John Vickers (1916 - 1976) was a noted photographer, of theatrical subjects, portraits and commercial and advertising material. His first photographic job was as a studio assistant to Angus McBean and Vickers learned much of his craft from McBean before starting his own studio. As well as portraits, Vickers also photographed a wide range of theatrical productions, including many at the Old Vic, for whom he was official photographer in the 1950s. He also photographed many student actors as well as debutants and socialites, members of the military and businessmen. Vickers also undertook a range of commercial commissions, photographing businesses, their products and staff members, including film production company J Arthur Rank and the toy theatre manufacturer J Arthur Rank as well as photographing industry leaders and creating advertising material for a wide range of firms, from watchmakers Rolex to crusie liner Elder Dempsett. For these commercial commissions, Vickers developed a variety of 'special effects' techniques and the archive represents these techniques well, including both the finished products and the negatives showing the various stages of the processes. The archive also contains material relating to the operation of John Vickers' photographic studio, including financial records, sitting diaries and appointment books, correspondence, manuscripts for Vickers' articles on photography, documentation of his work relating to wider issues around creative industries, including a Parliamentary Committee on Living Artists and photography of archaeological sites with the National Monuments Record and correspondence and teaching materials relating to the school of photography that Vickers founded. There are also scrapbooks compiled between 1938 and 1958, many including copies of publications using Vickers' photography as well as personal material including personal photographs and snapshots, correspondence and cards and personal documentation. The archive comprises approximately: 21,000 prints; 16,500 glass plate negatives; 20,000 film negatives and 18,000 slides.
John Vickers Photographic Archive
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- ReferenceGB 811 JV
- Dates of Creation1845 - 1976
- Physical Description100 boxes, 9 oversized boxes, 1 plan chest drawer
Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
John Vickers (1916 - 1976) was a theatre photographer of note from the 1930s onwards. This comprehensive archive documents Vickers’ career throughout the 1940s and 1950s and complements the London Old Vic collection which is also held here. Included in the collection are glass plate negatives, prints, framed items, correspondence and ephemera.
John Vickers began his career by working as assistant to photographer Angus McBean in the 1930s, himself a famous name in the world of theatrical photography. From 1939 until the time of his death, he ran his own studio. After the war Vickers made a name for himself and became well known as a theatre photographer. He worked for many London theatres including, most famously the Old Vic. He photographed over 1,000 productions and his portraits of actors (such as Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier), writers and musicians gained him a high reputation.
Throughout his photography the influence of Angus McBean can easily be seen, especially in some of his early, more surrealist work. The legacy of John Vickers can be seen to continue with the photography of Mario Testino, who was his assistant in the 1970s until his death.
Work Included in the Archive:
Celebrity portraits – artists, musicians, writers, politicians including singer Petula Clarke, artists Lynn Chadwick (sculptor) and Ronald Searle (artist and satirical cartoonist), writers Eric Ambler (spy novels) and Jean Genet (novelist, playwright, poet, activist), director David Lean, actor James Mason, politicians Jennie Lee (Labour MP and Baroness, Minister for the Arts in 1960s) and Barbara Castle (Labour MP and Baroness).
Actors and productions: Vivien Leigh in Skin of Our Teeth; Lawrence Olivier in Skin of Our Teeth, King Lear, Arms and the Man, Henry VI part I; John Gielgud in Importance of Being Earnest, Three Sisters; Richard Attenborough in Brighton Rock; Peter Brook’s first London show (Dr Faustus, 1943); Studio portraits of ‘everyday’ people; Photographing high society and debutants; 1950s-70s Commercial work: cars, cigarette ads, Kleenex, Smirnoff, 1950s: still-life shots for Boots, Marks and Spencer, Cadbury and Colgate; 1960s: trick photography for JWT (J. Walter Thompson – Marketing company) and Young and Rubicam (marketing and communications company).
Arranged into series as follows:
Material relating to John Vickers' photography studio
Material relating to John Vickers' photography school and teaching
DPA may apply to some records
Conditions Governing Use
University of Bristol Theatre Collection