Picture above: Wolfgang Suschitzky – Photographer and Cinematographer (2008)

With news of the recent death of the great cinematographer and photographer Wolfgang Suzchitzky – whose work includes the classic film Get Carter (1971) – we pay tribute to his life and work.

Video: Wolfgang Suzchitzky discusses the making of Get Carter (1971)

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Picture: Wolfgang Suschitzky (1932)

Wolfgang Suschitzky, who has died aged 104, was a distinguished photographer and cinematographer most famous for the Michael Caine crime thriller Get Carter. As a photographer, he specialised in children and animals but his most celebrated work was a series of pictures he took of London in the 1930s.

See: Wolfgang Suschitzky Photography

He frequently worked in Scotland – so much so that he was once given the nickname McSuschitzky. His 1944 film Children of the City looked at poverty and delinquency in Dundee. He also made documentary films for the coal board and shot Ring of Bright Water, the movie based on Gavin Maxwell’s life with otters on the West Coast. In 2002, his photography was also the subject of a major exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

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Picture: On the set of Get Carter (1971). Michael Caine, George Sewell, Mike Hodges and Wolfgang Suschitzky, Cinematographer.

In his professional life, he was one of the mainstays of the pre- and post-war British film industry, but he was Viennese by birth and upbringing. His parents Wilhelm and Adele were Jews who owned a radical bookshop in Vienna, but the fact that it stocked titles on sexual education and women’s rights incurred the wrath of the authorities and the situation only worsened with the rise of fascism in the 1930s.

In an interview with The Herald, Suschitzky spoke of the tension his parents were under at the time. “We had a kind of civil war in Austria in 1934,” he said. ”The army shot into working-class flats with artillery. My father’s position became very difficult, not only as a socialist, but as a Jew. The shop didn’t pay its way any more, and he committed suicide. He had been suffering from depression.”

Suschitzky himself left Vienna in 1934 for Amsterdam where he met and married Helena Voute, with whom he opened a photography studio. When she left him, he came to England and began to develop his work as a photographer, encouraged by his sister and fellow photographer Edith Tudor Hart.

His best-known photographs remain those he took of passers-by on Charing Cross Road in London soon after he arrived in the city, but his great passion was photographing animals.

He then started to work as a cinematographer, firstly in the British documentary movement of the 1930s, before moving into feature films and television in the 1950s.

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Picture: Credit Wolfgang Suschitzky

In all he worked on more than 100 films and television programmes in all genres. The Get Carter job came about when the director Mike Hodges saw the Anthony Newley film The Small World of Sammy Lee, which Suschitzky photographed, and realised it had the gritty realism that he wanted.

Suschitzky’s other film work included 1969’s Ring of Bright Water, which was filmed in Argyll, Entertaining Mr Sloane in 1970, and Theatre of Blood with Vincent Price in 1973. In the 1980s, he was also cinematographer on ITV’s adaptation of the Worzel Gummidge books starring Jon Pertwee.

Throughout his television and film career, Suschitzky was always taking still pictures as well, often on the same sets and locations. His political beliefs also led to him charting the rise of CND in the 1950s.

”I’ve been a socialist all my life and I’m not ashamed of it,” he said in 2002. ”I was against the nuclear bomb and I was against wars like the Gulf War and I’m still against the war in Afghanistan.”

He also admitted to being enthralled by the Soviet experiment. ”Unfortunately politicians get hold of something and then convert it into something to their advantage. When the Russian Revolution happened we thought it was a wonderful thing and we thought it would change the whole world and we were very enthusiastic in supporting them, but the very good idea of socialism was somehow converted into dictatorship. It took a long time until we realised it.”

After finishing his career in television, Suschitzky officially retired at the age of 80, although he continued to take pictures and sell prints of his old negatives. His reputation underwent something of a resurgence in the 90s and his work was widely exhibited.

Duncan Forbes, the curator of An Exile’s Eye, the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, said Suschitzky should be considered one of the great classic documentary photographers.

“He was the first photographer in Britain to bring a new informality to animal photography,” said Forbes, ”and he introduced a much more informal way of seeing children which broke with the format of the rather staid Victorian portrait.”

Suschitzky was more than happy to have lived for most of his life in London, although he said he never felt British no matter how long he remained here. “One is never an Englishman, even if you’ve lived here for 65 years,” he told The Herald. “Unless you go to school here, you don’t feel English.

In 2013, he returned to Scotland when his sister Edith Tudor Hart was also the subject of an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Tudor Hart had gone to become one of the most important female photographers to have worked in the UK; she she died in 1973.

Suschitzky was self-effacing about his own abilities and always saw himself as a craftsman rather than an artist. “I’m quite content to be a craftsman,” he said. “I observe things and if I think it would make a good picture I take a picture, rather than arrange things.”

Suschitzky was married three times and for the last part of his life lived with his partner Heather Anthony, who had been married to his best friend Zoltan Wegner, who was also a photographer. “He died a few weeks before my third wife died,” he said. “So we were both alone and we thought we should be alone together.”

He is survived by Ms Anthony, as well as his three children, his nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Born: August 29. 1912; Died: October 7, 2016

Source: Herald Scotland

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Picture: Credit Wolfgang Suschitzky

Wolfgang Suschitzky: Memories From A Lifetime Of Looking

This lovely interview – originally published in January 2016 – was republished as part of a tribute by the The Telegraph.

Eighty years after he fled from the Nazis to London, photographer Wolfgang Suschitzky talks to Gaby Wood about shooting  the past – and the debt he owes to his sister, the secret agent

 

“So, you have come to write my obituary?” Wolfgang Suschitzky asks amiably, as he shows me into his living room in Maida Vale, west London. I have not, but I wonder how many years it’s been since Suschitzky first allowed himself the joke. He is now 103. Judging from photographs, he is a faint version of his former self. Where once he was tall, with the build and temperament of an adventurer, now he is pale and a little stooped, dressed in many layers of brown and speaking softly, in Austrian-accented English. Nevertheless, he is sharp. “I can’t run for a bus anymore, but I can still get about,” he says with some understatement. The previous week he had popped out to see an Indian film at the Southbank.

“How long have you lived here?” I ask, looking at the photographs on his walls – taken by him and by his sister Edith – and at a book in German on the table: Dream and Reality: Vienna 1870-1930.

“Oh, not long,” he says with a smile. “Just 50 years.”

Next week, an exhibition of Suschitzky’s photographs will open at the Photographers’ Gallery in London. Though he would go on to become best known as a cameraman – joining the wartime documentary movement and later shooting such films as Ulysses (1967), Entertaining Mr Sloane (1970) and Mike Hodges’s classic British gangster film Get Carter (1971) – Suschitzky has never “been ashamed”, as he puts it, of the work he did as a photographer from the Thirties onwards. His images of London, taken with the keen eye and gentle humility of a recent immigrant, are so evocative you feel they must be stills from films made before the war, mysteriously replayed in your mind’s eye.

Of course, faced with a man of such longevity, what commands your attention most is what he has lived through – the First World War, the Holocaust, the Blitz – all before he was 30. And in Suschitzky’s case, there is an extraordinary family story, of a brother and sister, within the larger waves of history.

Suschitzky was born in 1912, and grew up in a working-class district of Vienna, where his father and uncle had opened the first socialist bookshop. “They were very much ahead of their time,” he says. “Standing up for women’s rights – the same salary for the same job, which still isn’t here, completely. And there were books about the economy of the country. They were written in Viennese dialect. My father sometimes brought a writer home for lunch – my mother was a very good cook – and when he published a book, had a small number specially bound in leather. He kept one of each. Unfortunately my mother had to leave all that behind.”

Wolf’s sister Edith was four years older than him, and, he says, “a great influence on my life”. They shared a room, and it was she who took up photography first, going on to study at the Bauhaus school in Dessau. “Well,” he remembers, “we were interested in modern art. Much of modern art started in Vienna. The Secession, it was called…” There is a pause, and Suschitzky’s mind seems to wander. “I forgot to offer you anything,” he says. “Do you want coffee, juice?”

In May 1933, Edith Suschitzky was arrested as she left a bookshop in Vienna. She was a press photographer, she told police, delivering unopened letters as a favour for a man whose name she could not remember. That bookshop – the Goethe – was a known drop point for the Austrian communist party, and Edith was recognised as a courier. When police searched the home she shared with her parents and her brother Wolfgang, they found a mimeograph machine used for duplicating party memos and political pamphlets, and a translation-in-progress of an English language biography of Lenin.

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Picture: Entertaining Mr. Sloan (1970) – Cinematography by Wolfgang Suzchitzky

That year Adolf Hitler had become chancellor of Germany. It was a dangerous time to be committed to the Left, and a number of political activists were smuggled out with the help of foreigners. A recently radicalised Kim Philby, who met Edith Suschitzky in Vienna that same year, claimed to have six friends hidden in sewers whom he eventually got through to Czechoslovakia. Philby married Edith’s endangered friend Litzi Friedmann in Vienna and brought her to London. Similarly – though those who have read their intercepted letters report that it was clearly more than a marriage of convenience – Edith married Alex Tudor-Hart, a British doctor and Cambridge

Contemporary of Philby’s whom she had known since she first went to London as a student teacher in 1925. Alex and his sister Beatrix were part of a freethinking north London circle of designers and pedagogues. It was perhaps under their influence that Edith had decided to study at the Bauhaus; it was Alex, she once said, who had “laid the foundation of my political education”; and it was certainly thanks to their connections that she received asylum in the UK. In 1933, Alex Tudor-Hart was in Vienna, studying under a well-known orthopaedic surgeon. He and Edith married at the British consulate three months after her arrest. Two months later, they left for London, with as many of her photographic negatives as the Austrian authorities would allow her to retain.

The 21-year-old Wolf was left increasingly exposed: by his sister’s arrest, by the ideas fostered in his father’s bookshop, and also, though they were all committed atheists, by the fact that the family was Jewish. “We saw what was coming very early,” he says. “After the civil war we had a semi-fascist government, based more on Mussolini’s fascism than on Hitler’s, but it was still… Austria was full of Nazis. They were accepted with open arms when they came in. So we knew what was coming.”

After he’d completed a three-year degree in photography, he and his Dutch girlfriend escaped to London with the help of his sister, and married in Hampstead. They briefly moved to Holland, where his wife promptly left him for another man. Suschitzky, who considers this a blessing – “Had she not done so, I would have remained in Holland and perished there” – returned to London.

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Picture: Credit Wolfgang Suschitzky

“Unfortunately, when his two children had left for London, my father shot himself,” Suschitzky recalls. That was in 1934, and Suschitzky, struck by the fact that London had streets dedicated to individual trades, began to roam the bookshops of Charing Cross Road, photographing them partly in tribute to his father. “People rummaging outside on shelves of second-hand books, people trying to find something to read for sixpence, or trying to find a first edition of something, which was quite likely,” he recalls. “He would have been glad to see it, all these bookshops.”

he Charing Cross series remains Suschitzky’s best work as a photographer. With the social conscience of a documentarian and the eye of a German expressionist, he captured not just browsers but shoeblacks, knife-grinders and milkmen, as well as underworld characters at pinball machines, queues of people outside theatres, and a couple in intense conversation at a Lyons Corner House. Given that he would go on to become a film cameraman, it’s striking how many of them suggest a story. The legs of a woman jumping over a puddle in a rain-slicked street seem to be stolen from a shot that will pan upwards to the heroine’s face; a picture of men loitering in the dark beneath a neon sign reading “Foyles” might have been imagined by Fritz Lang. Only Suschitzky’s wit, you feel, could make a bookshop look so much like a brothel.

Meanwhile, Edith worked on rescuing their mother, whom she eventually got out of Austria in 1938 and put up in a small flat in Hove. Suschitzky’s aunt and uncle – his father’s business partner – were sent to Auschwitz.

Suschitzky assisted his sister for a time – she opened a photographic studio when her husband left to heal broken limbs during the Spanish Civil War – and before long he was introduced to a group of people who would become pioneers of the British documentary movement. Politically committed but with little technical knowledge, film-makers such as Paul Rotha relied on Suschitzky’s photographic expertise. He, in turn, was inspired by their determination to “make films that were useful to society”.

Suschitzky was shocked by the degree of poverty in Britain, and became an important witness to the country’s progress. “We made films about steelworks,” he recalls. “We met Nobel Prize winners. We met scientists and writers and heads of state. We went into factories that other people never get any knowledge of – like how plastics are made. We did a monthly magazine about ‘workers on the war front’. We saw women making shells for guns, women using lathes. I remember working in Scotland on how they make barrage balloons. To be inside a balloon is an eerie feeling – you’re cut off from the whole world. And people understood that they were needed.” Their work was shown in newsreels, and had, he is certain, an effect. Eventually, he would document the birth of the National Health Service.

During the war Suschitzky got married for a second time, to a woman named Ilona Donath, with whom he had three children. One of them, Peter, has long been a highly respected cinematographer himself, responsible for, among other things, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Empire Strikes Back and many films directed by David Cronenberg.

Edith Tudor-Hart had a less happy time. Her marriage broke up when Alex Tudor-Hart returned from the Spanish Civil War, and their young son, Tommy, was diagnosed as schizophrenic (although Suschitzky now suspects his condition was actually autism). “After a time, he outgrew her strength, so she couldn’t manage him anymore. She put him into an institution, where he died in the end, in his 50s.” His sister had a breakdown – she had suffered from “melancholia”, in her own description, for many years. She had little money, and became a housekeeper for the family of a lawyer before eventually setting up a small antiques shop in Brighton.

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Picture: Wolfgang Suschitzky – On the set of Get Carter (1971)

In the early years, their work had been almost twinned: there was a good deal of overlap in what they chose to reveal. She photographed miners in Wales, he photographed miners in Durham. While she visited a slum in Stepney, he was documenting another in Dundee. He worked for the Ministry of Information; she, for the Ministry of Education.

Edith’s work was more politically opinionated than Wolf’s: she was an activist, he was an observer. “My sister was always more Left-wing,” Suschitzky explains. “I never had any sympathy with communists, who said the party is above everything else, and if they say you should jump out the window, you jump. I didn’t understand that a political party would have such rights over you. I thought, a political party is there to help people get a better life.”

Early one morning in 1951, two MI5 officers burst into Edith Tudor-Hart’s home and interrogated her for an hour while she lay in bed. They were unable to establish the link they sought to prove: that Tudor-Hart had been the Soviet agent who recruited Philby. They planned to interrogate Philby two days later, and wanted to see if she would warn him. For the intervening 48 hours and well beyond, her home was bugged and her telephone tapped; an eight-man team was assigned to watch her.

MI5 files declassified only last year reveal the secret service’s consistent surveillance of Tudor-Hart. They were never able to confirm all their suspicions, despite the fact that Anthony Blunt described her, when he confessed in 1964 to being a double agent, as “the grandmother of us all”.

After her interrogation, she destroyed the negative of a portrait she had taken of Philby in Vienna in 1933, along with all of her prints. When she died of liver cancer in 1973, her negatives came to Wolf. Years later, he printed them himself, for a book about her which he titled The Eye of Conscience.

To what extent, I ask Suschitzky, did MI5’s interest in his sister affect her? “Well, she was aware of it,” he replies. “She felt that she was being followed. She knew some scientists in Cambridge, who were upset that the Americans kept their research on nuclear things all to themselves – didn’t even give the British full reports on how far they got. And they thought the Russians were really allies of the Western powers.”

And what does Suschitzky understand her to have done? “She introduced Russian scientists to other scientists,” he says. “As far as I know. She was very well trained – by Russians, I presume – not to talk too much about what she was doing.” In any case, he adds, whatever she did, she didn’t do it for the money. “She was always badly off. She had to pawn her camera or her typewriter at times. There was no Russian gold involved.”

His sister, Suschitzky reflects, “had a very hard life. And I couldn’t help her much, because I had three children. And she understood that, she never asked me for help.”

I ask him how he feels about his own life. “Well, I call myself a lucky man,” he says. “I’ve had two or three exhibitions called Lucky Man: Wolf Suschitzky. And I was lucky,” he adds. “Very lucky.”

Source: The Telegraph

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Wolfgang Suschitzky – Born: August 29 1912; Died: October 7, 2016

 

Our condolences go to the family and friends of Wolfgang Suschitzky.

Until next time,

Neil Hendry
Editor, Official Website of Ian Hendry

Further Reading

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