Michael Peto Photographs: Mandela To McCartney

Michael Peto was born in 1908 in Bata, Hungary, the son of a village shop keeper. He moved to Budapest in the 1930s, and it was his work in exporting Hungarian crafts which enabled him to flee the country in the summer of 1939 as the shadow of Nazism fell across Europe, escaping just before the borders closed. Aged 31, he found himself in London, a refugee needing to build a new life. Peto took up photography in 1947 mainly to illustrate his own stories.

His work was first published in The Observer in March 1949, and he subsequently became a regular contributor alongside other celebrated photojournalists including Jane Bown, Peter Keen and David Sim. During the 1960s, as well as documenting social issues and key cultural and political figures, Peto became involved in the London ballet scene, and is especially known for his portraits of Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn. Peto’s celebrated publications include A Dancer’s World (1963) and About Britain (1967) with Kenneth Harris and his work also appeared widely in newspapers and periodicals including The Tatler and The Times.

Following Peto’s death in 1970, his archive of 130,000 original negatives and vintage prints was donated by his family to the University of Dundee. The ten exhibition prints featured in this display have been printed by master printer Robin Bell from Peto’s original negatives and have been gifted to the National Portrait Gallery by the University of Dundee to celebrate Peto’s remarkable contribution to portrait photography.

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Image: ‘Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’ by Michael Peto, 1963 © University of Dundee The Peto Collection.

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Start Date: 17th September 2013
End Date: 17th September 2014