Lawrence, by Coster

This perfect photograph is a portrait of Lawrence of Arabia in 1931. It was made by the prominent London photographer Howard Coster and sold recently at Sotheby’s for about $6000. The print was owned by T.E. Lawrence himself, and is signed by Coster. Lawrence wrote,

On Friday I was on the embankment near the Temple when a little bare-headed man rushed up and said “Colonel Lawrence, I want to photograph you”. So I went along for the joke of it and he put me on a little chair at a little shop in Essex Street. Rather a nice little stammering man, I thought. Works for Vogue!”

Coster specialised in photographs of men, especially of the literary and artistic world. He provided a lot of the author-portraits for Penguin Books, august-looking writers who are now largely forgotten. This is how he announced the opening of his studio:

“My studio in Essex Street has been opened for the purpose of making portraits of men exclusively. The idea is original and by concentrating on this individual branch of photography it is obvious that fine work must result.”

You can see Coster at work here, in a rare bit of film from 1931, the same year as the Lawrence picture.

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2 thoughts on “Lawrence, by Coster

  1. It’s a wonder Coster managed to make an exposure at all between the subject’s incessant chatter. I love when he says something like “don’t make me look too good or I shall have to become an actor.” He already is one, of course, down to the lines I’m sure he wrote for himself the night before.

    1. Yes, the rare occasions I’ve photographed people I can’t concentrate while they’re talking. And yet Reynolds or Gainsborough, one of that crowd, used to paint with a whole salon going on around him. And I read that Dickens used to write at his desk while a group of his friends were around chatting and drinking. The ability to compartmentalize is the secret.

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