Archive for the ‘photography’ Category

Back to Becontree (Thurston Hopkins)

This week I did another talk at a secondary school for Robert Peston’s charitySpeakers for Schools‘ – the subject was careers in TV/media, the school was Dagenham Park C of E School in East London (probably the politest school I’ve ever been to). This was off my manor and brought me out to Barking station and then three short tube stops to Dagenham Heath at the eastern end of the District line, where I’d never before ventured. The penultimate stop was Becontree which is where my maternal grandfather came from. A place I’d never visited or even travelled through.

I marked this connection with the locality by putting a photo of my grandfather as my first slide in the talk entitled ‘A Media Career in 21 Pictures’, delivered to 60 energetic and enthusiastic Year 7s (a tough prospect which turned out to be a delight – they particularly picked up on the video game I made, ‘MindGym’). I asked them if they knew what a typewriter was, that machine he’s leaning on – a bright boy with an ear stud near the back explained to his classmates “it’s a keyboard but the writing goes straight onto paper”.

Ian Harris at Picture Post by Thurston Hopkins photographer photograph

Ian Harris at Picture Post by Thurston Hopkins

I keep the photo by my desk (I can reach out and touch it now from where I sit). It was taken when my grandfather, Ian Harris, was working at ‘Picture Post’ magazine as a scientist specialising in printing technology. I decided to Post this Picture (above) because it is not yet on the internet.

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27th April 1946

I’ve always liked the Hopkins picture because I never ever saw my grandfather smoke but in this the saucer is filled with fag-ends while he’s taking a deep drag. My old next-door-neighbour from childhood years, Michelle Haberl, noticed that the headline on the top newspaper in the pile includes the word “tobacco” and says he was just doing some research (which made me laugh). My younger brother posted this photo in response and captured the essence of the man by saying: “best person i ever knew”:

Ian Harris

Ian Harris

I hardly recognise him in this picture because of the hat which places him in a film noir – along with yet another cigarette. I don’t know who took this photograph, perhaps Hopkins or another Picture Post staffer.

‘Picture Post’ ran from just before the war (1938) to 1957 and was the equivalent of ‘Life’ magazine in the USA, a popular magazine centred on excellent photo-journalism and visually led. Its photographers included Bert Hardy, Thurston Hopkins, Grace Robertson, Kurt Hutton, Felix H. Man/Hans Baumann, Francis Reiss, Humphrey Spender, John Chillingworth and Leonard McCombe. Its editorial perspective was liberal and anti-Fascist, campaigning from its launch against the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany.

Thurston Hopkins passed away only four years ago. I regret now not having thought to look him up and go visit. He was born on 16th April 1913 (two years before my grandfather) and lived to 101.

He studied graphic art at Brighton College of Art and was a self-taught photographer. He started out by joining the PhotoPress Agency, reflecting the shift in newspapers from illustration to photography (the kind of printing technology advance which was at the heart of my grandfather’s scientific career).  During the Second World War he served in the RAF Photographic Unit in Italy and the Middle East (my grandfather by contrast served in the Navy, based in Portsmouth, in some kind of secret scientific capacity he never spoke of in any detail). That’s where Hopkins took up his trusty Leica which was his weapon of choice throughout his career (apart from the odd occasional use of a Rolleiflex). It’s also where he saw Picture Post, at military posts everywhere. After the war he worked for new London agency Camera Press.

Hopkins put together a dummy issue of Picture Post made up entirely of his own photos and features to get him the gig as a freelancer. He went onto the staff in 1950, working exclusively for PP.

One of his first stories was centred on stray cats living in London’s many bomb sites and alleys, ‘Cats of London’ (24th Feb 1951).

Thurston Hopkins La Dolce Vita, Knightsbridge, London, 1953 photograph

La Dolce Vita, Knightsbridge, London, 1953

This was one of his best known and most commercially successful photographs (the driver is a West End chauffeur).

Hopkins did stories about children playing on urban streets to highlight the need for playground provision. In 1956 he photographed a story on the slums of Liverpool which ended up being spiked when city officials complained to the magazine’s proprietor, Edward Hulton, about its negative portrayal of the city. Yesterday afternoon I was helping judge the Popular Factual category of the Broadcast Awards. I noticed that one of the programmes entered, ‘The £1 Houses’ (Channel 4/Topical), set in Liverpool drew similar flack (unconvincing) from the municipal authorities. Photographers as messengers at risk of being on the receiving end of the proverbial shooting.

Hopkins met his wife, a fellow photographer, at Picture Post, marrying in 1955. She was  Grace Robertson. She also published under the name Dick Muir in order to secure work at the Report agency at a time when prejudice against women photographers was still rife in the industry.

photographers Thurston Hopkins and Grace Robertson by harry borden

Thurston Hopkins and Grace Robertson by Harry Borden

After the closure of Picture Post in 1957 Hopkins went into advertising photography, based in his Chiswick studio. He taught on the highly reputed photography course at Guildford School of Art. In his later years he returned to an early love, painting.

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Learning How to See

I went to the Dorothea Lange photography exhibition (Politics of Seeing) at the Barbican Art Gallery for the second time today on the way home from Little Dot Studios. There was a quotation by her I noticed the first time which struck me as strongly the second as it captures my view of Photography:

The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera

Hence all my Instagramming over the years (and Moblogging before that).

Photographer Dorothea Lange with Graflex camera (1937)

Dorothea Lange with Graflex camera (1937)

Photograph Dorothea Lange Migrant Mother

‘Migrant Mother’ (1936)

Strength

I love this photo from the news this week

 

Saffiyah Khan

Brummie Saffiyah Khan takes on the EDL mentality

Typographical London

On my flannage around London yesterday I decided to play a little photographic game – inspired by the Z (as in Ritz). These were gathered between Moorgate and Piccadilly, via St Paul’s and Temple. Can you recognise where any of these come from?

A to FG to LM to RS to XY to Z

Sinking of the Lakonia

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On 22nd December 1963 my grandparents lives changed forever. My grandmother started what she considered her second bite of the cherry of life. My grandfather watched rich men’s possessions float by him in the water and never again put any value on them (though he was always modest materially being from an immigrant working class background). The night of 22nd December 1963 was the night the cruise ship Lakonia went on fire and 128 souls were lost at sea. A Christmas cruise from Southampton to the Canary Islands turned into a terrifying brush with death.

Yesterday my brother heard a trail on BBC Radio 5 for a programme about the disaster next Tuesday morning on Five Live hosted by Adrian Chiles. Today I tracked down the production team in Salford to offer some of our family archives. As I start to delve into them I thought it would be fun to share the investigations and discoveries here.

First (above) is the telegram my mother received from my grandfather on Christmas eve confirming her parents were alive and safe. She had just had her first child (yours truly) and was settling in to her first home of her own (it cost them £4,000 if I remember correctly). JFK had been shot 5 weeks earlier.

The sender of that telegram is mentioned in this article from Life magazine (edition of 3rd January 1964)

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That’s my grandma looking terrified on the left. Her husband was the “Ian Harris of London” referred to in the copy “the only man known to have taken pictures while on board the doomed Lakonia”. He worked for Picture Post (the British rival of Life with photographers like Bill Brandt and Thurston Hopkins). He was a scientist involved with the technicalities of printing photographs and a keen amateur photographer so his photos featured in the Life picture story were the work of a man in the wrong place at the right time with his omnipresent camera (now you know where I got the bug from).

More to follow as I burrow away…

Update 17/12/16:

“Salta” referred to on the telegram above was an Argentine ship which was heading west to Argentina filled with immigrants from Europe, which picked up my grandparents after dawn of 23rd December from their lifeboat. The passengers were hauled up one by one by rope after a landing stage the Salta crew had dropped was smashed by the lifeboat. My grandfather thought it would make a great shot but my grandmother forbade him as she didn’t want the indignity captured for posterity. He still seemed to regret missing the shot 36 years later when I interviewed him on film. He was wearing, by chance, a grey jumper he had been given in Funchal, Madiera after landing from the Salta in sea-shrunken clothes.

PART 2

Chairman of the Board – Picture of the Month: Christine Keeler by Lewis Morley (1963)

The other day I got to touch this chair…

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The Keeler chair

The year I was born this chair got to touch the bare bottom of Christine Keeler.

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photograph by Lewis Morley

It was as the scandal of the Profumo Affair was exploding in Britain, marking the end of the age of austerity and heralding the new age of permissiveness.

I’ve been writing a script over the summer in which Keeler appears as a minor character so have been immersed in the era of which this photograph is an icon.

The photo session was in Lewis Morley’s studio above The Establishment Club in Soho (18 Greek Street) which was the spiritual home of the emerging anti-establishment of the early 60s. It was founded in 1961 and presented among others, on the small stage on the floor below Morley’s studio, Lenny Bruce, Barry Humphries and Dudley Moore. The club was part-owned by Moore’s partner in crime Peter Cook, another defining character of the era.

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Lewis Morley (1925-2013)

Morley was born in Hong Kong to English and Chinese parents, coming to England straight after the war in 1945. He eventually emigrated to Barry Humphries’/Dame Edna Everage’s native Australia in 1971.

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Dame Edna by Lewis Morley (1996)

The Keeler session was set up to produce images for a film that never happened (The Keeler Affair). Present were Morley, his assistant and the producers.

I recently came across another such movie that was never made featuring Keeler’s partner in crime Mandy Rice Davies. Her picture, by contrast in costume, was shot by Terence Donovan (1936 – 1996),  another of the key photographers of the Blow Up generation. His first major retrospective – Speed of Light at the Photographers Gallery, London this summer – brought to light this magazine cover:

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Morley decided to use one of a number of chairs he’d recently bought at (probably) Heals as a prop. They are cheap knock-offs of a classic Arne Jacobsen design, the 3107. The chair is more crudely made than its original and has a hand-hole introduced to get round copyright infringement.

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The actual Keeler chair

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The 3107 v The Keeler knock-off

At the beginning of the session Keeler was dressed in a leather jerkin, covered (just) but still plenty sexy. Morley shot three rolls of film on the day – on the first two he shot her dressed in this way both on and beside the chair.

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Keeler had been a model in her early years in London before getting sucked in to The Scandal. She had also been a showgirl and good-time girl, all these activities and aspirations adjacent in England in the late 50s/early 60s.

The producers then demanded that she pose nude. They insisted that was in her contract. Morley was reluctant and protected Keeler, both with the back of that chair and by clearing everyone but himself out of the studio and averting his eyes while she stripped off and mounted the chair. In this way he protected her dignity whilst fulfilling the terms of the contract.

He then shot the third roll. He tried various angles which you can see on the contact sheet which now lives at the V&A. Morley recounted the end of the session thus:

“I felt that I had shot enough and took a couple of paces back. Looking up I saw what appeared to be a perfect positioning. I released the shutter one more time, in fact, it was the last exposure on the roll of film. Looking at the contact sheet, one can see that this image is smaller than the rest because I had stepped back. It was this pose that became the first published and most used image. The nude session had taken less than five minutes to complete.”

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NPG x38964; Christine Keeler by Lewis Morley

Last shot of the last roll – suitably mythic.

The shot in question can currently be seen in the first room of the You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 exhibition at the V&A. As can the chair.

What’s powerful about the shot is the X-shaped composition made up of her upper arms and thighs, bright in the high contrast, combined with the echo of the top half of that white X (those upper arms joined into a curvaceous triangle by her shoulders) which matches the sensual curved triangle of the chair back. The hands and wrists also make up a mini X, reinforcing the power of the central shape. The dark V of the chair back is a massive amplification of that hidden famous vagina. But topping off the shot is an alluring yet refined face. And a strong one, as challenging as any of the enigmatic eye-to-eye starers of Manet. [see E for Enigma – Manet Picture of the Month]

Morley used the pose again two years later with Joe Orton, the playwright who best captured the essence of the 60s in Britain. I first came across Orton in the Lower 6th (the freest and best year of school) when I was looking for the subject of a project and came across Orton by chance. I’ve loved him since. But I don’t find that the Morley portrait captures him well as it gives no sense of his cheekiness or humour.

NPG x24966; Joe Orton by Lewis Morley

Joe Orton 1965

Morley also used the pose with TV personality David Frost (in the same year as Keeler), but in a less still way, capturing something of the energy which was to land Frost a chair opposite President Nixon in the next decade (in the famous 1977 interviews which did for the leader of the most powerful nation on earth). Frost, The Establishment, Cook, Private Eye were all part of the same Swinging Sixties circles.

NPG x38945; Sir David Paradine Frost by Lewis Morley

David Frost 1963

Circles which overlapped with the establishment with a small e and their interface with Soho, pretty girls, gambling dens, sharp-suited gangsters, swinger parties, all the ingredients in the explosive brew that was Profumo.

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Christine (21) & Mandy (18) at the height of the Profumo Affair

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For a very particular moment – arguably one key frame – Morley managed to transform a 21 year old (who grew up in a converted railway carriage, abandoned by her father), a 21 year old swirling helplessly in a maelstrom of post-war British politics, the Cold War and the breaking down of the class system into a strong and dignified woman, the epitome of Sixties British beauty.

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Under The Chair

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Previous Picture of The Month – Georgia O’Keeffe

Mandy as Fanny

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Terence Donovan’s cover shot of Mandy Rice-Davies for Town (Man about Town) magazine

In 1964 Mandy Rice-Davies was asked to play the lead role in a film of Fanny Hill, based on the novel by John Cleland. However, the film was never made.

This cover shot is currently to be seen at Terence Donovan: Speed of Light at The Photographers Gallery, London.

This is a magazine/pamphlet I bought at an antique shop near Woodside Park for a tenner. It’s Mandy’s response to the Denning Report into The Profumo Affair, hence the cheeky title.

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“Well he would, wouldn’t he?”

Here’s the house of Mandy’s lover Peter Rachman – I found it on Sunday after a walk on Hampstead Heath.

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Frida Smith

There seems to be a connection

Patti-Smith

Patti Smith by Robert Mapplethorpe

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Frida Kahlo meets Patti Smith

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Patti meets Frida (Wave)

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Frida as Odalisque

Movie Without a Cause

As an antidote to Anton Corbijn’s terrible film ‘Life’ which I’ve just been watching (stijck to the stijlls Anton) here are a couple of photos/stills of James Dean by Dennis Stock and others to help me remember why he seared…

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by Dennis Stock

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In a NYC diner – by Dennis Stock

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crucified in Giant

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East of Eden

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Rebel Without a Cause

Made in Northern Ireland: The Male Body Handbook

article from GNI (Gay Northern Ireland) 17 November 2015

GNI (Gay Northern Ireland) 17 November 2015

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