Elsbeth Juda (always known professionally as Jay) is 97 years old. For over thirty years spanning WWII right through to the early 1970s she took spectacular photographs of contemporary Britain. The vehicle for almost all her output was the remarkable magazine set up in 1940 by her husband, Hans Juda, to promote British (in all its aspects) overseas. Far from being the dry trade magazine its title might suggest, “The Ambassador, The British Export Magazine” was full of articles by top writers of the day – accompanied by Jay’s ground-breaking pictures. Fashion, textiles, the arts, society – all were brilliantly depicted. At its height, The Ambassador had a certified circulation in ninety countries – an achievement most publications today would give their eye teeth for!
Now, L’Equipment des Arts is holding a long overdue exhibition of Elsbeth’s work from this period – a project which she herself has been fully involved at every stage. Negatives have been loaned by the V&A and National Portrait Gallery to produce 100 historic prints, many of which have never been shown before. These include a unique record of Graham Sutherland’s ill-fated portrait of Winston Churchill commissioned by the House of Commons to celebrate his 80th birthday but subsequently destroyed by his wife, who hated it. Also featured is the dramatic use of a model swathed in fabric and photographed in a Lancashire mill to promote the British textile industry – Jay used locations to provide unexpected theatrical backdrops and she took full advantage of the new age of jet to travel worldwide for fashion assignments.