Words - 20th Century Greats - Patrick Lichfield


20th Century Greats series (2000)

Patrick Lichfield, (1939 - )

To paraphrase a timeworn saying, some photographers are born great, some acquire greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them! John Chillingworth continues his series, having re-met Thomas Patrick John Anson, 5th Earl of Lichfield, arguably the epitome of all three accolades.

You may have noticed; breeding is not a prerequisite for success in professional photography. Proof is in the regrettable near misses and abject failures of countless aristocrats to make their mark in the arts and, for that matter, commerce.

When they do, they succeed in a big way. Working under his professional name, Patrick Lichfield is not an exception - he has made it the rule.

From the day in October 1964, when he stepped onto the professional scene, his drive and enthusiasm has evolved and matured.

Unashamed of capitalising on his royal connections Patrick simply revelled in the challenge, as he soften the self-imposed formality of most of the royal portraiture that had preceded him.

The launch of a portraitist
The inevitable ownership of a simple camera at an early age helped sow the seeds of creative ambition. It was accelerated at Harrow, where a bossy senior confiscated the film in his camera, when Patrick’s cousin (HM Queen) had visited his public school.

That anonymous monitor had no idea that he had served to galvanise ambition, rather than punish his impertinence.

Probably by family tradition, at eighteen, he joined the Grenadier Guards, spent two years at Sandhurst and a further five years doing what Grenadiers do. It was hardly a creative move, but resigning his commission in 1964, he plunged headlong into the world of photography.

Conforming to his mother’s strict condition, “Stop smoking Chesterfields”, he accepted her generous allowance, changed his brand of cigarettes to Gitans and took off for Paris to learn darkroom printing techniques.

Glossy magazine editors on both sides of the Atlantic encouraged him, publications like Life magazine warmed to “a real, live ‘oirl”, whilst advertising commissions accelerated his steep learning curve.

Those outside his circle of professional acquaintances may believe that his social standing smoothed his road to success. It did him no harm, but the truth is that he quite simply likes people, works like a demon, takes his hereditary and social responsibilities seriously and is an intelligent, articulate, responsible human being.

Piling up the accolades
As official photographer at the marriage of his cousin, Prince Charles, to Lady Diana Spencer, he attracted wry professional comments, but the quality of his work spoke for itself.

In the past twenty-six years, his work has appeared in 56 international and national exhibitions, seventeen books in the past nineteen years and has made twenty-one appearances on TV and video.

His photography, from society and celebrity portraits to the ‘wholesome’, pink-bottomed eighteen-year-olds he has transported around the world on his annual assignments for the Unipart Calendar has an interesting mix of spontaneity and creative ideas, seemingly without the lighting formulae and composition clichés so adored by some of his competitors.

What is more, Patrick Lichfield has move forward with technology, investing in digital image capture, both for his studio work and on location. He also plans to dig deep into his 4m negative archive, to identify images for scanning. He will then design a web site to market digitally printed limited edition images to collectors.

At sixty, pacing himself carefully, he gives time to teaching his teenaged children to appreciate his passion for scuba diving, to the upkeep of the family seat, Shugborough Hall and his duties as Deputy Lieutenant of Staffordshire. He has also given his name as patron to a number of deserving causes, including the Julia
Margaret Cameron Trust at Dimbola Lodge on the IOW, where his current exhibition ‘Retrospect’ can be seen. It will also be seen in London later in the year.

Raconteur, workaholic, lover of photography and beautiful women, Patrick Lichfield is, without reservation, a 20th century great!

© Copyright John Chillingworth