Philip Larkins secret selfies

For the first time, photographs taken by the poet Philip Larkin have been collected together from thousands held by the Larkin archive in Hull.

Larkin had a long history with the University. Perhaps most famous was his relationship with Monica Jones, who lectured in English and met Larkin while teaching in 1946. During this time he also worked as assistant librarian at the University and in 1970 he was made an Honorary Graduate of Leicester.

Published next month in The Importance of Elsewhere: Philip Larkin’s Photographs, this first book of his photographs will coincide with the 30th anniversary of Larkin’s death. 

The photographs, many of which have never been seen in print, reveal a glimpse into his private and creative life and include photos of Larkin’s mother, his lovers, his literary peers, as well as places that were meaningful to him – including one photograph of a seagull on the Humber foreshore.  

Larkin was an amateur photographer and owned a Rolleiflex Automat twin lens relex camera. He also enjoyed taking self-portraits, such as a series taken on the same day in 1957 of himself shaving, having breakfast, and standing in his rented accommodation after work that evening, overlooking Pearson Park, in Hull. Often Larkin placed a large mirror behind the timed camera so that he could form an expression that suited his desired look. 

One of the portraits of Larkin was taken in Scotland by Monica Jones, whose reflection can be seen in the window pane.

One of his earliest self-portraits was taken in his room at St John’s College, Oxford, where he graduated from in 1943 and where he was great friends with Kingsley Amis, who he also photographed.

Earlier this month the BBC Four programme Return to Larkinland traced Larkin’s life from his childhood in Coventry, through his student days at Oxford and then his adult years, covering some of the best-loved and most notorious poems in the English language. Part of Return To Larkinland was shot in the Harry Peach library and much of his time at Leicester is mentioned.

Listen to a podcast of Philip Larkin opening the new library, dated 27 September 1975, below: