery London

The Douglas brothers had spent a decade photographing leading figures in the arts, sports, fashion and public life, but their work had been in storage since 1995 when they broke up their London studio, and worked separately in films and commercials.

The brothers worked extensively for the music press, magazines and record companies, and were once described by Creative Review as “the most desirable photographers of their generation”. They were also regarded as so stylish that they were photographed by Annie Leibovitz for a Gap advertising campaign. The Photographer’s Gallery, which held an exhibition of their work in 1995, described it as “painterly and ethereal”.

Brian Ferry.
Brian Ferry. Photograph: National Portrait Gallery London

Their portrait of Rushdie was the last before he went into hiding following the death threats made over his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses.

Phillip Prodger, head of photographs at the gallery, described their work as a wonderful addition to the national collection. He said: “The Douglas brothers produced some of the most distinctive portraits of the 1990s. Although their photography has since become less well known, this is work that has stood the test of time. Making use of older, historic processes, their pictures are still as fresh and exciting as the day they were made.”

Contributor

Maev Kennedy

The GuardianTramp

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