Her Wikipedia entry recounts her memorable vita: Lilian Ida Lenton (January 1891 – October 28, 1972) was an English dancer, suffragist, arsonist, and winner of a French Red Cross medal for her service as an orderly in World War I.
So often we feel separated from people in history because their appearance–their clothes, their hair styles, and their demeanor–is so distant, so unfamiliar. It can be hard to see them in human terms; it can be easy to dismiss them from our understanding.
This photo is jarring because Lenton appears so contemporary to 21st-century eyes. This is the result of its unusual provenance.
As a security risk, Lenton was under police surveillance. She was not allowed to have hair pins or regular clothing. She was not accorded the dignity of arranging herself for a formal photograph.
Ironically, the surreptitious photographer’s prerogative yielded a portrait through which Lenton speaks to us in a memorable, direct, highly unusual way.
Lilian Lenton | History Touches Us in Extraordinary Photograph