Horace Nicholls
: Artist, Journalist, Propagandist, Opportunist

  • Colin Harding

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


During the early twentieth century, Horace Nicholls (1867-1941) was one of Britain’s best known photographers. After working as a portrait photographer in Chile and Windsor, Nicholls moved to South Africa where he photographed the 2nd Anglo-Boer War. In 1902, Nicholls returned to Britain, where he established his reputation as a photojournalist. Working from his home in Ealing, he supplied illustrated magazines with photographs of Edwardian social and sporting events.

In 1917 Nicholls was appointed by the Department of Information to take photographs for propagandist purposes. In this role, he documented the impact of total war on the British people. It was at this time that Nicholls first came into contact with the Imperial War Museum (IWM). The result of this association, a series of photographs entitled Women at War, contains some of his finest work.

After the war, Nicholls became the IWM’s Chief Photographer, where he worked to secure and develop the museum’s photographic collections and documented commemorative activities.

Today, while many of Nicholls’ photographs are familiar, little is known about the man who took them. There has been relatively little research into his work for thirty years. Nicholls’ archive is now dispersed – a factor which has contributed to his lack of public recognition. This thesis draws extensively on the three major archives of Nicholls’ work – The Royal Photographic Society Collection (now at the Victoria & Albert Museum), the IWM and the Nicholls family archive.

Nicholls enjoyed a long, prolific and varied career. The temporal range and divergent subject matter of the photographs for which he is now best known has meant that these bodies of work have usually been considered in isolation. In contrast, this thesis embraces a holistic approach to Nicholls’ photography, identifying and exploring themes which are evident throughout his career – such as copyright, commercial opportunism, and the financial imperative.

For this thesis, I have adopted a rigorous, empirical, photo-historical methodology, within a chronological, biographical framework. With Nicholls, this biographical structure provides far more than just a chronological backdrop. For Nicholls, photography was much more than just a career; Photography permeated every aspect of his life, blurring the boundaries between public and private, personal and professional. I contend that the role of photography in Nicholls’ life was so central and Nicholls’ personal life and his photographic work are so intertwined that one cannot meaningfully examine one without understanding the other.

This empirical approach, using a detailed analysis of archival sources, provides valuable insights into Nicholls’ work, revealing information about his working practices and choice of subjects which challenge several perceived assumptions regarding aspects of his photography.

While the focus of the thesis concerns Nicholls and his work, Nicholls’ life forms a valuable case study for examining broader issues relating to the history of photography, tracking the evolution of photographic careers and informing current debates on themes such as war photography and the development of photojournalism.
Date of AwardApr 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorDarren Newbury (Supervisor) & Francis Hodgson (Supervisor)

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