Joan Craven (1897–1979)

Photo by Joan Craven

Photo of Pamela Green by Joan Craven

 

Above a photograph of Pamela Green by Joan Craven, who photographed Pam several times. Joan shared studios with Walter Bird at Kinocrat House on the Cromwell Road, London. Don’t have much information about her. If you can help please email me or post something. Below is the text from a short article in Figure Quarterly (Fall), 1957.

PROBABLY THE MOST famous female exponent of figure photography today, Miss Joan Craven is the society-bred, fine-featured descendant of a long line of Yorkshire Cravens. She is a small, delicate woman, with a defiant will and an iron desire to remain a rugged individualist. On Bond street she rubbed elbows with famous stage personalities during her youth, as well as prominent members of the nobility and gentry. “How I used to loathe those dreary court affairs,” she recalls. “They started in the evening and went on into the next morning, with the debutantes and their relatives, the ridiculous feathers on their heads, court trains sweeping the marble floors.” After she had her fill of this, Miss Craven decided to make a career of her favourite hobby and opened her own studio on Bond Street. She photographed the famous Diaghileff ballerinas, drifted into advertising, then fashion work. “But,” she confides, “I couldn’t bear having the studio full of longhaired advertising layabouts and fat, bald-headed entrepreneurs all with different ideas, all telling me what to do. I am a patient woman, but one day, driven desperate by all this nagging, I yelled ‘Oh, take the picture yourself,’ and walked out.” It was following this incident that the sensitive blue-blood turned to figure photography. She found working with a young, beautiful model a form of relaxation rather than a commissioned task. “I could please myself entirely,” says Miss Craven, “and if I also pleased the judges in the exhibitions, well that was highly satisfactory if not very remunerative.” But her nudes, all classically expressive and full-bodied creatures, have long since made her financially independent. She works sporadically now, allowing plenty of time to “just stand and stare at the natural treasures of life.”

  1. peter cresswell’s avatar

    Joan Craven lived next door to me in Plymouth the late ‘sixties and ‘seventies. She had married Geoff Lewis (GG Lewis) late in life. Maybe a second marriage, who knows?
    Geoff Lewis was author of ‘The Small Boat Skippers handbook’, contributed to regularly to various sailing journals and had been an engineer. For a time, he commuted to BAC at Bristol, coming back at weekends.
    I don’t think Joan was doing any photography at this time. She seemed a bit reclusive.
    But we were shown some of her photographs, and we could see that she was very talented. There were some framed photographs in the house.
    Is this any help?
    Peter Cresswell

    Reply

    1. Shona Craven’s avatar

      Hi Peter

      I was delighted to come across your comment while searching for information about Joan Craven, who was my great aunt. The last time I searched there was very limited information online, so this was a great find! I don’t suppose you remember the names of Geoff Lewis’s children? I wonder if they might know what happened to her photographs.

      Shona Craven

      Reply

      1. Kirsty Lewis’s avatar

        Hi Shona,

        I am Geoff Lewis daughter in law. It would be good to talk to you and answer any questions….you may be able to answer some of ours!
        best wishes

        Kirsty Lewis

        Reply

        1. Shona Craven’s avatar

          Hi Kirsty

          Wow – the power of the internet! So excited to read your comment. And very happy to try to answer any questions you have, although I will likely have to consult my relatives as Joan died a couple of years before I was born. It certainly seems like she lived quite an unconventional life for her era. Subsequent to posting my earlier comment I’ve been told she lost a lot of negatives of her early work in the war.

          My email address is shonacraven@hotmail.com if you’d like to get in touch!

          Shona

          Reply

  2. meisteryak’s avatar

    Thanks Peter. Good to know. Every little bit helps. Somewhat neglected by history I feel she needs to be reassessed.

    Reply

  3. Yak’s avatar

    The mask/hat in Joan Craven’s photo is by the famed costumier Hugh Skillen.

    Reply

  4. Kenneth Benson’s avatar

    I just discovered Joan Craven’s beautiful photograph of Lydia Sokolova (costumed for Nijinska’s “Les Biches”) in the BnF. I would love to know Craven’s birth and death years.

    http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b55006771r

    Reply

    1. Shona Craven’s avatar

      Hi Kenneth

      Thanks for sharing this picture. Joan was born in 1897 and died in 1979. Please do share any further discoveries!

      Shona

      Reply

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