Documentary photography emerged in England during the mid-1930s, and Cyril Arapoff was one of the pioneers of the genre. London became the focus of much of his photo-reportage work. Many of his photographs were published in popular illustrated magazines.
Cyril Arapoff, born Kyril Semeonovitch Arapov, was the son of a Russian diplomat, the country’s Consul in Florence until his death in 1909. Following the Revolution, Arapoff and his mother fled Russia in 1919 fearing persecution for the Tsarist connections.
Arapoff was drawn to the social documentary photography which began to emerge in the 1930s. Using a fast miniature Rolleiflex, a popular camera at the time, Arapoff documented London through subjects such as the industrial Thames, hop-pickers, the Caledonian market and life in the East End.
His work included a photographic story, commissioned by Picture Post magazine, documenting the plight of residents of a slum tenement block in Poplar. The East End attracted many photographers because of its reputation for social problems, and each approached it differently. Arapoff often focused on the children in the street.
Arapoff’s photography was highly regarded, and he frequently exhibited and published his work. R F Hunter Limited, the British importer of his German Rolleiflex camera, sponsored a major exhibition in London in return for the use of his name in its advertising.
Arapoff’s career changed direction in 1937 when he became involved in stills photography for a film about Oxford. In 1939, he then carried out stills photography for the Strand Film Company, which by 1941 appointed him as an assistant cameraman. Leaving Oxford, he closed his studio and moved to London to establish himself in the documentary film industry. He was soon working on films with important directors across the world. In 1961, Arapoff returned to England, where he worked for the National Coal Board Film Unit until his death in 1976.