‘On the walls of the models’ changing room in my west London studio are nearly 1,000 Polaroid instant pictures – a record of every major assignment I’ve had since 1971.
I always used to keep the best of these not-for-publication tests from each session at the end of every year to remind me of all the fun I’d had over the previous twelve months – I’d just make up a little board of about 30 or so shots.
In 2001, I went completely digital. But because of the great collection of Polaroids I had, I made small prints and continued the practice of putting two and a quarter-inch by two and a quarter-inch pictures in a frame to remind me of the year. They are better, they’re sharper – but they don’t have the magic of Polaroid. The romance of Polaroid was the one-minute wait that seemed like an hour and that comforting smell of chemicals.
There’s everything from royal assignments through fashion, beauty, cars, tourism, nudes, calendars, magazine covers and adverts. They are an almost complete record of my work, just for my own personal pleasure, which have never been seen outside my studio – until now.’
Lord Lichfield (1939-2005), 7 April 2004
An Early Passion
Patrick Lichfield, as he liked to be known professionally, took to the camera at the age of six. His first pictures of The Queen were taken when he was playing in a cricket match against Eton – and were promptly confiscated by an officious monitor. After seven years as a regular soldier at Sandhurst and in the Grenadier Guards he left to become, for the next three years, an assistant in a commercial London studio, working mainly as a darkroom technician.
Strike a Pose; Vogue
After starting on his own in the early Sixties, he found an increasing demand for editorial work, most immediately Life and Queen magazine, and many national daily newspapers. His greatest break came when he was summoned by Diana Vreeland, the doyenne of fashion editors, and given a five-year contract with American Vogue.
‘I was 32 I was shooting in New York and had been working for Vogue for some time. But a cover was the icing on the cake. I can remember the exact feeling when I looked at the Polaroid – at last I’d arrived as a proper Vogue photographer and I was on top of the world.’
Hard on the heels of editorial work came advertising commissions, including fashion, automobile, tobacco, cosmetic, pharmaceutical, airline and other accounts, most notable of which were his associations with Burberry’s and Olympus Cameras, whose equipment he used.
By Royal Appointment
In July 1981 he was appointed official photographer at the wedding of his cousin The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer and the resulting photographs, refreshingly informal, continue to be widely published to this day. Although the finished product could have been disastrous had it not been for Lichfield’s love of Polaroids;
‘Another time, during Prince Charles’ wedding to Lady Diana, I’d set everyone up for an official photograph. I took a test and the Polaroid seemed a little dark. As I was scrutinising it, Prince Philip shouted: “One of your lights isn’t going off.” I’d known as soon as I’d seen the Polaroid that there was a problem. It would have been catastrophic if I’d gone on shooting without realising that.’
In Worldwide Demand
From 1978, for seventeen years, he undertook the prestigious Unipart Calendar, shot in a number of exotic locations worldwide. A calendar featuring notable images from all the calendars was published in 2006 as a posthumous tribute to Lord Lichfield.
In recent years he was commissioned to work for the British Tourist Authority, fulfilling both photographic and ambassadorial roles, and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. He undertook many and varied commissions on location worldwide and at his studios in West London until the time of his death. He photographed every royal family in Europe and many of the world’s most beautiful women and produced books on both these subjects, as well as a number of other photographic books throughout his career. He also made regular television appearances, most recently promoting digital photography of which he was a pioneer.
Lichfield on Display
Exhibitions of his work were held on a global basis and in 2003 the National Portrait Gallery dedicated a retrospective exhibition to the first twenty years of his work. Sadly, Lord Lichfield died suddenly on 11th November 2005, but his work lives on today in his Polaroids.
‘Every time I look at the boards, they create a wave of nostalgia, because I can visualise each whole year for 32 years. I’m reminded of a year’s highs and lows, the unfulfilled hopes and the surprising bits of luck upon which we all depend.
I’m a failed diarist and I avidly consume them – I’m currently reading one of Cecil Beaton’s diaries and wish there were Polaroids to accompany it. Polaroids tell us so much of that moment in time, and my own diaries – if I ever wrote them – would contain dozens of them.’
Here, at Quarry Bank Mill, we are one of three National Trust sites who have been lucky enough to exhibit Lichfield’s beloved Polaroids. When walking through the gallery, you undergo a journey through time and are left with a feeling of a fun-filled and varied career, with a huge number of subjects and settings. These images were Lichfield’s own personal pleasure and now, you the public, are lucky enough to enjoy these extraordinary images too.
The exhibition is on until 4th November 2012, so make sure that you don’t miss this fantastic opportunity to delve into Lichfield’s world.