Frank Sharman Photographic Collection
London in the years after the Second World War saw an interesting array of ballet companies. The Sadler's Wells Ballet, newly resident at the Royal Opera House, performed spectacular productions of the 19th century classics, notably The Sleeping Beauty, as well as new works by resident choreographer Frederick Ashton. Roland Petit, the young French choreographer, caused a stir in works such as Carmen for Les Ballets de Paris and Les Ballets des Champs-Elysées. The Original Ballet Russe and the Grand Ballet de Monte Carlo brought Russian and American stars to London.
English photographer Frank Sharman, F.R.P.S. (1904-84) captured them all. Rare in a black-and-white era, Sharman used Kodachrome film to record ballet productions in colour. Decades later, his photographs of The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle and Les Sirènes are as vibrant as when he took them in 1946. Sharman's use of Kodachrome has proved important in archival terms because unlike later colour film, Kodachrome's colour accuracy has lasted the test of time.
Other advances in film and camera technology meant photographers could photograph dancers in motion from the darkened auditorium. Dance magazines made particular point of noting these 'action' photographs. The black-and-white negatives in the Sharman Collection show his attempts to master the 'action' shot from the theatre balcony. The prints highlight which of those images he deemed good enough to publish.
It is not known whether Sharman was a professional photographer in the late 1940s and early 1950s, or trying to establish a career in ballet photography. His ballet photographs were published sporadically in The Dancing Times, Ballet Today, and the American Dance Magazine, and more frequently in Ballet Annual. His images also appeared in International Ballet's souvenir programme for May 1950 and in the booklet The Story of Swan Lake (E.G. Derrington, St. Clements Press, London, 1948), which featured International Ballet's production. A number of Sharman's published photographs are in his collection.
Sharman joined the Royal Photographic Society in 1941 and it is believed he became a Fellow of the society with a panel of ballet photographs. He remained a member until his death in 1984. At the end of his working life, Sharman was the British agent for a German paper mill and a keen amateur photographer. He was President of the Beckenham Photographic Society, 1953-55, and a member until 1971. Sharman was a regular speaker in the society's annual programme of meetings, and in 1961, he gave a talk on 'Twenty-one years of Colour'.
Acknowledgements: Edward Harris and David Wood of the Beckenham Photographic Society for biographical information. The Frank Sharman Photographic Collection was donated by family members in memory of his widow Ethel Sharman.
The Royal Opera House Collections own copyright of all the images.