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The sinew and texture of history are to be found in this grippingly detailed documentary by Peter Stephan Jungk, based on his 2015 book The Darkrooms of Edith Tudor-Hart. She was Jungk’s aunt: an Austrian-born documentary photographer and socialist, domiciled in Britain during and after the second world war, whose work brilliantly recorded the lives of the urban working classes in Vienna, London and the Rhondda valley.
Edith also had a tempestuous emotional life that involved an affair with Donald Winnicott, the distinguished paediatrician – who was treating her son for autism. But most importantly, she was a spy for the Soviet Union and introduced Kim Philby to her communist handler, Arnold Deutsch, who recruited him. So she has a real claim to having changed the course of history. She betrayed the country that took her in, though her rationale was always to promote the balance of nuclear power.
Jungk talks to a fascinating range of people about Tudor-Hart’s importance both as a photographer and a spy, including her brother, the famous photographer and cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky, and Wolf’s son Peter Suschitzky, also a cinematographer.
Her brilliance as a photographer perhaps involved a spy-like skill in ingratiating herself into a certain situation and unobtrusively recording it. The photographer as double-agent? Perhaps photographers like Tudor-Hart have to cultivate a spy-like tradecraft. Critic Duncan Forbes notes that this was partly about using a Rolleiflex camera that had to be held at waist height, away from the face. He says this meant the photographer could converse easily with the subject. Yes, perhaps. But a camera that didn’t have to be held up to the photographer’s face meant the subject was not immediately aware of being photographed. There’s a comparable debate in the film Finding Vivian Maier, about the American social-realist photographer.
Historian Nigel West is interviewed about Tudor-Hart’s importance to the Cambridge Apostles generation, and this may be the only context in which a man such as Guy Burgess can be described with that robustly quaint phrase: “predatory homosexual”. Tudor-Hart herself remains an enigma at the end of this absorbing film.
Source: The Guardian
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