LARKIN, PHILIP (1922-1985)
PORTRAIT BY CHRISTOPHER BARKER (b. 1943), photograph, silver print, three-quarter length, body turned to the right, his face turned to the camera, taken against rare books in Hull University Library, framed and glazed, size of image 16 x 12 inches (40.5 x 30.5 cm), overall size 27 x 18 inches (68.5 x 45.5 cm), Hull, 1986, (printed later)
This fine photograph is widely considered to be one of the best portraits of Philip Larkin.
It was taken for and reproduced in Christopher Barker's Portraits of Poets, 1986. Christopher Barker writes: 'His first reaction to my approach letter was one of declining the invitation. He was reputed to be a very shy man and I noticed there weren't many extant photos of him around anywhere which made me more determined to get one. He made the mistake of saying he would do the shoot but only if I paid him sixty pounds an hour for modelling...As he put this mercenary proviso to me in his letter he added, as if in compensation, it was because he felt the labourer was worthy of his hire'!...I had chosen 'A study of Reading Habits' as the complementary poem, since as a librarian his last words of the poem 'Get stewed / Books are a load of crap' should have been easy to find as a backdrop...After a leisurely lunch (on him) and four pints of beer (I declined the ale, complaining I would lose track of my f stops) he said we should repair to the antique books section of the library to get the shot I wanted. He was dressed in a white suit that day...As he sat on the table in front of the ancient and crumbling tomes, and with a large window ahead of him flooding him with soft light, he suddenly gave me a look of withering irony, so entirely perfect for the poem...'
When getting my nose in a book
Cured most things short of school,
It was worth ruining my eyes
To know I could keep cool...
Later, with inch-thick specs...
Books are a load of crap.
(Philip Larkin, 'A Study of Reading Habits')
PROVENANCE: Christopher Barker.