Well known people I have photographed
: a journey into the life of a photographic portrait

  • Alexandra Bertram

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This creative writing PhD tells the life story of a portrait of Sarah Bernhardt that was taken at the London studio of Walter Barnett in 1910. Bernhardt was in her sixties at the time, and Barnett was a renowned Australian photographer who had struggled to find a creative outlet within the confines of a professional practice. The creative thesis weaves the stories of these two people together through my personal journey into the history and travel of the portrait.

    My treatment of the story differs from a standard work of history or cultural studies, however, by relating the process of discovery as a work of creative nonfiction. I chart not only the experience of my subjects and their work, but my own subjective experience as narrator, as I discover things about them and the things that they made. I look at Barnett’s work through the prism of the Bernhardt portrait to show how this approach to research can offer new insights into his contribution to the theory and practice of photographic portraiture.

    The creative thesis is structured around the day Sarah Bernhardt had her picture taken. While I trace the trajectory of the portrait on its journey across the world, I always return to this single day in 1910. The day, and my analysis of it, is divided into parts based on 1. The Arrival of Sarah Bernhardt, 2. The Sitting and 3. The Departure of Sarah Bernhardt.

    In the critical commentary I show that my research contributes to knowledge in two ways. It offers new insights into the relationship between the form of creative nonfiction and the subject areas of photographic and material culture history. The process of making the thesis has also led to the development of my technique and the discovery of my voice as a writer.
    Date of Award27 Oct 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton
    SupervisorIan Haywood (Director of Studies), Susan Greenberg (Co-Supervisor) & Carrie Hamilton (Co-Supervisor)


    • Creative non-fiction
    • Cultural Biography
    • Photographic History
    • Material Culture History

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