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Photography review Picture This: Vaughan Melzer

VAUGHAN MELZER has been photographing people, political demonstrations and peace and labour movement activities and events a long time, with her photos appearing in the Morning Star and other publications.

She has met a whole number of fascinating individuals, often little-known in the wider world despite having devoted their lives to the struggle for socialism.

Believing that their contribution should be better known and their lives celebrated, she has created a portfolio of photographic portraits over the years, now on display at the Marx Memorial Library in the exhibition Those Who Never Gave Up: Their Hopes of a Socialist World Never Died.

When her lifelong communist mother died, she felt the loss also of her political mentor. Thus her project to visit, interview and photograph socialists born between 1915 and 1950 who became dedicated socialists in their youth and maintained that commitment throughout their lives, despite decades of an inimical ideological climate and media indifference.

She visited people from London to Glasgow and Liverpool to Worcester in her desire to help preserve that story of left-wing activism.

Meltzer created these portraits of individuals who formed their ideas in the wake of the first world war, the Great Depression, the Hungry Thirties and the struggle against fascism and that turbulent history is written in their faces. She was particularly interested in what influenced them and how they became committed to the socialist movement. Brief biographical notes accompanying each portrait describe their fascinating and unique stories.

The portraits, in black and white and colour, make no attempt to embellish or artificially enhance her subjects. They have a seductive simplicity and the very “ordinariness” of most of them is not hidden but deliberately stressed.

Their seriousness, modesty, resoluteness and optimism radiates from their faces so that we feel we are able to peer into their inner lives.

The free exhibition Those Who Never Gave Up: Their Hopes of a Socialist World Never Died runs at the Marx Memorial Library, Clerkenwell Green, London

EC1, until December 14. Opening times:


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