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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Vera Elkan

Dates:  1908, 29 May - 2008, March
Active:  Spain / UK
She photographed the Spanish Civil War and made the silent film "International Brigade" (1938) for the PFI (Progressive Film Institute) on the daily life and training of the unit in Madrid.

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Vera was born 29 May 1908 of mixed South African and German parentage and her early life was very cosmopolitan, with Vera spending time in Germany, Switzerland and South Africa as well as Britain. She trained as a photographer in Berlin during the late 1920s - early 1930s and worked both in Germany and South Africa before Spain.
At the request of the UK fundraising campaign supporting the International Brigade, Vera Elkan (then a young South African photographer based in London) spent two months in Spain filming and photographing the Brigade. She reached Spain by driving an ambulance (which had been donated to the Brigade by UK supporters) from England to Alabacete in December 1936 and remained in Spain until ill health forced her to be invalided back to the UK in January 1937. Using a Leica, she photographed German, French and British recruits at the International Brigade's Albacete training base; the Italian Brigade on the Guadaramas Front; international journalists at work; scenes at a hospital in Valencia including the work of blood transfusion teams (the Spanish Civil War was the first conflict to use the new technique of blood transfusion); scenes in Madrid including air raid casualties and defences in the University quarter. Only fragments of her associated cine film "Defence of Madrid" survive today: these are are now preserved by the British Film Archive.
Vera Elkan subsequently worked as a portrait photographer at her studio in Bond Street, London until the Second World War when she closed the studio to enlist and serve as an Aerial Photographic Intelligence Officer in the WAAF. With the exception of her Spanish work, much of Vera Elkan's photography was lost when her studio was destroyed by enemy action in the London Blitz. After the war she turned to animal photography and published some further work, but moved away from full time professional photography to concentrate on family life. Vera Elkan's Spanish Civil War work has featured in exhibitions at the Imperial War Museum and the Tate amongst others.
In addition to her photographs, the Imperial War Museum (UK) also recorded an interview with Vera in 1996. The interview, in which Vera talks about her very varied life up to 1949 runs for 230 minutes and is held by the IWM's Sound Archive.
[Kindly controbuted by Hilary Roberts, Head of Collections Management Imperial War Museum Photograph Archive, UK] 
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