This week: Anthony Kersting

The Anthony Kersting Archive, Conway Library, Courtauld Institute of Art. Released under CC BY-NC.

This spring, Londoners and tourists alike will be flocking to Somerset House in the Strand to marvel at the newly remodelled and refurbished Courtauld Gallery, which opened its doors recently after a £57m makeover.

Many will have booked tickets to see the gallery’s blockbuster special exhibition of Van Gogh’s self-portraits (to 8 May). Others will head straight for its world-renowned permanent collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces.

For some, however, an equal if more modest pleasure can be found in a visit to the Courtauld’s smaller Project Space, where an eye-opening set of black-and-white photographs is also currently on display.

Taken in the 1940s, the 21 photographs on show (to 30 May) document life among the much-persecuted Yazidi community in what is now the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq. They include captivating portraits of individuals as well as stunning architectural views of Erbil, often considered the oldest continually inhabited city on earth, and the magnificent Mosque at Nabi Yunus, the Biblical burial place of Jonah – the latter rendered now all the more poignant as it was destroyed by Daesh in 2014.

As we learn this week on The Past, this uniquely evocative portfolio of pictures was the result of two trips to the area – in 1944 and 1946 – by the distinguished British architectural photographer Anthony Kersting (1916-2008), who was stationed with an RAF unit outside Cairo at the time.

The Anthony Kersting Archive, Conway Library, Courtauld Institute of Art. Released under CC BY-NC.

In the new issue of Minerva magazine and on the latest edition of The PastCast, our brilliant podcast, we hear how Kersting travelled extensively across the Middle East throughout the 1940s and 1950s, using an old-fashioned plate camera to photograph the architecture and people of the region. His archive of more than 42,000 prints and negatives, which had previously been housed in the kitchen of his south London home, was given to the Courtauld upon his death.

Elsewhere this week on The Past, we’ve also been delving into the archives in search of more links between photography and the ancient past: we visited the Oxford-based HEIR Project to discover what this unique digital database of historical photographs can tell us about changing landscapes and long-lost views; we travelled to Stonehenge to catch up on an exhibition celebrating 150 years of photographs taken by visitors to the site; and we even took to the skies to find out how the pioneers of aerial photography gave archaeologists a new understanding of the historic environment.

And finally, if all that simply whets your appetite for more, don’t forget to have a go at our latest themed Quiz, which this week is also focused on the extraordinary history of Kurdistan. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!

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