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Remembering Sally Soames Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

16 October 2019

Photojournalist Sally Soames, who was admired for her charming photographs of the famous, died earlier this month at her home in London. She was 82.

Born Sally Winkleman, she was educated in London at King Alfred School and St. Martin's College of Art. She lived her whole life in London.

Her career in photography got its start when she won an Evening Standard photo competition with a picture of a youth in Trafalgar Square on New Year's Eve in 1960. She thought it her best photo because she had been fearless in shooting it rather than calculatingly professional.

She was self-taught but mentored by Guardian picture editor John Pilkington when she started working for the paper.

In the 1960s she worked for The Observer, The Guardian, The New York Times, Newsweek and The Sunday Times, where she was a member of the staff from 1968 to 2000. Immobilized both from carrying heavy equipment and the struggle it took the diminutive photographer to get a good angle, she retired in 2000.

She preferred natural light photography and black-and-white prints, never shooting color. Color was not an option early in her newspaper career but even when newspapers could be printed in color, she eschewed the option, considering it vulgar.

She made a point of engaging her subjects before shooting them.

She made a point of engaging her subjects before shooting them. Given three minutes to shoot the actor Sean Connery, she spend two of those minutes chatting with him.

And when Margaret Thatcher left 10 Downing St. in 1990, it was the prime minister who consoled the photographer, who had burst into tears. "There was I behaving like a baby and she was cheering me up," Soames recalled. "We had a real affinity, especially at the end."

In later years the chats gave way to an exchange of letters before meeting her subjects. "I used to talk to them," she explained. "Nowadays you don't have the time with people -- everything's changed and PR people are timing you. It's a nightmare."

Among her well-known portraits are studies of Margaret Thatcher, Seamus Heaney, Tony Blair and Andy Warhol, who she photographed through a pane of glass.

But portraits were not her only subject.

She documented the 1973 Arab-Israeli War with Sunday Times reporter Nicholas Tomalin who wrote in his last dispatch with bombs exploding around them that Soames was "the first Englishwoman photographer to stand bolt upright throughout (an air attack) snapping pictures as if she were covering a golf tournament."

Soames suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing Tomalin's death during the conflict. But PTSD did not prevent her return to the Middle East on several other occasions during which Soames, who was Jewish, developed as affection for Israel.

She was also an external examiner and lecturer at The London College of Printing and The Royal College of Art.

Soames's books of portraits include Manpower (1987) and Writers (1995).

Her portraits are in both the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum while her archives are held by the Scott Trust Foundation.

Her marriage to clothier Leonard Soames ended in 1966. She is survived by their son Trevor, a barrister and photographer himself.

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