Self-Defense for Women
The writer Joanna Bourke introduces a selection of images demonstrating self defence for women. These pictures were chosen following a period of research into ‘how to’ photographs in the Getty Images Archive and from other collections Getty Images represents.
Thanks to Brian Doherty and Melanie Hough at the Getty Images archive for their help with this portfolio. And to Bob Thomas at Popperfoto for making the Beldam originals available as part of the research.
Photographs made for the book The Fine Art of Jujutsu (see below), published in 1906. The photographs show the author Emily Watts demonstrating her techniques with different sparring partners and on her own. In these photographs she is pictured with Mary Russell, Duchess of Bedford who also provided the location, the grass tennis courts at Woburn Abbey (visible in the background). As well as being a Duchess, Mary Russell was a supporter of the suffragettes and in later life became a long distance aviator. She died in 1937, aged 71, when her aircraft disappeared over the North Sea.
The book was a collaboration between Watts and the photographer George Beldam who took ‘three or four hundred’ photographs of which 141 were included. Beldam played cricket to a high level, for the MCC and Middlesex, between 1900 and 1907 (ie. at the time these pictures were made) and pioneered a form of ‘action photography’ in which he photographed cricketers from close range apparently in the middle of a game. These resulted in the books Great Batsman: Their Methods at a Glance (1905) and Great Bowlers and Fielders: their Methods at a Glance (1907). Watts expressed her gratitude to Beldam in the introduction to the book, "Whatever merit there may be in this book belongs so obviously to the photographs that I cannot sufficiently thank Mr. Beldam for the generous way in which he has collaborated with me..." She also emphasised the novel ability of the photographs to freeze action, "I feel that it is almost necessary to apologise for my ferocious expression in many of the photographs, but when one enters into any sort of sport in dead earnest, the camera catches and fixes expressions that are mere flashes in reality, and which are hardly noticed by an onlooker. At my special request they have been left untouched and unsoftened in any way, so that from beginning to end reality should be the keynote... To the eye of the expert there will be some faults, but personally I do not think this detracts from the value of the photographs; on the contrary, considering the rapidity with which they were taken, the faults add the touch of reality and movement, that have been in all other photographs on the subject so painfully wanting."
These images are reproduced from the original glass plate negatives in the Beldam collection held by the picture library Popperfoto.