Clare began her job as Assistant Curator of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery ten years ago and was given the task of cataloging the Ida Kar archive, which the Gallery had just acquired. The archive was extremely large and comprised all of Kar’s negatives, vintage prints, contact sheets, cuttings book and letters. Clare worked frequently on this over the succeeding years and either side of maternity leave before making the selection for the exhibition that opened in  March 2011. Her work continues however, as now Clare is pursuing her quest to identify many previously unknown portraits.’We have had many more personal accounts of Kar’s life whilst the exhibition has been on; for instance I met with Kar’s god-daughter and descendants of her Armenian friends’ she says.

The Photographs Collection at the National Portrait Gallery is vast and varied and  so now Clare is involved in a display of over sixty Comedians covering the past 70 years.

Do you have a treasured piece of clothing you have kept hold of for a special reason?

I wish I did share Ida Kar’s sense of style. She often wore her signature hat from Uzbekistan, or bold jewellery and most often black. I’d choose a silver necklace made of little balls

Can you tell us the story behind this item?

My husband Neil gave it to me before we were married; I think it was a birthday present. He bought it from Family Tree in Exmouth Market.

How do you feel when you wear this?

It often brings a smile to my face and to other peoples.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Enjoy challenges rather than dread them

Which woman is of most inspiration to you?

Well I’d have to say Ida Kar right now…her oeuvre has been an inspiration to work with. I really think she was an incredibly talented photographer; the first to have a retrospective in a major London art gallery (in 1960) and her character was inspirational in many ways. She really believed in her art.

What is the last book you read/exhibition you saw?

Diana Melly, the wife of the late George Melly rang me at the Gallery and said Kar had photographed her after meeting her in the Colony Room. We found negatives, which had been filed under a former name. They were stunning. She had been an aspiring model. She gave me her autobiography, Take a Girl Like Me, which is an unflinchingly honest account of an unorthodox life.

Ida Kar has inspired me on to read books by many of her sitters; such as Laura Del Rivo’s soon to be republished The Furnished Room, Iris Murdoch’s The Bell (which we believe her to working on in Kar’s photograph; there is a book on Plato visible…The Bell was the first of Murdoch’s novels to reference the philosopher). Others include Samuel Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners and Bernard Kops’s autobiography The World is a Wedding, which is very moving and told in his lively and gripping voice. I am working on an essay about Ida Kar’s connections with the painter F.N. Souza. Despite him writing that words are ’very elusive little things’ he was also a very talented writer.

Please tell us an interesting or fun tip!

Always carry a camera with you.


Stephanie Barker

Image courtesy of Clare Freestone

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