Two Days at Oxford
by John Goto

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Amongst the onlookers as the University of Oxford’s ancient Encaenia processions along Broad Street, is a balding young man who cranes forward in an attempt to spot his new father-in-law, Field Marshal Chetwode. Since he was sent down from the University eight years ago the bystander has made good use of his social contacts to gain a position at England’s leading journal of modernist architecture, The Architectural Review, where he has honed his journalistic skills.

Next to him stands an intense, athletic looking man wearing round spectacles and a distinctive beret. As he frames the procession in the viewfinder of his Leica camera, a white haired Doctor of Divinity carrying a mortarboard and fan notices him and gives a faint smile of recognition.

The annual ceremony is staged on Wednesday of the ninth week of Trinity term, as tradition demands. A summer heat wave has broken a few days earlier, but the weather is still bright enough for the photographer to freeze the strolling dons in motion. Behind them Chaundy’s antiquarian bookshop is visible. It is the 24th June 1936, and the two men are John Betjeman and László Moholy-Nagy.

Their purpose is to make photographs to illustrate Betjeman’s forthcoming book, An Oxford University Chest. The author later recalled that Moholy ‘rushed about frenziedly photographing everything he saw’, which is understandable given that they only had two days in which to achieve their aim.

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