Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fabulous Photographer, Penny Tweedie

Cojie & Owen at sunset Broome Australia

Penny Tweedie, who has died aged 70, was a pioneering photographer who covered war and conflicts around the world, from Bangladesh and Vietnam to Uganda and East Timor. She was also an award-winning chronicler of Australian Aboriginal culture, and her book Spirit of Arnhem Land (1998) is recognised as a classic.

Penny Tweedie's book
"Spirit of Arnhem Land" 
John with pet joey near Galirri

Her Kentish farming family – she was born in Hawkhurst – were shocked when their Benenden-educated daughter announced that she was going to Guildford art school to study photography. On graduating, Penny joined the hip Queen magazine, which had asked her college to send them their best student. Picture editors soon recognised her outstanding talent. On one occasion the Telegraph magazine discovered that she had taken almost every photo in that week's edition and bylined one story with the pseudonym "Wendy Patien" to save embarrassment. Offered a post as a staff photographer on the Daily Express, she was eventually refused the job on the grounds that some people found it impossible to imagine sending a female photographer to cover a train crash.

Her photos for Shelter of the slums of Glasgow in the 1960s became a memorable series of press and poster advertisements for the housing charity. She always subsidised the work she did for charities and non-government organisations – including Oxfam, Help the Aged, Save the Children and Christian Aid – with work for advertising agencies and catalogues.

Living in one room Glasgow

Save the Children
Child blindness in Calcutta

While working in India in 1971, Penny was commissioned by the Sunday Times to cover the Bangladesh war. Although mistakenly arrested as a spy and imprisoned in squalid conditions by the Indian army, she got out in time to secure a shocking set of photos of Bangladeshi intellectuals rounded up and murdered in the brickfields by the retreating Pakistanis in a last-ditch effort to wreck the new country.

While covering that war, she was summoned to a victory celebration outside Dhaka. Penny realised that some very frightened prisoners, accused of collaboration, were about to be bayoneted to death for the benefit of the foreign press. She and a small group of other photographers refused to participate. Others stayed, arguing that they had a duty to record the event, and won prizes for their work.

The following year, Penny and colleagues were thrown out of Uganda by Idi Amin during the mass expulsion of Asians. She had a narrow escape on the Golan Heights in the Yom Kippur war in 1973. An Israeli sergeant scooped her up under one arm and sprinted for the shelter of a tank, cameras jangling, as incoming shells just missed.

Penny's long involvement with Australia and its Aboriginal people began in 1975 when she flew to Alice Springs to photograph the filming of the BBC's Explorers: The Story of Burke and Wills. "It turned out to be an experience that changed the direction of my life," she wrote later. It resulted in a major National Geographic story and her books, This, My Country (1985) and Spirit of Arnhem Land, led to exhibitions and the 1999 Walkley award for photojournalism. Always conscientious, she returned to Arnhem Land with the book proofs to ensure that all were happy with their portrayal.

"Yolngu Boy" movie 
Aboriginal 'Crocodile Man'

Now a single mother to her son, Ben, who travelled with her on many assignments, Penny kept a house in Sydney and for years commuted between the UK and Australia, where the relaxed attitude suited her perfectly. Her work continued and whether it was on the effects of strip-mining in Ghana, Beirut "between the bombs", the aftermath of the tsunami in the Indian ocean or East Timor's struggle for independence, she was often on the road. She saw much of man's inhumanity to man and empathised greatly with the subjects of her photos.

East Timor demonstrator

Her portraits were striking and her portfolio included Twiggy, Diana, Princess of Wales, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Germaine Greer and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Latterly, she was a devoted carer to her ailing mother and lived among the Kent fields of her childhood. Recent work for the National Trust and a spectacular series of photos of Kent and Sussex for a book celebrating 30 years of the Hospice in the Weald – as so often, unpaid – showed that she had lost none of her skill.

Sunday magazine 
Princess Diana on Ayer's Rock - Uluru

Paris Match 
Twiggy, being turned into shop mannequin

Penny considered herself a working photographer to the bitter end. She coped resolutely with professional slights but it seems despair at the world's lack of use for her craft finally induced her to take her own life. Behind the exterior of the intrepid international photographer – cameras over her shoulder, bandana round her neck, wry smile on her face – was a sensitive and compassionate soul, loved and admired by a wide circle of friends across the world.

Written by  Mike Wells and Duncan Campbell from the Guardian Thursday 20th January 2011

I was shocked and saddened when I heard the news of Penny's passing.  Last September I was fortunate enough to meet Penny, she radiated warmth and intelligence.  Although our meeting was all too brief, it was clear that Penny was a fascinating woman who had led an extraordinary life, even though she was one to play her huge achievements down.  I was so looking forward to meeting her again.  My heart goes out to her family and close friends.  The world would be a better place if there were more Penny's in it.

Penelope Anne Tweedie, photojournalist, born 30 April 1940; died 14 January 2011


  1. So sad that she left us so soon.
    She will be missed.
    Her work is amazing.

  2. This is a beautiful post Dash, and a tribute to a very talented lady and a well lived life. Rung especially true to me since the places you mention are my part of the world, and my father was cared for at that Hospice.
    Thank you for your birthday wishes this week

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Hello Dash. ‘Fly’ sent me here. Thought I’d better then! So glad I did as I was instructed. Fascinating visual content as well Dash. So much to peruse and enjoy in the coming weeks and months.

    In the fifties, my Mother used to be editors secretary at ‘Woman’s Own & Home Notes’. Later, she told me many interesting stories about some of the people she met, as well as the photographers, when accompanying her boss to various events around London.

    One of her favourite tales concerned a young and hungry fashion model called ‘Roger Moore’, who used to come and plonk himself down on the end of her desk most weeks to try and charm his way through Mum, for a meeting with her Editor.
    She said the other girls in the office always used to go all ‘ga-ga’ when he visited and couldn’t understand how Mum never fell for his flirting’s. Then she would show them a photo she kept of my Dad, who in those days had a canny resemblance to Dirk Bogarde.

    Speaking as just a ‘mere man’ concerning your ‘French Pouts’ post – I’m a bit of a sucker for Emmanuelle Beart, when I can drag myself away from those alluring eyes of hers that is. Beyond the pout though, I’ve become a firm admirer of Marion Cotillard and the eternally youthful and beautiful Italian actress, Laura Morante.

    Sad to read of Penny Tweedie’s passing. The products of her passions and a lifetime in photography will at least be enjoyed and admired for countless generations to come.

    (sorry about the 'deleted comment' thingy above. I made a silly spelling error which I should have spotted before I hit the launch key - then I tried sneaking back in again to delete 'all' evidence of it, and surreptitiously replace it before anybody noticed. Nearly pulled it off too, but for the indelible footprint I've now left behind. Oh..the shame of it all. And on my very first visit here too.)

  5. See the woman's expression in Living In One Room, Glasgow? That's ME, that is.

    Could there be a more 'Fuck Off, We're Not In A Zoo' expression? As a fellow Glaswegian, I recognise it immediately!

    Great pix though!


  6. I just found your blog totally serendipitously while researching a photograph and SO glad I did. I've been poking around and love so many of your beautiful and interesting posts! I adore every single icon in your side panel and as a matter of fact just used the exact same image of Charlotte Rampling in a post. Count me as a new admirer!

  7. I have given you the Stylish Blog Award. Please visit to kmow what to do next. Bravo!

  8. Oh what a shame! What a great woman and an iconic photographer. Her pictures are very moving.

    I love the one of Diana, I think it's my favourite one of her.

    I hope the party plans are going well. Please take pics! xx

  9. Congratulations!!!
    On your award. I can see why you are a winner. First visit, just went to Jeannie's and found you. You have a fantstic blog.
    come visit sometime.

  10. Lovely work, I hate to hear about death, it makes you all the more aware of your own mortality... sorry selfish comment.
    l love the Tiggy shot I used to stand just like that :0

  11. Lovely work, I hate to hear about death, it makes you all the more aware of your own mortality... sorry selfish comment.
    l love the Tiggy shot I used to stand just like that :0

  12. Dash,
    Thank you for brining her life and work to my attention. What a shame Penny is gone.



  13. Wow, i didn't know about Penny Tweedie prior to reading this post but she sounds like a really amazing, inspiring woman. The photo that you've included for Save the Children is so sad and yet so beautiful.

    Thanks so much for the encouragement with my university options! I can't believe your mum gave away the Ossie Clarks! And thanks for letting me know about 'My House In Umbria' - i'll definately be ordering it with my birthday money (not that £2.99 cuts too much of a chunk out of it haha).

    Lots of love, Lucy :) x

  14. An amazing tribute to an amazing woman. Her photos capture the soul of her subjects...what a tremendous loss for the world. I was not familiar with Penny Tweedie prior to your post - thank you for expanding my world.


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