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Mervyn O’Gorman’s ‘Christina’: How the girl in red from a 1913 photo became a social media starlet

More than 100 years after they were taken, these images of a teenage girl at Lulworth Cove have taken Twitter and Instagram by storm.
Christina in a Red Cloak, 1913, Mervyn O’Gorman © Royal Photographic Society Collection: A dramatic and comparatively unusual close-up portrait, taken on the beach at Lulworth Cove, Dorset in 1913. The large aperture setting has reduced the background to near abstraction, and the lack of any obvious period references gives this image a remarkably modern feel.

The girl in question is Christina, and the images—on show in our Drawn by Light exhibition until 21 June 2015—have been doing the rounds on social media and in the world’s press. The Daily Mail called her ‘the original lady in red’. The Daily Mirror suggested that the images look so contemporary we should be using the hashtag #tinaonthebeach. And El Pais dubbed Christina ‘Una ‘pin-up’ de Flickr del siglo XX’—a Flickr pin-up for the 20th century.

On the Beach
Christina on the Beach, 1913, Mervyn O’Gorman © Royal Photographic Society Collection: The comparatively long exposure time has given the sea a glassy quality and the large aperture setting and narrow depth of field has put Durdle Door, in the background, into soft focus.

Who was Christina?

The mystery of Christina’s identity has brought a lot of attention to the photographs, leading a major genealogy research organisation to delve into the archives to find out more.

In the most recent twist, a man from Chertsey spotted Christina in his copy of the Daily Mail and has contacted us to let us know that he possesses stereoscopic slides showing Christina and the photographer Mervyn O’Gorman on their way to the ‘shoot’. Curator Colin Harding will be collecting these slides next week to be scanned and studied at the museum. The mystery of ‘Tina on the beach’ may have another twist yet…

Christina on the Beach
Christina on the Beach, 1913, Mervyn O’Gorman © Royal Photographic Society Collection: An evocative portrait taken on the beach at Lulworth Cove. Christina’s choice of swimming costume was a fortuitous one since red was a colour which the autochrome process captured particularly well.

Update: We’ve found out who Christina really was—read about how we solved the mystery.

Christina Paddling
Christina Paddling, 1913, Mervyn O’Gorman © Royal Photographic Society Collection: A serene, almost surreal photograph. The long exposure time required, even in bright sunshine, has given the sea an unreal glass-like quality. The vivid red of her costume is in dramatic contrast to the subdued natural tones of the background. In the distance you can just see the rowing boat which features in some of the other photographs taken on the same day.
Christina by the Pond
Christina by the Pond, 1913, Mervyn O’Gorman © Royal Photographic Society Collection: In this portrait, Christina gazes thoughtfully into an ornamental pond. The location for this photograph is not known, but may be the gardens of Rempstone Hall near Corfe Castle in Dorset.
A Picnic on the Beach
A Picnic on the Beach, 1913, Mervyn O’Gorman © Royal Photographic Society Collection: O’Gorman captures a timeless scene as the group eat their picnic on the beach in Dorset, with Durdle Door in the background. O’Gorman’s camera case can be seen close by; one of the great advantages of the autochrome process was that it didn’t require special apparatus—photographers could use autochrome plates in their existing cameras.

Who was Mervyn O’Gorman?

Born in Ireland, Mervyn Joseph Pius O’Gorman (1871–1958) is best known as one of the greatest British aeronautical engineers. During the First World War he was head of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. He was also a motoring pioneer, writing O’Gorman’s Motoring Pocket Book in 1904, and was actively involved in the Royal Automobile Club, becoming its vice-president. He later played a key role in the introduction of the Highway Code.

O’Gorman was an artist as well as an engineer, concentrating on etching and lacquer-work. Although not a member of the RPS, he was also a talented photographer. A charming and humorous man with enormous physical and mental energy, he seems to have been almost universally liked and admired. His obituary in The Times summed him up as ‘a man of agile mind and Hibernian eloquence’.

Further reading

18 comments on “Mervyn O’Gorman’s ‘Christina’: How the girl in red from a 1913 photo became a social media starlet

  1. There is no word to describe this. It is as if you have drank a 102 years old wine. The melancholy, innocence, beauty, haze, contrast and loneliness surpasses anything seen in many years past. It could make you cry because time becomes an illusion and you see yourself next to her starring at the same pebbles thinking subconsciously of mortality of self while the Nature will remain immortal. In a sense pictures work as a time machine. Change the mortality to immortality and preserve the beauty and feelings. Thanks to Autochrome, model and photographer to have provided us with such treasure.

    Dr T.

    1. You summed things up very nicely Frank. These photos draw the viewer into them in a way seldom experienced.

    2. Thanks for that accurate, beautiful description.

      These photos are surreal and haunting.

  2. Hello, I would like to order the Christina O’gorman poster in the garden. Can I order it through you?

  3. Amazing how modern the feel of these images isn’t it? The photography was way ahead of its time or is it that photography is timeless?
    Beautiful posing and wonderful exposure adds so much to this

  4. I would like to purchase a print of Christina on the beach with Durdle Door in the background but cannot find a way to do this. Can you help please?

  5. The picnic scene is either not at Durdle Door or it is printed backwards. You cant see Durdle Door from the beach to the east of it. Makes me wonder if the others are printed backwards as well…

  6. Do you answer requests to buy prints? I’ve tried to find out where I could buy prints from.

  7. I continue to be perplexed as to why several of Mervyn’s photos, as show here, are still being displayed back-to-front (“mirror-imaged” to be more precise).

    It is doubly ironic that in this very sequence the beach-scene is CORRECTLY shown – with the Durdle Door shown extending L-to-R out to sea. The notes even draw the reader’s attention to the same row-boat show in the most famous shot (always shown wrong all over the internet).

    How is it that I can spot this within seconds, yet no staff-member in your museum has ever spotted the anomaly?

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