Barbara Ker-Seymer

Barbara Marcia Ker-Seymer (20 January 1905 – 25 May 1993) was a British photographer and society figure, considered one of the group designated by the tabloid press as 'Bright Young People'.

Barbara Ker-Seymer
Barbara Ker-Seymer00.jpg
Barbara Marcia Ker-Seymer

(1905-01-20)20 January 1905
Kensington, London, England
Died25 May 1993(1993-05-25) (aged 88)
EducationChelsea College of Arts
Known forOne of the Bright Young People

Early lifeEdit

Born in Kensington, the second daughter of Horace Vere Clay Ker-Seymer (or Clay-Ker-Seymer; his father was Harry Ernest Clay, son of politician James Clay and brother of the composer Frederic Clay;[1] for inheritance purposes his mother's surname of Ker-Seymer was appended), of a landed gentry family of Hanford, Dorset[2] which had somewhat descended in wealth by this time, a situation primarily attributable to Horace's gambling addiction, which led him to squander his fortune- including the family's house- and caused estrangement from his wife),[3] and Diana, the third daughter of Walter Pennington Creyke, of Seamore Place, Park Lane. A younger sister, Pauline, was born in 1906, but died the next year. By the time Barbara left school, she, her mother and her elder sister, Manon (b. 1903) were living at West Kensington, which was perceived at the time to be a place 'where the fly-blown respectability of the lower middle class clings to its dreary outposts against the slums'. Diana Ker-Seymer, whose 'preferences were lesbian', 'periodically retreated abroad with a girlfriend,' which did nothing to stabilise family life.[4] Despite her mother's view of the family as 'poor', at least relative to the manner in which she had been brought up, Barbara was nevertheless presented at court as a debutante, expensively attired (including with the customary ostrich feathers), alongside Meraud Guinness.[5]


After leaving the Chelsea School of Art,[6][7] a meeting with society photographer Olivia Wyndham inspired Ker-Seymer to teach herself photography. Her work eschewed artifice, instead aiming at producing naturalistic images, with her sitters relaxed rather than posed, as though they were 'just sitting around'. These subjects included Nancy Cunard, Raymond Mortimer, Frederick Ashton, Edward Burra, Gertrude Stein and Julia Strachey.

She opened her London studio- above Asprey the jewellers- in 1931, and at around the same time produced for Harper's Bazaar the photographic series 'Footprints in the Sand' about up-and-coming writers; one of her sitters was Evelyn Waugh. She was a friend of the Surrealist artist John Banting, managing to keep his suicidal moods at bay with her upbeat personality.

With the onset of the Second World War and the dispersal of the avant-garde scene in which she had operated, along with changes in public attitudes and shortages of photographic supplies, Ker-Seymer abandoned her photography for work in a film studio, and spent the majority of the war living in the remote English countryside. She never returned to photography, instead opening one of London's first launderettes. She enjoyed the work, and the business became successful, which allowed her to bring up her son in security.

Personal lifeEdit

Marjorie Firminger and Olivia Wyndham's party at Glebe Place

Ker-Seymer was married twice: first, in June 1941, to Humphrey Joseph Robinson Pease, of Yewden Manor, Henley-on-Thames,[8] a researcher for Mass-Observation;[9] second, in March 1945, to John David Rhodes (d. 2007), with whom she had one son, Max Humphrey Lionel Ewart Rhodes (later Ker-Seymer), born 1947. They divorced in 1955.[10] She died on 25 May 1993.[11]


  1. ^ Lost Chords and Christian Soldiers: The Sacred Music of Arthur Sullivan, Ian Bradley, SCM Press, 2013, p. 68
  2. ^ A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland, (5th ed.), Sir Bernard Burke, 1871, p. 1248
  3. ^ Edward Burra: Twentieth-Century Eye, Jane Stevenson, Jonathan Cape, 2007, pp. 45-6
  4. ^ Edward Burra: Twentieth-Century Eye, Jane Stevenson, Jonathan Cape, 2007, p. 46
  5. ^ Edward Burra: Twentieth-Century Eye, Jane Stevenson, Jonathan Cape, 2007, p. 46
  6. ^ Modern British Photography, 1919-1939, David Mellor, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1980, p. 43
  7. ^
  8. ^ Armorial Families: A Directory of Gentlemen of Coat-Armour, Arthur Fox-Davies, Hurst & Blackett, Ltd, 1929, pg 1519
  9. ^ Edward Burra, Jane Stevenson, Random House, 2007, pg 274
  10. ^ Edward Burra, Jane Stevenson, Random House, 2007, pg 331
  11. ^ Williams, Val (29 May 1993). "Obituary: Barbara Ker-Seymer". London: Retrieved 24 April 2013.

External linksEdit