Unseen images of 20th-century icons to go on show

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama as young man. Picture: Contributed
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama as young man. Picture: Contributed
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UNSEEN images of some of the most iconic figures of the last century are to go on show to the public for the first time in an exhibition at Holyrood.

The shots include India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, founder of Israel David Ben-Gurion, the Dalai Lama and Yugoslavia’s Cold War leader Josip Broz Tito, pictured with his hands in his pockets during a break in diplomatic talks that are thought to have taken place in the early 1950s.

Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Ghandi, both leaders of independent India. Picture: Contributed

Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Ghandi, both leaders of independent India. Picture: Contributed

A photographic portrait of Scottish poet and writer Hugh MacDiarmid, speaking at a mass rally of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in London’s Trafalgar Square in 1961, is also among the collection of previously unseen photos taken by internationally renowned Hungarian-British photographer Michael Peto.

Peto, who settled in the UK after the Second World War, gained widespread acclaim in the 1950s and 1960s for his professional photography capturing British cultural life in the postwar period.

However, the collection – which was acquired by Dundee University soon after Peto’s death in 1970 – has never been seen in public because of a lack of resources to fund a restoration of what were fragile photos and negatives.

Now, university archivists have digitally restored images from the original photos and negatives, including a portrait of Nehru with his daughter ­Indira Gandhi in 1951, as well as Ben-Gurion, who was Israel’s first Prime Minister, taken in 1958.

The images, which will go on show at the Scottish Parliament from 22 July-22 August, also include a picture taken in 1964 of the Dalai Lama holding court on a sofa.

Other figures captured posing by Peto include postwar Prime Ministers such as Ted Heath, pictured next to a piano, Clement Attlee outside 10 Downing Street, and James Callaghan and Alec Douglas-Home in their offices in the House of Commons. In another picture showing leading politicians from opposing parties sitting alongside each other, Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson is pictured with former Liberal leader Jo Grimond and ex-Tory Chancellor Reginald Maudling.

Other striking images of politicians include former Labour cabinet minister Tony Benn, with the late politician smoking a pipe, hands on his head in a shot taken in 1965 in his ministerial office. Other Labour cabinet ministers from the 1960s, such as Barbara Castle and George Brown, are also seen in work poses.

A portrait of actress Vanessa Redgrave relaxing with a drink, and one of author Iris Murdoch at home also feature in the 43-photo exhibition.

The photographs were acquired by Dundee University in the early 1970s as part of an overall collection of 130,000 of Peto’s images.

Other famous figures from the arts world include the young Ian McKellen drinking tea and holding a cigarette while gazing outside a window.

Dr Patricia Whatley, head of culture and information and director of Dundee University’s Centre for Archive & Information Studies, said the department had been working on restoring the collection for nearly eight years and would continue with the remaining photos.

She said: “In the last seven or eight years we’ve worked to try to make it more widely available and we’ve been doing a lot of work on sorting 
them and trying to digitise them.

“Gradually they will be made more available on the website and we’ll catalogue them to make them more accessible and easier to view.”

Holyrood’s presiding officer Tricia Marwick, welcomed the exhibition’s arrival at Holyrood.

She said: “Michael Peto’s work is about so much more than just photography.

“Through his images, he vividly captured the mood of a time when it felt like anyone could change the world. The people in Peto’s photographs really did.

“These images allow us to see the political world differently. For too long, many of these images have been ­unseen.”