The Douglas Brothers

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Douglas Brothers  

 

Andrew and Stuart Douglas began collaborating as The Douglas Brothers in 1985. They are best known for their distinctive atmospheric portraiture, achieved through older and experimental photographic techniques. Their work covers a wide variety of subjects, including portraiture, collage, reportage, nude and abstract imagery.

It is The Douglas Brothers’ photographs of leading figures in the arts, sports, fashion and public life that have been produced for a range of commissions, with their works appearing across book covers, posters, in magazines and as a part of editorial ad campaigns. The painterly and ethereal quality of their photography, which uses these subjects’ movements, blurs and shadows have contributed to the duo’s success. It challenges the seeming disparity between art and commerce, in addition to cementing their production of some of the most influential works of the 90s.

The artists have exhibited widely

The two Southend brothers, Andrew, born in 1952, and Stuart, born in 1962, actually started out as independent entities – neither notably successful. Five years ago they joined forces, took three months off from the “conservative” work that they had been doing and produced a body of work which they felt was “uncompromising”. That portfolio was sufficiently off-beat to be laughed out of agencies in Britain, but it was lapped up in New York. The picture editor of American Esquire, Temple Smith, took one look at their book and promptly handed them a six-month commission of “heavyweight” portraits, called Man Power. Needless to say, since then, conservative Britain has jumped on their uncompromising bandwagon.

“Have you seen their studio?” asked Vince Frost, the award winning creative designer, “No? Well it’s just like their portfolio – a mess.” Frost, a graphic artist at the design company Pentagram is exactly the sort of person that the Douglas Brothers should be trying to impress. Looking through portfolios is, according to Frost, a bit like going through a pile of word-processed CVs – the first to get ditched are the ones with the typos – and, by that analogy, the book representing the Douglas Brothers is rife with both literal and grammatical errors.

It is indeed a messy affair – not so much a portfolio as a scrap-book. It comes in the form of a cheapish A2 display book, which is held together at the spine, for practical rather than aesthetic purposes, with a layer of black gaffer tape. The transparent leaves inside are stuffed with carelessly arranged images. A page torn from the New Scientist is sellotaped onto a bit of paper; next to that is an unpublished print which is itself half obscured by a record cover. If you were overtaken by an urge to remove, say, the record cover, you would chance upon a couple more torn pages – a fashion shot and a portrait of an author.

So, it was no suprise when they left thier archive in a forgotten warehouse.

The National Portrait Gallery, London, has recently acquired a series of photographs by infamous 1980s photography duo, the Douglas Brothers. The portraits feature important cultural icons of the 90s, including names like Tilda Swinton, Salman Rushdie, Blur’s frontman Damon Albarn, Bob Geldof, Daniel Day-Lewis, Alan Bennett, and many more.

The portraits were rescued from a disused storage warehouse in King’s Cross, where they had sat for nearly two decades, now condemned for demolition. “The storage company took over a year to track us down. Even then it was nearly too late,” said the brothers in a statement.

Siblings Stuart and Andrew Douglas, who started photographing in the 80s, spent over a decade working on these portraits, and were once described as the “most desirable photographers of their generation.” They were, in fact, the last photographers allowed to portrait Rushdie before he went into hiding following the death threats he received in response to the 1988 publication of his novel, The Satanic Verses.

Dr Phillip Prodger, Head of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘The Douglas Brothers produced some of the most distinctive portraits of the 1990s. Although their photography has since become less well known, this is work that has stood the test of time. Making use of older, historic processes, their pictures are still as fresh and exciting as the day they were made, and make a wonderful addition to the national collection of photographic portraits.’

The Douglas Brothers’ portraits went on display at the National Portrait Gallery in August 2017.

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    Last modified: Monday, 06 July 2020