Review by Leo Cookman
The Importance of Elsewhere: Philip Larkin’s Photographs, ed. Richard Bradford (Frances Lincoln Ltd, 2015), pp. 208.
Philip Larkin is known for his dry and detailed observations of British life so it makes total sense he was a keen amateur photographer. This beautifully printed coffee table book offers a literal snapshot into Larkin’s everyday life from childhood and the advent of the ‘Kodak Moment’ to his death in 1985 with more sophisticated technique and technology on display.
Larkin captured with his photography, in the same way as his poetry did, the minutiae of everyday British life, paying particular close attention to Churches and town road signs, but it is the portraits, both staged and informal, of the various people in his life that capture the interest. The various women in his life are all captured by his lens combined with Richard Bradford’s notes reveal Larkin as an unlikely ladies man. Photos of Kingsley Amis in unguarded full laughter are a highlight, along with a behind the scenes snap of Ted Hughes all but pouting for a marketing shoot that Bradford combines with a caustic impression of Hughes’ verse by Larkin, all these go some way to dispel the dour perception of the poet as a sombre writer obsessed with failure and death (though he undoubtedly was) to one of a far more complex character with a wicked sense of humour and love of women. The text is biographical and revealing but equally detailed, offering insight into the annotations of some photos and what equipment may have been used.
More than just a mine of information for Larkin enthusiasts, the pictures paint a nuanced portrait of Britain in the 20th century, combining fashion, architecture and in many ways a social commentary while the text fills in the blanks. A must for all Larkin fans but a fascinating study of Britain in the last century too. – 4 out of 5
Leo Cookman is a writer living in Brighton. His poetry has been published in Penguin’s Poetry of Sex, The Best of Manchester Poets, Black Sheep Journal, Ladybeard Magazine and BlankPages Magazine, among others.