Reading the collections, Week 31: The Lawrence Levy Collection
In the 1980s there was precious little golf on the TV in the UK. There was no internet and the newspapers were, with the exception of Today, black and white only. If golf was your passion then the only way to capture the essence of the professional game on a regular basis was through the monthly golf magazines. Lawrence Levy became the lead photographer for Golf World in this period and his legacy of nearly a quarter of a million slides can be found in the Special Collections Division as testament to his own passion for the game.
Lawrence did not just attend and record golf events, he lived them – this becomes apparent with just the briefest dip into the collection. As the photo of Nick Faldo in his daughter’s bonnet at an event in Hawaii shows, Lawrence Levy was at the heart of professional golf. He became a friend of many of the biggest stars of his generation and this easy relationship is evident throughout the collection.
This immersion into the professional golf tours is at the very heart of Lawrence’s work – he wanted to be a part of the golf world and photography allowed him to achieve that desire. He did not need to do this work – he was an independently wealthy young man. Golf photography was not so much a career to Lawrence as a way of life. That is not to say that he was not professional or talented (he was both), but he was, above all else, in love with golf and that love is presented in image after image.
The extent of the Lawrence Levy Collection demonstrates the depth of work that Lawrence undertook: while the iconic shots of Tom Watson holing a chip at the 1982 US Open, or an emotional Sam Torrance sinking the winning putt at the 1985 Ryder Cup are probably the sort of images that Lawrence will be remembered for, he produced so much more.
The peculiar occurrences of a golf tournament, like Bernhard Langer hitting three-wood out of a whin in 1984 (I remember it well), can perhaps be dismissed as golfing ephemera, a mere footnote of golfing history. Yet these details are an important part of what photography can offer: ephemera providing the meat on the bones of the iconic.
While a painting might reproduce a fabled event of history, or a novel present a particular social comment, a photograph, taken in the midst of an event, provides a literal snapshot in time. Lawrence was so often in the right place at the right time that such moments become commonplace within his collection – it is important that we do not forget just how big an achievement that was. The Levy Collection provides a fabulously well-rounded reportage of golf and its place in society in the 1980s and early 1990s, we are privileged to hold it on behalf of the Levy Foundation.
The job of cataloguing the Lawrence Levy Collection can be daunting – there is simply so much of it. More than 70 large, plastic boxes stacked with 35mm slides sit in Special Collections.
It can be tempting to dismiss some of the apparently mundane shots of the crowd, or of the flora and fauna as simple ‘mood making shots’ for 1980s style magazine features. This would be a disingenuous mistake. So often the crowd scenes tell a story; a story of social conditions of the time, of national characteristics – these photographs are of importance to social historians and environmental historians as well as to golf historians. With every new box opened, further treasures are found.
Lawrence Levy Collection Cataloguer