Bruce Bernard was born in 1928 in London. For more than thirty years he was a picture editor and over this time became a legendary one. He began work as a pictorial journalist for Purnell’s History of the Twentieth Century in 1968. He went on to become a highly renowned and respected Picture Editor of the Sunday Times Magazine in its heyday in the early seventies until 1982, during which time he began the part-work Photodiscovery, which was subsequently published as a ground-breaking and now highly collectible book, published by Thames and Hudson in 1980. He became Visual Arts Editor of the Independent Magazine in 1986 for its first four years.
In 1984 Bernard curated an exhibition of John Deakin’s photographs at the V&A museum, John Deakin: The Salvage of a Photographer to great acclaim, which was opened with a short speech by Francis Bacon. Shortly after John Deakin died in 1972, Bruce Bernard became the guardian of his work. On hearing of Deakin’s death, Bruce and Francis Bacon had gone to his flat to clear out his belongings and found piles of boxes of photographs and negatives and contact sheets under his bed. It was agreed with Francis that Bruce should keep them, which he did up until the mid-nineties. He tried, on various occasions since the V&A exhibition, to ignite interest in these great photographs. Around 1997, he sold the archive to James Moores and it has now become the John Deakin Archive.
At the same time, he began editing a series of books reflecting his great knowledge and love of painting. He had initially studied Fine Art at St Martins School of Art in London and although later becoming highly respected worldwide for his knowledge and contribution to photography, it was painting that gained his highest respect. He edited a series of books published by Orbis: The Bible and Its Painters in 1983; Vincent by Himself in 1985, which juxtaposed Van Gogh’s paintings and drawings with excerpts from the letters to Theo Van Gogh; The Impressionist Revolution followed in 1986, as did The Queen of Heaven, in which he gathered together 165 great paintings of the Virgin Mary “presenting the paintings in the chronology of the Virgin’s life, from her own miraculous conception to her coronation, rather than in the order in which they were painted.” – The Spectator. In 1991, Jonathan Cape published his monograph on Lucian Freud. Bernard also edited what would have been a large monograph, About Francis Bacon, in around 1989 which was sadly never published due to irrevocable differences of opinion just as it was about to go to press.
He was a close friend of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach and this friendship came through a deep knowledge and respect for the pursuit of painting. He sat for Lucian Freud for a portrait etching and two large paintings; a portrait drawing by Frank Auerbach; a portrait painted by Michael Andrews and a portrait drawing study for The Colony Room. He was also the subject in one panel of a Francis Bacon triptych. He took photographs between 1980-2000 in their studios, and also took a series of photographs of Leon Kossoff, Euan Uglow, Howard Hodgkin, Celia Paul, Maggie Hambling and a number of other artists over this period. He also took photographs when travelling in Morocco, India, Paris and Basel.
In 1994 Bernard curated a major survey of photographs selected from the Hulton-Deutsch Collection (which contains around 15,000,000 photographs) at the Barbican Centre, titled All Human Life. It was a hugely successful exhibition. It featured a wide variety of images, as Bruce wrote in his introduction to the catalogue, “taken specifically for use in popular magazines (Lilliput, Picture Post, Topical Press), by professionals who would have had little interest in photography as an art, some perhaps feeling superior to that kind of thing.”
In 1997 he was commissioned by a private client to assemble a photographic archive, The Bruce Bernard Collection. He acquired, through his wise and compassionate eye, a uniquely personal selection of images that represented the best work in the medium from the whole history of photography, ranging from nineteenth-century pioneers such as Muybridge, Fox Talbot and Julia Margaret Cameron, to giants of the twentieth century including André Kertész, Man Ray, Brassaï, Robert Frank and Don McCullin. It also included anonymous, completely unknown photographs (the finding of which gave him almost the greatest pleasure) which were given equal importance and respect within the collection.
The Bruce Bernard Collection was shown at the V&A Museum, London, and Museum of Modern Art, Edinburgh in 2002. A book of the collection was published by Phaidon Press in 2002 (for the book and the exhibitions the collection was referred to as One Hundred Photographs: A Collection by Bruce Bernard).
In the late 1990’s he began work compiling the book for which he was perhaps destined to edit – Century: One Hundred Years of Human Progress, Regression, Suffering and Hope. This was published by Phaidon Press in 1999 to worldwide acclaim; “Those of us who have come through a significant part of the century unscathed might accept this book as a welcome souvenir on leaving a territory which they have partly explored, but will never be able to visit again, and which will always seem to contain all the larger human problems set out in the clearest possible form. It has in some ways been the most thoughtless, but in other ways the most thoughtful, hundred years in human history… offering nothing to provide us with any firm grounds for either bright hope or black despair.” – from the introduction by Bruce Bernard.
Century takes an extensive, often harrowing historical trajectory through the twentieth century, featuring 10 images a year for 100 years. It is a definitive and endlessly fascinating pictorial account of the past hundred years.
Bruce Bernard died in London in 2000.
In his Guardian obituary of Bruce Bernard, the critic Adrian Searle said; “His eye for photographs, and his belief that the photographic image was at least the equal of the paintings he admired, led him to have the best, and most analytic, response to photography I have encountered… He had a shrewd, passionate eye, and was possessed of one of the most acute bullshit detectors I have ever encountered.”
An exhibition of his photographs Artists and their Studios, curated by Hayward Touring Exhibitions toured around Great Britain from 2001 -2006.
His photographs were shown at Tate Gallery (now Tate Britain), London in 2002.
The Bruce Bernard Estate is represented by his close friend Virginia Verran, an Artist and Lecturer.
Bruce Bernard in New York, 1999 © Virginia Verran.