Tim Koch writes:
Anyone interested in the history of the Oxford – Cambridge Boat Race will be familiar with the work of Christina Broom, a.k.a. Mrs Albert Broom, even if they do not realise it. Mrs Broom has been dubbed ‘the UK’s first female press photographer’ and for more than 30 years until her death in 1939 she photographed every Boat Race crew, both formally and informally.
In 1903 a series of failed business ventures forced the 40-year-old Christina Broom to look for a new way of making a living. She borrowed a camera and taught herself the basics of photography with the idea of making and selling postcards. In late Victorian and Edwardian London there was a postal delivery every hour between 7.30am and 7.30pm so postcards were reliably used as the SMS ‘texts’ of the time. Initially she photographed local scenes but it soon became apparent that, not only was she a gifted photographer, but she was a shrewd businesswoman and a very persuasive character. Her ‘big break’ came when she talked her way into photographing the winning horse at the Epsom derby and this got her much notice. She then somehow got permission to set up a postcard stall in the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace. This led to her appointment as the official photographer to the Brigade of Guards and through this she gained access to Royal occasions. Eventually, the best known publications of the day such as the Illustrated London News, The Tatler, The Sphere and Country Life used her work. She did not, however, neglect her booming postcard business – in one all-night session she printed 1,000 of them.
History will probably mostly remember Mrs Broom for her Suffragette pictures. For both ideological and for commercial reasons, she captured the demonstrations, marches and events of the Suffragette Movement in a series of striking photographs. The website ‘Exploring 20th Century London’ says:
Broom’s suffragette photography is arguably her best, but her other work includes a detailed record of 30 years of the Cambridge and Oxford boat races, the first women police, Nurse Cavell’s funeral, Shackleton aboard Nimrod, the funeral of King Edward VII, the coronation of George V and portraits of other royal and titled dignitaries.