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On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming, review: kidnapping, lies and a 90-year-old family mystery

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The author's mother Betty Elston as a child
The author's mother Betty Elston as a child

In Stephen Poliakoff’s 1999 television drama Shooting the Past, a prestigious British photographic library is threatened by American property developers. Its staff seek to convince the new owners not to break up the incomparable collection it houses by using its rare photographs, in a sequence of improvised yet powerfully orchestrated displays, to tell the extraordinary stories of apparently ordinary lives. 

Laura Cumming’s new book, On Chapel Sands, also uses photographs, paintings and everyday objects in an attempt to resolve a 90-year family mystery: the kidnapping of her mother, then aged three, from a deserted Lincolnshire beach one warm October afternoon in 1929. The result is a deeply...

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