Major General Charles Foulkes (1875-1969)
Engineer, photographic pioneer, explorer and sportsman, Charles Foulkes' career spanned Empire, World War and even the Swinging Sixties.
Foulkes' skills as a survey photographer were honed in the Boer War, devising and organising the photographic reconnaissance section of the British Army - the precursor of the Army Film and Photographic Unit.
Postings with the Royal Engineers in West Africa surveying international boundaries also provided Foulkes with the opportunity to extensively document local traditions and culture in Sierra Leone, Nigeria and the Gold Coast. Numerous photographs chart his adventures in a region otherwise untouched by western explorers, along the way acquiring snapshots of the daily life he encountered.
Diverted to French-controlled Martinique in May 1902 to secretly photograph French defences, Foulkes instead captured the violent eruption of the volcano, Mount Pelee and the destruction of Saint Pierre, one of the worst natural disasters of the twentieth century that claimed 30,000 lives.
Foulkes was in charge of the British Army's defensive and offensive gas strategies during the later stages of the First World War, and among the most poignant of his later photography shows the damage inflicted on French and Belgian towns. His next posting was India, where Foulkes investigated and rejected proposals to use gas against the fiercely independent North West Frontier tribes who guarded the main strategic routes into Afghanistan.
His diverse career now led to Ireland, where Foulkes was appointed Director of Irish Propaganda in 1919 at a time of crisis: the Irish War of Independence. There he developed sophisticated new information strategies to try to win over the public in the fight against the IRA.
An energetic sportsman who played football for Heart of Midlothian, Foulkes captained the Scottish hockey side and even represented Scotland in the 1908 Olympics. He won many prizes in sports ranging from skating to rowing to squash – all in the teeth of frequent bouts of malaria, which he contracted in West Africa. A champion shot, he bagged numerous tiger, bison and other big game while on duty in India and Ceylon. Foulkes was also a keen motor enthusiast with an interest in car and motorcycle racing at the newly opened Brooklands race track.
Foulkes remained in peak physical condition all his life and was regarded as a star pupil of the famous Victorian bodybuilder, Eugen Sandow, considered by some to be the 'father of modern bodybuilding', who maintained his School of Physical Culture in London. He even contributed self-portraits for Sandow's book, Strength and how to obtain it.
Collectively, Foulkes' collection comprises a rich resource for cultural historians, anthropologists, students of war, propaganda and of the art and history of photography.