Day 4 | Madame Yevonde

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I took lots of pictures and made notes on my phone throughout Ron’s talk, but to my utter devastation my iPhone suffered WHITE SCREEN OF DEATH the following week. Resulting in loss of all my pictures, videos and notes. In this blog I will try to remember as much as i can but apologies if there is some slightly sketchy areas!



Dr R M Callender, FRPS


Following national service with the Cameronians, Ron Callender joined the Lighting laboratory of the GEC Research Centre for ten years but moved to Unilever Research in 1964 until his retirement in 1990.  As a scientist, his speciality was to devise photographic methods for the assessment of company hair, skin and dental products. 

Ron is a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society and as a Fellow of the British Institute of Professional Photography, he was elected President in 1975, following service on qualification and education committees. 

On retirement, in 2004 Ron received a PhD for research on the experiments of two 19th photographic pioneers but with a qualification in archaeology and funding from the lottery, he subsequently directed a (successful) quest for the remaining traces of the Scottish gold rush of 1869. For recreation, he prospects for gold and photographs standing stones in the UK. 

This talk by Dr Ron Callendar was about the life of Yevonde Middleton, a friendship and admiration that has led to Ron’s need to educate the world about her.

Yevonde Middleton, born in London 1893 attended schools in London, Belgium and France before starting an apprenticeship with portrait photographer Lallie Charles. After completing this she went on to run her own studio in London, she began to build up a portfolio of wealthy individuals and her work was featured in publications such as Tatler and Sketch.

As her success grew, she employed an assistant called Kathy who left after some time and was then replaced by Anna, both who Ron became friends with over the years since meeting Yevonde.

She definitely knew what she wanted and how to get it, I enjoyed listening to Ron tell how she travelled to Ethiopia with Anna to photograph the Emperor! No appointment was made, she just turned up and said she was there to photograph him and was turned away. This didn’t deter her, she continued to return day after day until she was granted 15 minutes with him. In her 15 minutes she got the photos she came for and ended up staying over an hour discussing cats, something he was very fond of.


NPG x29840; Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia by Madame Yevonde

Yevonde was also a pioneer of colour photography in the 1930’s. The ‘Virex’ process invented by Dr Spencer was a picture taken through 3 filters, developed via 3 membranes and then assembled together for the final print.

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Her experimentation with colour photographs had mixed reactions, some people didn’t like it but eventually she began to receive requests from magazine companies for colour images. Her ‘Goddess’ colour collection was published by the Observor.

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Dr Ron Callendar devoted time and effort to put together an exhibition of her work, this wasn’t an easy task because even in her late years Yevonde still wanted full control of everything. After many hiccups an exhibition was brought together at the Royal Photographic Society to celebrate her 80th Birthday.



I really enjoyed this talk by Ron, delivered in such a heart warming fashion, I felt like I was sat listening to one of my Grandad’s old stories. It was difficult to write notes because I just wanted to sit and just listen. This was an inspiring talk about an incredible woman with sheer determination to succeed as a photographer of the elite. Before this I had never heard of her before so it was fantastic to learn about her as a pioneering photographer of the early 1900’s.

**All Images in this blog unless stated were taken from our Creative Futures Module on Moodle**