A photo journalist in search of an identity
Sometimes we forget that photos are made by photographers.
Knowing the photographer helps the reading and understanding the photos.
In the case of Anthony “Tony” Beresford-Cooke is it an interesting story about a fascinating person.
When I met Carola Beresford-Cooke, Tony’s widow, this photographer turned out to be a very fascinating man.
It was a lucky coincidence that I could meet Carola when she was in Bruges.Discovering the life of Tony Beresford-Cooke is like a time travel to the late 1960s. A very interesting and transitional period in England and Europe.
Anthony Beresford-Cooke was born in 1943 in Edmonton (Middlesex) as the only child of middle class parents. He studied photography at the London College of Printing, now known as The London College of Communication.
|The young Tony||At the London College
Tony Beresford-Cooke was good looking, small and fragile. Always well-dressed, he was a dandy in the style of the times but with an anxious edge, afraid of attracting the attention of bullies. During his student days he came into contact with a totally different lifestyle from the bourgeois environment of his upbringing and became a real non-conformist, rejecting traditions and the establishment as he searched for truth.
He did this in a very radical way, rejecting traditional art-forms in favour of the most cutting-edge developments in music, art and literature.
This search brought with it the urge to discover the world beyond the one he was born in. And Tony left on a long journey taking the Trans Siberian Express, which was not the most obvious way to travel during the Cold War period.
We hardly have any information about this journey.
The awakening photo journalist
It’s very probable that Tony Beresford-Cooke continued the travel with the Trans Siberian Express to the China Mainland. Our photography archive of Tony Beresford-Cooke largely dates from his journey to China and Hong Kong.
His photos from China and Hong Kong often have captions on the back which usually indicate that the photos were destined for publication. However, we could not find any publication with these images. The captions are typewritten but without indication of magazine or editor. The photos have Tony’s stamp on the back.
The texts in the captions show the social involvement of a photo journalist. The photos are very direct and straightforward and remind us of the photography of Robert Frank or Ed Van der Elsken. They are characterized by the typical use of a wide angle lens.
The photographer very closely connected to his subject.
Tony’s photography style seems somewhat in contract with his fragile character. The photos are very direct with a high contrast. But then again, he is a child of his time.
The compositions are carefully made with a lot tension in the image. Tony proves to be a real journalist having the talent to tell an entire story in one single image.
Tony also travelled to Japan where he stayed for a year and visited the Southern Japanese Islands by bicycle with a Japanese friend. A not so obvious way to explore the country but the perfect way to enter into the lives of the locals and capture their way of life with the camera.
The Japanese photos in our collection have no captions or stamps on them but they are clearly the hand of Tony Beresford-Cooke.
That same direct approach, strong composition and a lot of social involvement. No traditional sightseeing but capturing genuine daily life. People in different contexts. The photographer who no longer is the intruder but who has become part of the scene.
The trip to Japan brought him into contact with the Japanese painter and film-maker Iwao Kono and with a Japanese fortune teller who predicted him a short life….
Back in Europe
In 1969 Tony Beresford-Cooke returned to England where met his future wife whom he married in 1970. He stopped working as a photographer and focused on filming and editing, collaborating in the BCC children’s programme “Vision On” making short films and animations.
He became more and more involved in music, making the sleeve photos for the albums of Badfinger and Bridget St. John.
Still searching his final destiny, he spent tumultuous years in London, Switzerland and Holland until he suddenly died in 1977 in London leaving us about 40 very strong photos.
We would like to thank Mrs. Carola Beresford-Cooke for the information and personal photos of Tony Beresford-Cooke.
All photos pbublished with permission of Mrs. Carola Beresford-Cooke
© Anamorfose, October 2012
Photo credit: Lisa Fromer Gelber and Carola Beresford-Cooke