Cyril Arapoff (1898-1976), born Kyril Semeonovitch Arapov, was the son of a high-ranking Russian diplomat who was the country’s Consul in Florence until his death in 1909.

Kyril and his mother fled Russia for England in 1919, feeling threatened because of the family’s Tsarist connections and sympathies. Arapoff (he Anglicised his name to Cyril Arapoff) spent much of the late 1920s and early 1930s in Paris and Germany. He was fluent in four languages and may have made a living through tutoring.

He developed an interest in photography in the early 1930s, and spent six months learning the techniques of the craft at Annelise Kretschmer’s studio in Dortmund. Perhaps because of Hitler’s rise to power, Arapoff returned to England in 1933 and to 3 Church Street, now St Andrew’s Road, Headington, where his mother was governess to the Narishkins, another Russian émigré family. Captain Vadim Narishkin was a lecturer in French at Brasenose College.

Arapoff became quickly at home here, taking photographs of the family in and around the house and at Wytham Abbey where they seem to have been on good terms with Hazel ffennell, only daughter of Colonel Raymond ffennell, owner of the Wytham estate.

He established a studio at the Narishkins’ house and, by 1935, he was considered to be the leading portrait photographer in Oxford. His customers included Marghanita Laski, later well-known as a journalist and radio panellist, and John Profumo, who was involved in the infamous Christine Keeler scandal while he was Secretary of State for War in the early 1960s.

Arapoff also did fashion shoots for Vogue and must have outgrown the Church Street studio. He moved to new premises at 19 Manor Road, (now 41 Osler Road), Headington.

As well as studio work, Arapoff became involved in ballet and theatrical photography and he recorded for example the Oxford University Dramatic Society production of Julius Caesar in 1934 and college productions of Richard III and The Merry Wives of Windsor. He also photographed dancers at the Schwetzoff School of Dancing.

He undertook some local commercial work, taking photographs for the well-known Turl Street tailors, Walters of Oxford, and recording the printing of a bible for Oxford University Press (OUP). He supplied OUP with photographs of Christ Church for a publication in 1933, and realised that there was an unmet demand for contemporary college views.

He took other speculative photographs of the historic city centre and Varsity rowing, both Eights Week and Torpids, its wintry equivalent.

As a Headington resident, he also recorded the thatched cottages near St Andrew’s Church before they were demolished, and monitored the rebuilding of the Black Boy pub in Old High Street in 1937.

Arapoff developed a real interest in documentary photography which was becoming firmly established in England in the mid-1930s. In 1937, around 4,000 Basque children came to Britain as refugees from the Spanish Civil War, and some came to live at St Joseph’s, now Westfield House, in Aston, near Bampton. Arapoff took more than 40 striking photographs of these child refugees.

Other images showing boxers at Oxford Boys’ Club, a ‘bargee girl’ on a narrowboat or boys fishing and playing by the water have a similar documentary character.

London was, however, the major source of Arapoff’s documentary work and he undertook a number of commissions for illustrated magazines such as the Geographical Magazine and Picture Post.

These series covered topics like the River Thames, London’s Caledonian Market, hop-pickers at Kentish farms and East End slum tenements. Arapoff was also exhibiting his work regularly in London galleries, receiving many awards and glowing reviews. Jan Gordon, reviewing an exhibition in 1935 for the Observer, commended ‘a remarkable series of photographs.’ Arapoff is successful, chiefly because he relies on an almost instinctive sense of apt arrangement assisting an acute perception of the ‘vital’ elements in a scene.’ The Sunday Times had already described Arapoff’s work as marking ‘an important stage in the development of British photography.’ In 1939, Arapoff joined the Strand Film Unit, first as a photographer and then as assistant cameraman. He closed his Oxford studio and moved to London.

In 1942 He joined the official Crown Film Unit in 1942 and embarked on a documentary film career that took him to Brazil in the 1950s and back to the National Coal Board Film Unit from 1961 until his death.

Many of Arapoff’s photographs have been deposited in public collections. More than 4,000 of his negatives are at Oxfordshire Studies in the County Council’s Photographic Archive.

Several hundred have been digitised and you can see them on the Heritage Search website and The Museum of London has 475 Arapoff prints or negatives, mainly relating to London subjects.