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Edith Tudor-Hart’s (1908–1973) life story as a photographer is inextricably tied to the great political upheavals of the twentieth century. Born Edith Suschitzky in Vienna in 1908, she grew up in radical Jewish circles in a city ravaged by the impact of the First World War. After training as a Montessori teacher, Tudor-Hart studied photography at the Bauhaus art school in Dessau and pursued a career as a photojournalist. However, her life was turned upside down in May 1933 when she was arrested whilst working as an agent for the Communist Party of Austria. Tudor-Hart escaped long-term imprisonment by marrying an English doctor, Alexander Tudor-Hart, and was exiled to London shortly afterwards.

Members of the Social-Democratic Youth Movement Marching Past the Opera House, Opernring, Vienna, Edith Tudor-Hart, 1928 − ¬© Photograph by Edith Tudor-Hart

In Britain, Tudor-Hart continued to combine her practice as a photographer with low-level espionage for the Soviet Union. During the 1930s photography took on a sharper social purpose, breaking down the traditional divisions of culture. Tudor-Hart’s surviving negatives are one of the most significant traces of the period, notable for her commitment to forging a dialogue with those she photographed. In a turbulent decade, she mobilised the camera as a political weapon, part of the wider Worker Photography Movement. After the Second World War, rejected by Fleet Street and the British establishment, Tudor-Hart turned with unique insight to documenting issues of child welfare. Along with other German-speaking exile photographers, her imagery transformed British photography.

Family Group, Stepney, London, Owen Logan, Edith Tudor-Hart, 1932 − ¬© Photograph by Edith Tudor-Hart

Edith Tudor-Hart | In the Shadow of Tyranny was on display at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery from the 2nd March − 26th May 2013