Getting it on with Mary Quant - Timeless Portrait Photography at the V&A by Shaun Armstrong

Images from a day of practical portrait photography with Owen Harvey at the Victoria & Albert museum.

The theme was to be “timeless portrait photography” and as I hope to do more posed work as a counter to my more natural reportage, this seemed like a great opportunity to learn in a different and stimulating place. There was also access into the Mary Quant exhibition and as I love 60’s art and culture - happy days.


The session at the V&A started with a meet-everyone-else round table of introductions and there was a full range of folk from beginners to keen amateurs, and all really nice people. Even the ones with Leica’s.


After a great presentation by Owen Harvey on his work documenting sub-cultures in UK & US (and a brownie point for me for spotting his Taylor-Wessing portrait) plus some experimentation with flash (not a fan of the controlled studio and strobes but there you go) we had some time to view the brilliant Mary Quant exhibition before working in groups around the V&A to find interesting portrait opportunities using available light.

As I looked around the Mary Quant exhibition, which is quite dark with mainly display lighting, I could see the visitors were mainly women, and ones with style too. Whilst I normally prefer the candid shot, the light wasn’t up to it and I’ve never really been brave enough to just stop people and ask to take their photo. But I thought, heck I’ve got special permission to be here with a camera, I’m trying to take myself out of my comfort zone and as this isn’t even part of what we supposed to be doing, what’s the worse that can happen as long as I’m polite?

So, after a little gentle stalking and a recce of where there was some useful light and background I dived in and was pleasantly surprised. No one hit me. Here are my favourites, including one lovely lady who was dressed from head to toe in original Mary Quant garb.


We then moved onto the group work and went about the V&A taking it in turns to photograph and be “models” - this I was not expecting preferring to be the other side of the lens. I also let myself do a little candid street work, as old habits and all that…


Afterward the day was over, our SD cards were imported to a group file and a selection of “best shots” quickly drawn out for Owen to review and feedback on as we went around the group. Some really good feedback on my work, including a few of the Quant shots which no-one knew I’d taken and which raised a few eyebrows. 10 years in to professional photography I still have terrible imposter syndrome but really cool to get some nods of appreciation from fellow professionals and enthusiasts.


Some more images from the day. All shot with natural light on location using a Canon 5DMKIII and Canon 100mm 2.8L lens.

Thanks to everyone who let me photograph them.