British Photographer Walter Bird and The Sensual Poetry of Dance
06 april 2022 
21 min. read

British Photographer Walter Bird and The Sensual Poetry of Dance

Walter Bird (1903-1969) was a British photographer who collaborated with John Everard and Horace Roye. The family wanted Bird to become an engineer, but, being interested in photography, he attained education at the Richmond Art School and later in Paris. As we've mentioned in our article on Everard's photography, the three founded the studio Photo Centre Ltd in 1939. The distinctive feature of Bird is his adherence to portraying the female body in motion. Roye showed pretty pin-up girls and sometimes made sharp predictions for the future like "Tomorrow's Crucifixion." Everard, playing with light and shadows, created sculptural nudes. Walter Bird often portrayed dancing nymphs or bacchantes that make the viewer recall beautiful and tragic Isadora Duncan. 

 walter bird Gaston and Andree Dance

Fig. 1. Gaston and Andree Dance (worthpoint.com)

walter bird Eastern Madonna

Fig. 2. Eastern Madonna, 1935 (wsimag.com)

Communism As a Woman

In the 1930s, Bird worked on advertising commissions and portrait photography, sharing his studio with photographer Joan Craven. His skills allowed him to contribute to such magazines as Theatre World and Tatler. Eastern Madonna, 1935, is one of the bright examples of that period. Communist Madonna dressed in red is attractive and dangerous at the same time. Her closed blouse excludes any forms of flirtation, but this closedness is compensated by an aggressively sexual makeup. Curiously, the combination of red, white, and black (grey) colors appears on the face, in clothing, and in the background (the red wall, the flowers, and the shadow). The bunches of white flowers belong to evergreen acacia symbolizing the immortality of the human soul, which correspondences to the religious concept of the image. As known, communist utopia promises us to bring the heavenly kingdom to earth. The femme fatale appearance of this promise evokes the ambiguous feeling of attraction and rejection. 

 walter bird Adolescence

Fig. 3. Adolescence, 1938 (lapetiitemelancolie.wordpress.com)

 walter bird american photographer

Fig. 4. 

 walter bird April

Fig. 5. April, 1938 (lapetiitemelancolie.wordpress.com)

 Dancing Torso

Fig. 6. Dancing Torso, 1938

 walter bird butterfly

Fig. 7. Butterfly, 1938 

 walter bird Cocoon

Fig. 8. Cocoon, 1938

 walter bird fear

Fig. 9. Fear, 1938 

 walter bird grief

Fig. 10. Grief, 1938 

 walter bird Mathea Merryfield Nude

Fig. 11. Mathea Merryfield Nude, 1938

 walter bird Mathea Merryfield, Nude

Fig. 12. Mathea Merryfield, Nude, 1938 (lapetiitemelancolie.wordpress.com)

 walter bird Nude from Beauty’s Self

Fig. 13. Nude from Beauty’s Self, 1940 (lapetiitemelancolie.wordpress.com)

 Renunciation Walter Bird

Fig. 14. Renunciation, 1938 (lot-art.com)

 Walter Bird Storm

Fig. 15. Storm, 1938 

 Walter Bird Salome

Fig. 16. Salome, 1938

 Walter Bird Rosemary Andree

Fig. 17. Rosemary Andree, 1938 (lapetiitemelancolie.wordpress.com)

 Walter Bird Morning

Fig. 18. Morning, 1938 (lapetiitemelancolie.wordpress.com)

 walter bird Aspiration

Fig. 19. Aspiration, 1938 (iainclaridge.co.uk)

 walter bird Awakening

Fig. 20. Awakening, 1938 

Beauty's Daughters

In his first book Beauty's Daughters (1938), Bird also depicts the inner ambiguity of the female image that allows it to be a metaphor for any dangerous, attractive, and complicated phenomenon, e. g. nature and subconsciousness. The characters of his photography are ecstatic dancers possessed by pagan gods and demons. Among the daughters of beauty, there's, surely, the "head hunter" Salome, whose dance captivated the king Herodes (fig. 16), and the Greek hunter Artemis (Diana, fig. 17). The expressive female body, as seen by Bird, also becomes an allegory of the sun, the wind, and the meteors. Some nudes resemble caryatids, sculptural maidens serving as columns (female version of Atlas, fig. 27). The distinctive feature of Bird's approach is his working in the studio. While Everard and Roye worked both inside and outside, Bird photographed "pagan Eves" primarily in a closed room, so the light and the body were the only instruments to build up a picture and tell a story. 

 Walter Bird Aphrodite model Mathea Merryfield

Fig. 21. Aphrodite model Mathea Merryfield, 1938 (lapetiitemelancolie.wordpress.com)

Aphrodite model Mathea Merryfield Walter Bird

Fig. 22.  Aphrodite model Mathea Merryfield, 1938 (lapetiitemelancolie.wordpress.com)

 Walter Bird Votive

Fig. 23. Votive, 1938 

Walter Bird Devil Dance

Fig. 24. Devil Dance, 1938 

Dancing Shadows Walter Bird

Fig. 25. Dancing Shadows, 1938 (lapetiitemelancolie.wordpress.com)

Walter Bird photo

Fig. 26. 

Walter Bird Study for a Wood Carver from Beauty’s Self

Fig. 27. Study for a Wood Carver from Beauty’s Self, 1940 (lapetiitemelancolie.wordpress.com)

Cannot Ask For Much More 

After founding Photo Centre Ltd., photographers collaborated on five books, three of which were Eves Without Leaves (1940), More Eves Without Leaves (1941), and Eternal Eve (1947). First two books published in times of the World War gained popularity among the Allied troops. Walter Bird became a member of the Royal Photographic Society in 1936, which remained until his death in 1964. Being interviewed on radio, the photographer said, "I think a man who, every day, is doing something he really enjoys, cannot ask for much more. Two very important things have happened to me in life – one, I took up photography, and the other, I got married!" (johnchillingworth.co.uk).

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Sources: Wikipedia.org; johnchillingworth.co.uk; lapetiitemelancolie.wordpress.com

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About the author
Darya is a philologist who lives and works in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. She is specialized in Russian literature.
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