How a love story leapt off the pages of photo albums and into the library
When Alice Tatton-Brown discovered four intriguing old photograph albums in an Exeter junk store, she knew she had to find out more.
"I totally fell in love with them," says the artist and performer, who lived in the city when she was studying drama at the university.
As she turned the pages, with their hundreds of black and white photographs, she saw a love story unfolding in pictures of a woman dancing and posing for her lover.
After painstaking research Alice is now ready to share the powerful and intimate narrative she has unravelled, as well as the extraordinary images, in a "part audio walk, part installation, and part performance" at Exeter Central Library later this month, commissioned by Exeter arts group Kaleider.
The albums, which date from the early part of the 20th century, are a homage to a woman called "Ariel", an avant-garde dancer, the clue to her identity being that word scrawled on the back of the photographs.
"The collection consists of 400 black and white photographs, taken between 1902 and 1942, and painstakingly catalogued," says Alice. "An extraordinary amount of care has been taken to catalogue them."
She wondered about the identity of the man who appeared in just a few of the photographs.
"My instinct told me that he was her partner, that this was a kind of homage to her, that he put this collection together as a gift for her.
"They are really extraordinary. They capture a beautiful, intimate and private love affair and are a really touching collection."
Over four years Alice scoured records offices and online archives to piece together the story of the couple. She knew only that the albums had come from a house clearance in Budleigh Salterton in East Devon.
One picture, of Ariel sitting in a window seat, had a road name scrawled on the reverse. This one clue led Alice, after much sleuthing, to the identity of her couple, an avant-garde dancer and her husband, a pioneering engineer.
She has managed to condense the love story of "Ariel and John" into a show of half an hour, which, because it contains some photographic nudity, is aimed at those age 16 and upwards.
Alice said that taking the decision to share the photos had not been one she had taken lightly, "because this is a very private collection and I don't think it was ever meant to be shown to anyone else". She decided, though, that they were too fascinating to keep to herself. "The artist part of me wants to share things," she says. "I hope that I do that in a way that is very sensitive to the content and to their relationship."
The show will take place at intervals during library opening hours between October 19 and 27 (visit arielandjohn.co.uk). Tickets cost £8, although people are asked to pay only what they can afford towards this.