BORN IN 1930, Snowdon demonstrated a highly creative flair even from childhood. His great grandfather had been the celebrated Punch cartoonist and photographer, Linley Sambourne (hence the choice of title for his son); and his uncle, Oliver Messel, one of the greatest designers for ballet of his era. Snowdon has sustained his own interest in dance and dancers for over 60 years. This might have been accentuated when, at 16, he developed polio and subsequently spent a lifetime living with the ramifications. Today, Lord Snowdon is a tireless champion and supporter of agencies that work with disabled people.
By the mid 1950s, he had finished his education via Eton and Cambridge (architecture - he designed the aviary in Regentâ€˜s Park Zoo) and was established as a photographer â€˜with a futureâ€™ after impressing Marlene Dietrich who, in turn, recommended him to Alexander Lieberman at American Vogue. The great newspaperman, Harold Evans, remembers how Snowdonâ€™s 1958 photo-feature about the grande dames of New York â€˜upstagedâ€™ contributions by Penn, Horst and others, with its fresh â€˜naturalismâ€™ and new approach.
An old Etonian, Snowdon was very much part of the â€˜jet-setâ€™ that spilled from the austere 1950s into the â€˜swingingâ€™ 1960s. But Snowdonâ€™s set was rooted in creativity and art and not the insular â€˜societyâ€™ of wealth, breeding and titles. He cannot abide class snobbery even to this day. Access was by talent and ability - and good looks did help! It was a beacon to all of Londonâ€™s haut monde, and centred around his Pimilico studio and a remote 19th century cottage near Brighton, bordered by extensive meadows, called Old House. However, the situation altered irrevocably when Snowdon (as Tony Armstrong-Jones) met and married the Queenâ€™s sister, Margaret, in 1960.
Not that Margaret was a conservative homebody. For a period the pair became the toast of the town and the must-have guests at any party - Tony the skilled mimic and Margaret, the accomplished singer, were societyâ€™s darlings. However, upon the birth of their first child and Tonyâ€™s elevation as Earl of Snowdon (1961) he became embroiled in â€˜Royal dutiesâ€™ - a responsibility that did not sit well with his creative temperament, and, decidedly his own man, before long he was accepting photographic assignments for the Sunday Times.
Snowdon is famously self effacing and with an astute, droll sense of humour. He often makes bald statements with his tongue firmly in his cheek to enjoy the effect. His many friends - from all walks of life - universally applaud his generosity and kind heart; those in the profession are unstinting with their praise for his work with the camera, across the disciplines of reportage, fashion and the portrait. The latter being his own expression of true excellence. Following his divorce from â€˜PMâ€™, Snowdon has remained famously guarded about Royal matters and, as is frequently noted, never traded on his Royal connections for professional preferment. It is some surprise to learn that his first ever â€˜selling exhibitionâ€™ was only in 2006, at a gallery in Londonâ€™s St Jamesâ€™s. It was an unconditional success. The National Portrait Gallery, which holds some 117 examples of his work, had toured them through 2000, in an exhibition that travelled to Vienna, Moscow and the USA.
Now nearly 80-years old, Snowdon has lost none of his charm and skill with a camera. Photoiconâ€™s Pat Booth went to interview him â€˜seriouslyâ€™ about Art & Photography, but instead, as old friends, she took some snaps, drank some wine and they discussed the Old House days and some famous Snowdon images - instantly recognised by the public at large, but not always associated with their immensely talented creator.
Lord Snowdon: â€¦and how was Eve [Arnold](1) ?
Pat Booth: I went to see her, sheâ€™s living in a nursing home in Victoria, a very nice one. Sheâ€™s kind of focused, spends a lot of her time asleep. I knew her very well years ago, but the interesting thing is she really hasnâ€™t changed - inasmuch as sheâ€™s still so fast, so perceptive. Do you see anything of Bob [Belton](2) at all?
Oh yes. Heâ€™s always ill, though. With what I donâ€˜t know... itâ€™s always someâ€¦ I spoke to him last week, took him out to lunch. Heâ€™s rather like Australian wine, he doesnâ€™t travel well. He doesnâ€™t do anything really, he says his eyes have gone. Iâ€™m very fond of him.
Iâ€™m very fond of him too. Heâ€™s had a cold since February. I think heâ€™s a bit of a hypochondriac, myself. Do you remember he introduced us, when I was seventeen and I used to come down to Old House?(3) We would walk through the fields with Terry Donovan?(4) It was way before you had running water inside. There was a big pump, do you remember it?
Yes, there was just a pump. I sold it [the house] the other day, because I was never getting down there. I miss it dreadfully. Janet [Donovan] is still there - she goes down there every weekend. Janet used to go through the woods, berry picking.
Were you close to Terence Donovan?
Not really, no. I liked him enormously. I used him in that TV film I did called Snowdon on Camera.(5) Was the lake there when youâ€¦
â€¦No. I think I came before that and then much later I came back, and youâ€™d just made the lake. It was there on the right hand side, but then you hadnâ€™t got the lake in the front when I first came. That was a beautiful house. I donâ€™t know if itâ€™s because I came from the east end of London, but for me to go to Old House and meet the gangâ€¦ do you remember Anthony Rufus-Isaacs used to come over on his horse? And his sister Jackieâ€¦
â€¦and Jackieâ€™s mother, Margot (6) She used to have that wonderful voice, do you know: [in comic accent] â€˜Oh, why donâ€™t we go off to Le Touquet [pronounced Tucket] today?â€™
Your mother used to come over occasionally. She was just down the road wasnâ€™t she?
Margotâ€™s still alive. She didnâ€™t come over that often, my mother.
I met her once, I think. The experience of Old House and you and your friends - you probably never even knew that you had changed a young seventeen-year-old girlâ€™s life so completely. It taught me what style and real elegance was. Iâ€™m surprised you sold it, actually.
So was I. I donâ€™t know why I did. It was fun wasnâ€™t it. Iâ€™ve got some photographs, Iâ€™ll show you. Was there a little hut on the left? [He shows a photo of Old House]
That one. You can have itâ€¦ [He gives PB the photograph]
I remember Nureyev being there. It was always just the gang, all so talented. I would come down with Bob [Belton]. You used to say: â€˜My God, the amount of energy, time and money Iâ€™ve spent on your education and mine, introducing me to you all.â€™
Yes I remember. Bob was fun. I also used him in my Lord Snowdon on Camera, oh crikey! a long time ago. He worked as my assistant for a time, too. We went to - where did we go - with Rudolf and Margot(7) somewhere? I think it was Moscow.
Iâ€™ll tell you one of my favourite images of yours, which I absolutely love, is Nureyevâ€™s foot.
Oh yes, thatâ€™s an awful old cheat photo! He appears to be just standing on his pointe - but heâ€™s not! Heâ€™s sitting on a white box. He couldnâ€™t do that. He couldnâ€™t possibly go en pointe with no shoes on. I remember one of the last times that I shot him, there was somebody there called Etherington-Smith(8). I said â€˜Tell Mr Nureyev to take that handkerchief out of his pocket, it looks ridiculous.â€™ And Rudolf said: â€˜That is no hanky, that is my cock!â€™ He was absolutely splendid!
The first time I met him was at Old House. Bob once took me round to his London apartment at night and he was sitting there in the dark watching a cine film. I remember seeing his amazing chiselled face looking at Pavlova(9) - one of the greatest of all dancers - on the black and white screen and he was dissecting her every move. I think he had an apartment in Eaton Square? Or was it Eaton Place?
He had one in Eaton Square, youâ€™re quite right. Then he had a very, very grand one in Paris.
Anyway, its not just Nureyevâ€™s foot - itâ€™s your photography. Do you have some images that over the years you absolutely love more than othersâ€¦ ?
I hate them allâ€¦ and I hate photography - and I hate cameras! And No! I donâ€™t have a digital.
Iâ€™ve got Nikon with a zoom, 35 to 70. I donâ€™t know which you prefer, which lens do you prefer?
Which camera or which lens? Oh, Iâ€™ve no idea really, a middling one. The camera I do like - and I use all the time - is a Contax. I suppose it is quite grand. Light, compact and chunky. Itâ€™s all automatic. I donâ€™t like zooms.
And itâ€™s just got a kind of 50mm lens?
No, no, itâ€™s grander. Itâ€™s got a little zoom.
Oh, a little zoom. You just said you didnâ€™t like zooms.
Yeah, but itâ€™s not a big zoom. And itâ€™s nice and chunky. Iâ€™ve had it, oh, um, quite a long time. Ten years or so. The two cameras I use most are the Contax, which I like very much, but I also use a Nikon sometimes. We could go down to Old House and I could photograph you there.
Oh Iâ€™d love to do that. Maybe all master photographers are going back to the simple camera. Helmut Newton once did a photograph for a cover of one of my books [Palm Beach] and he shot it with a tiny Instamatic camera. It came out brilliantly.
What camera are you using today? [Snowdon examines the camera] Oh, a Nikon, thatâ€™s frightfully grand! Is it digital? Thatâ€™s awfulâ€¦ and itâ€™s got a flash! I disapprove!
I love your little Contax camera. Do you ever use the Olympus?
Thereâ€™s an awfully nice person at Olympus. Whatâ€™s he calledâ€¦ Graham Chapman.(10) Who was the other, older oneâ€¦ Barry Taylor. He was marvellous too. He just disappeared to work in the sun somewhere.
I think heâ€™s retired somewhere. He was so supportive of us all, wasnâ€™t he? A charming man, absolutely lovely. So. Let us revisit some of your famous images?
Letâ€™s have a look at myâ€¦ get one of those big albums with the press cuttings in?
Thatâ€™s a great one of your son and the Queen Mother. That oneâ€¦
That one? In my old Aston Martin. I gave it to David (11) and he promptly went and sold it. I was furious! Davidâ€™s now frightfully grand. Heâ€™s the Chairman of Christieâ€™s. I donâ€™t think he goes into his shop. [pause] That one was in an exhibition, because Iâ€™ve just had an exhibition at the Chris Beetles Gallery in Ryder Street.(12) Itâ€™s a very nice little gallery isnâ€™t it? [Snowdon picks up a magazine colour supplement with his picture of Margaret Thatcher on the cover]
[Amused] This is the photograph Margaret Thatcher hated.
Do you like colour, do you like photographing in colour?
No. No. I donâ€™t like photographing much! I do like black and white. Thatâ€™s Nureyev.(13) He was marvellous. Heâ€™d pout his lip, wouldnâ€™t he. Heâ€™d worry about his scar. And do you know where he did that? No? â€¦well he was very embarrassed, he fell off a motor scooter in the Kingâ€™s Road. You know what he used to do when he was five years old, he used to put pencils up his nose like that to make the nostrils flare. I did love him.
[Anthony Blunt. London 1963.] This tremendous image was taken for one of the most famous books in the art business: Private View. A 1968 survey of the British Art scene with texts by John Russell and Bryan Robertson. Snowdon took the pictures. Art expert and Keeper of the Queenâ€™s Pictures, Blunt was a controversial character. Unmasked as a Russian KGB spy and disgraced, it was rumoured that MI5 had informed the Queen about his treachery some years before the scandal became public.
How very clever. Did you think of doing that before you photographed him, was it a set-up?
No. He was a spy wasnâ€™t he? That was just the sun. He just held the transparency up to the light, and then the sun went through the transparency directly onto his face.
[Albert Finney 1960] A leading member of the generation of northern actors which took the British theatre by storm in the mid-1950s, and gained prominence in the social realism of the British New Wave cinema. Finney made his film debut in 1960 in The Entertainer. It was, however, the other role he created that year - Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning - which stamped his image on British cinema.
Yes, it was very daring at the time, because Albert Finney never wore socks, and that was very unusual then.
[Helen Mirren 1995] A popular British actress of Russian descent, Mirren recently won a long overdue Oscar for her lead role in Stephen Frearsâ€™ affectionate portrait of Elizabeth II. Snowdon has much experience of photographing Queens and Mirren was in safe hands, although she did not know she would join such elevated company back in 1995.
That looks like a young Helen Mirren. Sheâ€™s very much manâ€™s woman.
Yes, it is. She was frightfully keen on her bosoms! That was in the some theatre or other. I rather liked her.
[Lord Browne] John Browne, City hi-flyer and recently, Chairman of BP until his sudden resignation over a homosexual scandal. His 2004 salary package equalled Â£5.7 million.
Oh, now heâ€™s just slipped up, hasnâ€™t he. I thought it was so unfair. He was lovely. Oh, these are all now by Angus McBeanâ€¦ Did you ever meet him?
Of course I did, I loved Angus McBeanâ€™s work. I photographed him, I went down to his house in Suffolk. I photographed him there with all his masksâ€¦ you know, all the different sort of pieces that he had.
[Noel Coward, Trafalgar Square 1970] The Teddington born wit, actor and playwright who came to embody the effete aristocracy in the public mind with comedy songs like Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
Thatâ€™s dear Noel. Noel Coward I loved. Cecil [Beaton] was an awful snob. Real, crashing snob. I hated him!
I met him again a couple of times, I went to his country house and photographed him there, and got on really quite well with him - but I didnâ€™t know him.
[The Royal Family, Buckingham Palace, 1957 - Prince Charles and Princess Anne on the river-bank]
This one, they were meant to be fishing. I had bought a trout as a prop so that they could pretend to be catching it, but then Mrs Peabody, who was looking after me, thought I needed feeding up and cooked the trout for my breakfast! Thatâ€™s why theyâ€™re reading a book.
[A number of 1960s photographs of Princess Margaret - on a boat in the Caribbean with her hair cut short like Joan of Arc; in the bath wearing a tiara]
Did life change much when you became Lord Snowdon as opposed to Anthony Armstrong-Jones? Was there a change in peopleâ€™s attitude and the way they wanted you to work?
No. Nothing changedâ€¦
This is a fabulous photograph. She really was beautiful.
Yes, always. I donâ€™t want to plug that one too much. These are all quite recent ones. I was very bad at fashion.
And yet your fashion imagery had a huge impact on a lot of other photographers. Have you done much for advertising?
No. Robin [Tattersall] you do know. He was a famous male model. He was the first and only male model - in the sort of 50s and 60s. When was that one for Acrilan? 1957! I quite like that one.
[Portrait of Tony Blair]
He hasnâ€™t changed that much, actually, when you look at him now, funnily enough, he hasnâ€™t aged that badly in ten years.
No. I rather like him. I donâ€™t know what we feel about Brown. He looks so awful, doesnâ€™t heâ€¦
â€¦ I find him rather charming actually, when you meet him.
[PBâ€™s mobile rings] Oh, God, thatâ€™s a nasty machine, ever so nasty! Throw it away!
[Stripper at the Bridge Hotel, Canning Town 1958]
I mean, would you call that reportage? Because this is clearly reportage. Youâ€™re not known for that.
Wellâ€¦ Iâ€™m not known for anything, really! This was in the Bridge House Hotel, Canning Town on a Sunday morning. I rather like that oneâ€¦
Look at those faces. Theyâ€™re all lookingâ€¦ the thing is, theyâ€™re all looking at different parts of her.
Yes. But the point is, I think I cheated. I altered his eyes. To move them and look at her, because he was looking at me - and I told him not to!
Do you like being photographed yourself at all?
Do I like being photographed? No. I hate it!
[Peter Cook, Camden Town. 1967] A leading figure in the satire boom of the 1960s, former President of the Cambridge Footlights and star of Beyond the Fringe. He formed a successful comic partnership with Dudley Moore but battled alcoholism and died in 1995 aged only 57.
Peter Cookâ€™s dead, isnâ€™t he. And I lovedâ€¦ do you remember, what was the little one calledâ€¦ Dudley Moore?
Dudley, yes, I was maid of honour at his wedding, he married Suzy Kendall, the three of us lived together for a while in Pavilion Road. He fell madly in love with Suzy, whom I was sharing a flat with. He wanted to move in and I wasnâ€™t going anywhere, so the three of us stayed in the same apartment! This one of Peter Sellers and Britt Eklandâ€¦
Itâ€™s quite fun. When is that? 1967! Still quite recent.
Yeah, yeah. Only the other day! Your Salvador Dali portrait is a now a classic. Cartier-Bresson always said it didnâ€™t really matter if something was in focus or out of focusâ€¦ as long as you got the image. Do you think thatâ€™s true?
No, I donâ€™t think so. I donâ€™t think his things were out of focus. He was the original paparazzo. I loved him, I used to meet him down with Jeremy Fry in the south of France. And I think Iâ€™ve got a photograph of him â€“ they were very rare â€“ wearing a hat belonging to my daughter Frances [Cartier-Bresson famously disliked being photographed].
Who are the photographers you admire most of all - apart from me of course!
Cartier-Bresson. Irving Penn. The one I canâ€™t bear is that ghastly Peruvian. Whatâ€™s he calledâ€¦ Mario Testino? All he does is: â€˜Lovey, lovey, lovey, come on, smile.â€™ I mean he talks about it. Me? photographed by him? Certainly not! [laughs] I wouldnâ€™t be! But heâ€™s really pushy. And name-dropping. Everything I hate.
TAKING HIS LORDSHIPâ€™S PICTURE
Were there any of the Royals that loved being photographed, and others that didnâ€™t?
I donâ€™t know. Hmmâ€¦ The person who is such a real pro and wonderful in every way is the Queen. Sheâ€™s in America now. She keeps going, non-stop. We could go outside if you like butâ€¦ as long as I donâ€™t have to stand much, you see my legs arenâ€™t quite as good as they once were. I thought I could live in the garage, and then I would be on the ground floor. I donâ€™t have a car, you see. Although it is a bit bleak in there isnâ€™t it!
You donâ€™t have to stand at all. I was thinking of sitting you there. And just getting that really rather nice head on the water fountain. Or otherwise we could shoot in here, I photographed you here last time, only the lighting isnâ€™t fabulous. But we could do both.
Itâ€™s very soft light here.
Yes, does that matter do you think? As you know, I havenâ€™t got a flash on the Nikon.
Oh, good! Oh donâ€™t use flash, I canâ€™t bear it!
[PB starts the photo session]
Shall we go outside? On the other hand, we could put you that sofa, sitting by that wonderful tapestry of the dog. I like to shoot portraits with a 35mm lens, as it gets so much of the personâ€™s life in the background. You see this is the lens I like. 35 to 70.
No, I donâ€™t like zooms. I like ordinary lenses, you know. Just the regular 85. No flash.
No flash. But I have not enough light here. Itâ€™s very slow. Iâ€™ve got it on automatic.
Oh, take it off automatic. Put it ontoâ€¦ now what film are you using? [Ilford] Yeah, but what speed?  Yeah, well put it on 60. Can you do that? Check that I was right because thereâ€™s no light down here at all.
Oh thatâ€™s much better. Thatâ€™s worked. Perfect.
Now. Letâ€™s have a swig of wine. Shall I give you a helping hand?
Youâ€™ll make a great assistant someday!
Well, I should be able to take a photograph by now!
So, which one should we do first, Tony? This one on the sofa with the dog tapestry?
I tell you what, weâ€™ve got a problem with that. You canâ€™t because it gives way. Thereâ€™s one leg missing. Shall we go outside? I could put a coat on. Bloody cold out there.
No, no, Sir. It is absolutely not cold! We wonâ€™t be very long.
[Snowdon stands by an arbour made of trellis, with ivy and roses entwined in it.]
Itâ€™s funny when photographersâ€¦ they always stick their bums out, and then their knees! That any good? Itâ€™s awful, all this ivy.
It think itâ€™s very pretty. Iâ€™ve got just a few of the roses in the foreground. I want one of those lovely smiles.
Can we go in now? Have another drink. Iâ€™m lunching with Mike Trow. [Picture Editor of British Vogue] There used to be an editor of Vogue, do you remember Barney Wan? Barney Iâ€™ve known, what, 40 years or something like that, and I still canâ€™t understand a word he says, not a syllable! He talks like that. He used to come down to Old House with Mara and Lorenzo.(14) Maraâ€™s been been quite ill I think. I think sheâ€™s had a stroke, hasnâ€™t sheâ€¦?
What is your next project?
I donâ€™t seem to have one, in fact hereâ€™s my diary, Iâ€™m completely free.
Would you do advertising again?
Do you want to do some more work?
Oh yes, you bet I do!
N O T E S
(1) Eve Arnold. Famous American photographer and photojournalist. Aged 95 and living in London.
(2) Robert Belton, a photographer for Vanity Fair
(3) Old House. Tony Armstrong-Jones' rural retreat outside Brighton, famous for jet set weekend parties
(4) Terence Donovan (1936-1996) photographer and leading lights of the 'Swinging Sixties' snappers that included Bailey and Brian Duffy.
(5) Snowdon on Camera, 1981. Two-parter for the BBC produced by Iain Johnstone, examining the market and trends in â€˜Artâ€™ photography
(6) Margot, The Dowager Marchioness of Reading. Lord Anthony Rufus Isaacs (film producer) and Lady Jacqueline Rufus Isaacs, ex-model
(6) Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn, first danced together in 1962 (Giselle). The famous partnership (Margot was 19 years older) lasted until 1979 when she retired. He died of AIDS in 1993.
(7) Meredith Etherington-Smith, journalist and past London editor of Paris Vogue and former Features Editor of Harpers & Queen.
(8) Anna Pavlova, Russian ballerina. She appeared in a few silent films: this one, The Immortal Swan, shot in 1924, was not released until 1956. She died of pleurisy in the Netherlands in 1931.
(9) Graham Chapman. Managing Director of Olympus UK Ltd.
(10) David Albert Charles, Lord Linley. 12th in line to the throne of England.
(11) Chris Beetles Gallery, Ryder Street, London SW1. Snowdon's first selling exhibition 19th September -14th October 2006.
(12) Rudolph Nureyev (see note 6). Russian star of the Kirov Ballet who defected in 1961.
(13) San Lorenzo. Uber-trendy restaurant in Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge, more famous for the clientele than the basic Italian food. Owned by Mara and Lorenzo Berni, who have became celebrities in their own right.