Media Release: Michael Peto photographs – the art of performance, Edinburgh exhibition

Edinburgh Festival 2014 exhibit at Creative Scotland celebrating some the major arts figures and performers of the 20th century

Rarely-seen portraits of Ian McKellen, Maggie Smith, Benjamin Britten, Louis Armstrong, Samuel Beckett, Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev and many others

Over 35 photographs on display hand printed by Robin Bell from the original 1950s and ’60s negatives from the remarkable 130,000 archive of the University of Dundee The Peto Collection

A CAPTIVATING exhibit of rarely-seen black and white portraits of some of the arts and performance icons of the 20th century from the University of Dundee The Peto Collection has opened at Creative Scotland in Edinburgh to coincide with the 2014 Edinburgh Festival season.

Michael Peto Photographs: The Art of Performance, on display until September 2, features some of the biggest names of the 1950s and ’60s many at the beginning of their illustrious careers as musicians, dancers, writers and actors.

Highlights include portraits of the actor Ian McKellen in 1969, the year he appeared in the title role of Edward II at the Edinburgh Festival; a rarely-seen portrait of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton during the now famous recording of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood 50 years ago this year; photographs of The Beatles on set during the making of their second feature film, Help!; and jazz greats, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, in his dressing room in Highland dress before a performance.

The exhibition also features a rare glimpse behind the scenes at the Royal Ballet in London including a study of the celebrated dancer and choreographer, Frederick Ashton, in rehearsal with Rudolf Nureyev.

Michael Peto was one the leading photojournalists of his generation and is the unrecognised member of the great Hungarian photographic diaspora that produced Robert Capa and Brassaï.

Born in 1908 in Bata, Hungary, Michael Peto moved to Budapest in the 1930s. It was his work in exporting Hungarian crafts which enabled him to flee the country in the summer of 1939 as the dark shadow of Nazism fell across Europe, escaping just before the borders closed.

Aged 31, he found himself in London, a Hungarian-Jewish refugee needing to build a new life. He chose to make that life as a photographer. His work was first published in The Observer in March 1949, and he became a regular contributor alongside other photojournalists including Jane Bown, David Moore and Robin Adler.

As well as documenting social issues, power brokers and political figures, Michael Peto became one of the keenest and distinctive observers of performance and performing. He captured the British arts and ballet scene, and is especially known for his portraits of the Royal Ballet stars Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn.

Following his death in 1970, his remarkable archive of 130,000 original negatives and vintage prints was donated by his family to the University of Dundee, Scotland.

Dr Patricia Whatley, director, Culture and Information, and university archivist at University of Dundee, said: “Michael Peto was one of Britain’s most important photographers. The University of Dundee is proud to be the custodian of his archive and is now helping to build his legacy nationally and internationally.”

Award-winning actor, Brian Cox CBE, rector at University of Dundee and patron, The Peto Collection, said: “From humble beginnings, Michael Peto grew into an incredible artist and photographer. With an intense interest in the variations of human form, he had a talent for capturing his subjects in their natural environment – ordinary people, Olympic athletes, The Beatles. This collection is an extraordinary gift he has left us, so please, learn, appreciate, enjoy and, above all, support its future.”

Caroline Parkinson, director of Creative Industries at Creative Scotland, said: “We are delighted to partner with the University of Dundee to host an exhibition of Michael Peto’s performing arts photographs. He, and the archive of his work, is one of the UK’s best-kept secrets and we felt it important to provide a platform for their wider recognition during the Edinburgh International Festival. The exhibition includes rarely seen portraits of some of the most famous stars of the stage and screen of 1950’s and 60’s – well worth coming along to see.”

The Edinburgh display is the latest in an international programme of partnership exhibits over the past two years which has brought Peto’s work to new audiences at the National Portrait Portrait, Gallery, London and New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.


Notes to Editors:

Michael Peto Photographs: The Art of Performance
Creative Scotland, Waverley Gate, 2-3 Waterloo Place, Edinburgh.
5 August-2 September, 9am-5.00pm, Admission Free

Special Event at Creative Scotland
Honour in Theatre: Do Awards Matter?
Creative Scotland, Waverley Gate, 2-3 Waterloo Place, Edinburgh,
14 August 2014, Admission Free by reservation Z. Davis, executive director, New York Public Library for Performing Arts at Lincoln Centre and Tony Awards® voter, is joined by Julian Bird, executive producer, Olivier Awards and chief executive, Society of London Theatre, for a discussion inspired by Peto’s photographs on recognising outstanding talent on Broadway and across the UK.

The University of Dundee Archive Services is the custodian of the entire photographic work – some 130,000 prints and negatives – of the photographer, Michael Peto.In the early post war years Peto took up photography as a career and in 1949 joined The Observer. Much of his work reflects his subsequent travels throughout Europe, the Middle and Far East, and India.

He was awarded a bronze medal by the International Organisation of Journalists at Interpress-Foto at their 1960 meeting held in Berlin and was awarded a further bronze medal at the Budapest International Exposition of Photographic Art in 1970.

Major exhibitions have been held of his work. Born in Bata, Hungary in 1908 he went to live in Budapest in the 1930s. Peto’s work connected with the export of Hungarian craft products and was instrumental in his reaching Britain.

During WW2, he lived in London working for the Ministry of Labour and zealously backed the allied war effort. Peto was the personal secretary of Count M Karolyi, leader of the New Democratic Hungary and much of his spare time was devoted to planning a socialist Hungary after their homeland’s liberation; they did not foresee the postwar domination by the USSR.

Michael Peto died on Chistmas Day 1970, at the age of 62.

Creative Scotland is the public body that supports the arts, screen and creative industries across all parts of Scotland on behalf of everyone who lives, works or visits here.  We enable people and organisations to work in and experience the arts, screen and creative industries in Scotland by helping others to develop great ideas and bring them to life.  We distribute funding provided by the Scottish Government and the National Lottery. For further information about Creative Scotland please visit  Follow us @creativescots and

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