Why Did the National Portrait Gallery Buy These Celebrity Portraits That Were Nearly Destroyed?

The Douglas Brothers were given just 48 hours to rescue their archive.

Tilda Swinton by Douglas Brothers, 1992 © The Douglas Brothers.
Tilda Swinton by Douglas Brothers, 1992 © The Douglas Brothers. Photo Courtesy: The National Portrait Gallery.

The National Portrait Gallery, London, has recently acquired a series of photographs by infamous 1980s photography duo, the Douglas Brothers. The portraits feature important cultural icons of the 90s, including names like Tilda Swinton, Salman Rushdie, Blur’s frontman Damon Albarn, Bob Geldof, Daniel Day-Lewis, Alan Bennett, and many more.

The portraits were rescued from a disused storage warehouse in King’s Cross, where they had sat for nearly two decades, now condemned for demolition. “The storage company took over a year to track us down. Even then it was nearly too late,” said the brothers in a statement.

Damon Albarn by Douglas Brothers, 1990 © The Douglas Brothers. Photo Courtesy: The National Portrait Gallery.

Damon Albarn by Douglas Brothers, 1990 ©The Douglas Brothers. Photo Courtesy: The National Portrait Gallery.

After hearing the news, the brothers contacted their manager Tim Fennell, who was asked to drop everything and head to the demolition site to clear out the locker.

“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. It was a remarkable body of work, just siting there, forgotten,” said Fennell.

Salman Rushdie by Douglas Brothers, 1988 © The Douglas Brothers. Photo Courtesy: The National Portrait Gallery.

Salman Rushdie by Douglas Brothers, 1988 ©The Douglas Brothers. Photo Courtesy: The National Portrait Gallery.

Real-life siblings Stuart and Andrew Douglas, who started photographing in the 80s, spent over a decade working on these portraits, and were once described as the “most desirable photographers of their generation.” They were, in fact, the last photographers allowed to portrait Rushdie before he went into hiding following the death threats he received in response to the 1988 publication of his novel, The Satanic Verses.

The duo gave up their London studio in 1995, after a successful show at the Photographer’s Gallery, and started working separately, moving to commercial jobs, and relocating to LA.

“Making use of older, historic processes, [the Douglas Brothers’] pictures are still as fresh and exciting as the day they were made, and make a wonderful addition to the national collection of photographic portraits,” said Dr. Phillip Prodger, Head of Photographs Collection at the National Portrait Gallery about the acquisition.

The series has been added to the Gallery’s Primary Collection, and will go on display next year.


Follow artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.

Share

Article topics