PHOTOGRAPHS: Lord Snowdon & Agatha Christie
The worlds of Lord Snowdon and Agatha Christie intersected in a variety of ways. How they first met is unknown, but readers of Agatha Christie’s autobiography know that one of her most cherished memories was dining with Queen Elizabeth II. However, while the date is unknown it certainly occurred prior to 1965 when she finished writing her autobiography. Christie also met the Queen in 1971 when she was made a Dame of the British Empire. Whether prior to these interactions or after them, Christie met another member of the Royal family - Antony Armstrong-Jones. As a successful photographer, Armstrong-Jones’s early assignments were often theatrical portraits and then later royal studies, including photography of the Queen in 1957. While the official Royal photographer, he married HRH Princess Margaret in 1960 – a marriage that lasted until 1978. Due to the marriage he became the Earl of Snowdon, or more commonly Lord Snowdon. His post-war fashion photographs were credited for enlivening Vogue, for which he has been working for over six decades. He is also celebrated for his pioneering photo essays during nearly thirty years at The Sunday Times Magazine (from 1962 to 1990), documenting the arts and social issues. As a photographer, Lord Snowdon became one of the most successful and famous portraiture photographers in the world. In 2000, the National Gallery in London exhibited a retrospective on his work. The National Gallery’s permanent collection includes over 100 original Snowdon photographs, many donated directly by Antony Armstrong-Jones in 2013.
Of interest to collectors of Agatha Christie related photography, Lord Snowdon was one of the few people ever allowed to officially photograph Christie. He is potentially the only photographer who was also granted an interview. While this interview and photography session occurred in June 1974, Lord Snowdon continued to be involved with Agatha Christie Limited in the years following Christie’s death. Through his association with AC Limited, his services were used in many of their television and film projects.
In 1982 he was known to have arranged a studio session for the cast of Evil Under the Sun for a major piece in The Sunday Times. In 1986 he conducted shoots of Francesca Annis, both on set and in studio, as part of the promotional material for the BBC series Partners In Crime. Continuing this partnership with AC Limited, in 1989 Lord Snowdon provided copies of the audio-taped interview of Christie to them for their archives. It is likely many other interactions between Christie related media and Snowdon occurred. As photographs with his credit surface this partnership can be further defined.
Of note, for most of his years he was represented by 'Camera Press', a London-based agency. As such much of his work will have this agency’s stamp on the verso. Many of the images were distributed to the press as part of media campaigns and thus were primarily black and white prints. However, Lord Snowdon took his photos mostly in colour and many transparancies (slides) of these images exist. Colour prints could be made from these. Thus the buyer of a colour print will have to decide if it was produced by Snowdon (perhaps with his notations on the verso) or a later produced image from a transparency.
The June 1974 Session: This interview and photography session with Agatha Christie took place at Winterbrook House in Wallingford. The photos are particularly appealing as several of them included Max Mallowan. In addition to the photographs taken, copies of transparancies from this session and transcripts of the interview periodically show up for sale, though no copy of the audio tape recording is known to exist in private hands. Some of the images that have been seen for sale include notes on the rear that appear to be in Snowdon’s own hand including a rather blunt posthumous addition of ‘dead’.
The prints were also published in the book The Mysteries of Agatha Christie (Gwen Robyns 1978). Prior auctions have sometimes referenced these as being from either 1973 or 1974. However, Snowdon’s handwriting on the audiotape clearly states ‘June 1974’ (see photo at bottom of article).
The Sunday Times magazine 1982 studio session: There are six known photographs from this session that have made it into private hands, though likely many more may be in circulation. Surprisingly images of Diana Rigg and Maggie Smith are not any of the ones seen for sale. However, the cover of The Sunday Times magazine (28 February 1982) that included many of these images is of Rigg, though the original image was likely with a white background.
The article in the magazine was titled “Dressed for the Occasion”. In it, Lord Snowdon captures the flavour of the 1930s in the magazine’s preview of Evil Under the Sun which offered readers a 4-page photo feature. The article includes photographs of all the main actors, including Smith, and one large & two small photos of Diana Rigg. The known extant photos that have appeared for sale are of Jane Birkin, Sylvia Miles, Emily Hone, Peter Ustinov, Nicholas Clay and Colin Blakeley.
The 1986 Francesca Annis photos: There are multiple known images of Francesca Annis taken by Lord Snowdon as part of the publicity for the Partners In Crime series. All are in the style of portraiture, not ‘action on set’. It is highly likely more images were taken, including of James Warwick, but again none have been seen for private sale.
Other sessions: There are likely many other sessions where Snowdon was involved in the productions of Christie’s work. Any collectors who have knowledge of such works are encouraged to notify us.
Values: For collectors, this intersection of Christie and Snowdon can often be found in items for sale or auction. While most commonly photographs or slides, other ephemera will surface. Prices of materials will vary substantially, from the very affordable to the very expensive. Value is in the eye of buyer, but since portraiture was Snowdon’s primary skill set, images that demonstrate that skill will typically command the best prices. Black and white press photos generally appear for sale between £10 – £50 UK ($13 - $65 US). Original colour images have been seen for sale at £250 UK ($325 US) per image. All present great value given the prices Lord Snowdon's photos often command.
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