Amory Clay was one of wartime’s first woman photographers. William Boyd hits the rewind button on her illustrious life that defied the odds
Q. How did you get hooked to chronicling the life of Amory Clay? Was there a trigger?
A. The trigger point was the desire to write the whole life of a woman, from cradle to grave. Then I had to decide what her profession was and I made her a photographer (I’m very interested in photography and it gave me the chance to explore the art-form as I took the reader through Amory’s life).
The Confrontation, winner of the Matthew B. Brady Award, 1968
Q. Life for working women in the 1920s must have been tough. How did Clay overcome the daily-hurdles, let alone her desire to photograph World War I?
A. Funnily enough, photography has always been very open to women. It is very egalitarian and has been, from the beginning of the 20th century. Amory has her problems, sure, but she chose the right career.
The ‘Never Too Young To...’ photo
Q. How did you work around securing her documented work? Was it available in archives or did it require a lot of digging up?
A. All the 73 photographs in the novel are anonymous. I have quite a collection of anonymous photos, myself, but also I bought many of them in junk shops or antique fairs — and also online. There’s a substantial market for anonymous photographs, I discovered. But, yes, it was quite hard work compiling them. I ended up with about 2,000 photos and made my selection from them.
Q. What were some of life lessons that you learned/were inspired by in course of your research for the book?
A. The same old story. Life is all about luck — good luck and bad luck. There’s very little you can do about it and you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
Author William Boyd/ Copyright: Trevor Leighton
Q. In what way did Clay make it easier for women photographers who followed her passion?
A. Actually, Amory is typical. There were many professional women photographers in the first half of the 20th century. The problem is that we’ve forgotten about them. I hope that Amory may help people rediscover the work that these amazing women did.
Book cover- Sweet Caress, William Boyd, R499, Bloomsbury. Available at leading bookstores