WOLFGANG SUSCHITZKY: ANIMAL LOGIC
Wolfgang Suschitzky, a photographer and cinematographer whose career spans over 70 years, has had his photographic work exhibited internationally. Numerous books have been published on his work. Recently, his photographs of 1930’s and 1940’s London formed an exhibition at the Photographers Gallery in London. His credits for cinematography include Get Carter, Living Free, Ring of Bright Water and The Bespoke Overcoat, after his having worked for the War Ministry’s Department of Information.
His 70-year career has seen him capture many subjects, with a keen and sensitive eye, all with the same gentle concern. This is the first time, however, that his animal portraits have been exhibited. It is work that is close to his heart, shot between 1938 and 1990. Wolfgang’s life-long love of animals began at school in Vienna thanks to a “very good zoology teacher”. However, he was unable to pursue these studies and left Vienna in 1935 to come to London, where he went on to enjoy a very successful career in both his still and moving image work.
Wolf, who is nearly 104, retains his humour. He seems to have always regarded his animal pictures as portraits. “I was one of the first to take animal portraits – not straight zoological specimena with four legs and a tail, but close-ups of faces. You need a lot of patience to wait for the right attitude, position, and light.”
I ask him if he has ever exhibited these pictures at the London Zoological Society. “No”, he says, “they were not interested”. Being asked if he’d like to, he answers “Yes, I wouldn’t mind.”
One of his most famous animal portraits is of “Guy the Gorilla”. “I loved photographing animals. I was already a friend of Julian Huxley with whom I had worked on the book “Kingdom of the Beasts” published by Thames and Hudson – and I had made friends with some of the keepers at London Zoo. This marvellous gorilla was living alone in a relatively small cage. Visitors threw him sweets, which could not have made him happy. I don’t see how he could have been”.
“I was allowed inside the public barrier, with a keeper to fend off any arms reaching out between the bars. When I needed to reload the camera, the keeper said he’d fetch some more grapes to keep Guy happy. While he was away, Guy unhooked the iron bar that the keeper had left hanging, took it into the cage and put down in from of himself. When the keeper came back he asked “Give me the bar”. Guy knew exactly what he was being asked, but there was no reaction. This carried on two or three times, when Guy picked up a piece of paper from the sweets, and in his fingers offered it to the keeper. After a few more attempts Guy finally handed over the bar to keeper.”
‘’I took it for my own interest really, but it was reproduced a lot. The actor and wildlife campaigner Virginia McKenna used it in one of her anti-zobooks.
Wolfgang’s friendship with Virginia McKenna has spanned over many years. ‘’She is an old friend. I was cameraman for “Ring of Bright Water”, then later, for “Living Free”.
Many of Wolfgang’s pictures were taken on his visits to zoos, including London’s Whipsnade Zoo and several in other countries. ‘’Nowadays, their role has changed to conservation; the importance is to lose as few animal species as possible’’. Wolfgang’s portraits are expressive; there is a depth of understanding and compassion, capturing a spirit true to the individual animal. They encourage us to look again and to consider the future of our fellow species.
All prints in the exhibition are printed by Wolfgang Suschitzky and are for sale, although modern editions are also available.
Many thanks to Adrian Bowd, Wolfgang Suschitzky’s printer for his help in arranging this exhibition and to Heather, his constant companion, and Peter Suschitzky, Wolfgang’s son.
The book “Wolf Suschitzky Films” shows more than 50 pictures (printed in high quality duotone) of Wolf’s “Animal Portraits”, accompanied the shooting of a lot of his films in London Zoo and at Whipsnade and all over the world, and shows “behind the scenes” photographs of Virginia McKenna and “The Ring of bright water”. And includes a lot of statements of Wolf himself and tributes to his extraordinary work as photographer.
LUCY BELL FINE ART, 46 Norman Road, St Leonards on Sea, TN38 0EJ