Muspratt (Dunman) Helen

Helen Muspratt (Dunman)

Born in India of an army family, she was sent to school in Britain. On her father’s retirement in 1922, the family lived in Swanage in Dorset. Having got to know a group of artists who had settled nearby, the career of photographer was suggested to her. She took a photography course in Regent�s Street Polytechnic in London.Dunman (Muspratt) Helen young.jpg

Her professional life as a photographer began at the age of 22 in a studio in Swanage. In 1932, she moved to Cambridge and set up a partnership with Lettice Ramsay, a young widow with society connections. Muspratt was the technician and Ramsay the business partner. The aim was to produce naturalistic, rather than posed images. Muspratt’s portraits of dancers and painters were striking and art deco in character. She was strongly influenced by the work of the American, Man Ray. There were many very well known sitters throughout her career, including the `Cambridge spies’.

Helen Muspratt in her youth – a self portrait

During a visit to the Soviet Union in 1936, Muspratt travelled down the Volga, photographing in documentary style as she went. On her return, she joined the Communist Party. The following year she took powerful images of unemployed miners on a tour of South Wales and married Jack Dunman, a fellow Communist. From hereon, she was the breadwinner and Jack the professional revolutionary. With Ramsay, she opened a second studio in Oxford. Whilst Muspratt continued to specialise in portraits, she also took wedding photos, continuing to use her name for professional purposes and for which she is retrospectively best known.

Whilst photography and politics only rarely meshed, she continued to be active in the Communist Party and in CND and Medical Aid for Vietnam. The Dunman�s home in Oxford was a place of considerable activity. Jack Dunman died in 1973 and Helen Muspratt Dunman both lived and retained the core of her beliefs long after.

Helen Muspratt Dunman

In 1976, Ramsay and Muspratt Dunman held a retrospective exhibition that did much to promote the reputation of the latter, who retired shortly afterwards. In 1986, she was featured in a documentary book on women photographers and her achievements were first widely and publicly recognised. Several television programmes touched on her work and she died on July 29th 2001, aged 89.

Guardian August 11th 2001Dunman Helen in old age.jpg

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