Archive for the ‘photography’ Tag

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.

1946_Picture_Post_Magazine 1946 Picture Post Magazine cover - April 27, 1946

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.

thurston hopkins photographer picture post

thurston-hopkins-lipstick-check_thurston hopkins photographer picture post

thurston-hopkins-lipstick-check_thurston hopkins photographer picture post

 

Advertisements

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

Made in Northern Ireland: The Male Body Handbook

article from GNI (Gay Northern Ireland) 17 November 2015

GNI (Gay Northern Ireland) 17 November 2015

Dancers Among Us by Jordan Matter

Photograph courtesy of Jordan Matter www.dancersamongus.com

Photograph courtesy of Jordan Matter http://www.dancersamongus.com

Photograph courtesy of Jordan Matter www.dancersamongus.com

Photograph courtesy of Jordan Matter http://www.dancersamongus.com

I love this project by Jordan Matter at http://www.dancersamongus.com – a beautifully simple concept for reinvigorating the everyday. Some images really nail it, others are perhaps a bit overthought.

It reminds me of Channel 4’s Jump London (dir: Mike Christie) and Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book

Marilyn Monroe, 1959

Marilyn Monroe, 1959

Sebastien Foucan, 2003

Sebastien Foucan, 2003

Adult Learners’ Week 09

Adult Learners' Week

AdultLearnersWeekFolk, here are the website addresses for the projects demoed:

Big Art Mob www.bigartmob.com Public Art

Landshare www.landshare.net Landsharing and growing food

Picture This www.channel4.com/picturethis Digital photography

Empire’s Children www.channel4.com/empire Family history

Embarrassing Bodies www.channel4.com/bodies Health

Medicine Chest www.medicinechest.info Traditional approaches to health

Adoption Experience www.channel4.com/adopt Adoption

Art and Soul of London

Urban Chiaoscuro


Had the pleasure yesterday of two inspirational encounters with London-inspired artists.

At lunchtime photographer/artist Emily Allchurch visited Channel 4 to talk to any interested parties about her work. This was at the invitation of Andrew Webb, the Picture Editor in Channel 4 New Media’s design unit who had first met Emily working together in the Tate’s shop. She focused on her new exhibition ‘Urban Chiaoscuro’ currently at the Frost & Reed gallery in St James’s.

The exhibition is inspired by the fantastical Caceri d’Invezione drawings (c.1745-1761) by Piranesi, intricate architectural constructions of prisons of the mind.

In recent years Emily has focused on reconstructing old master paintings and drawings by seamlessly collaging contemporary photographic components in Photoshop. Hundreds of layers of photoshopped elements – individual details photographed from very particular angles to make the perspective work – result in smooth, painterly transparencies displayed on thin lightboxes, the size of an art gallery painting.

A little later in the afternoon I pulled by Frost & Reed’s to see the works in the flesh. They typically take three months to create. In real life all that masterly craftsmanship is even more evident in the painterly, surreal qualities of the luminous images. I bumped into Emily again at the gallery and had a chance to chat a bit more – I was saying how what really struck me in her images was where she had (re)created fantasy, impossible environments – for example, Bruegel’s Tower of Babel and some of the more labyrinthine, Escheresque Piranesis.

Emily featured in the excellent BBC4 series Digital Picture of Britain. In the episode I saw of that she recreated a Whistler nocturne viewed from Battersea Bridge using images taken on a mobile phone (that was part of the challenge of the series – each photographer ended up with a high-end digital camera, a high street one or a mobile phone by luck of the draw). It was only in the wake of participating in the series that Emily switched from film to digital.

Despite being born on Jersey, Emily is clearly turned on big time by London, which, as a major league Londonphile immediately elevates her in my eyes. There’s an interesting element of fear in her works which stems in part from having to hang out alone in the dark recesses of the city to get her raw material. It manifests itself in the photographs as references to surveillance – cameras, tannoys, signs, warnings. Yet for all the anxiety there’s the joy of discovery.

When we were looking together at one of her Urban Chiaoscuros made in Paris, I spotted one of those mosaic Space Invaders. Emily didn’t know what it was and I was able to explain to her that it’s part of a long-term public art project with its roots in Paris – something I found out when I posted one on the Big Art Mob which I’d come across round the corner from St Martin’s art school in Kingsway.

Which brings us neatly to the second inspiring encounter of the day, as I’m hoping to feature this artist and her work on the Big Art Project and she posted her first image to Big Art Mob from St James’s Park where we had our meeting.

Laura Williams was introduced to me by the Creative Accountant (Sydney Levinson). She is slowly but surely creating an amazing public artwork, Aluna, a lunar clock which is destined to land on the north bank of the Thames opposite the Millennium Dome at the site of the old East India docks.

The huge sculpture indicates the movement of the moon around the earth and the flow of the tides using LEDs built into its recycled glass curves.

Aluna is designed to reconnect us with a slower, more natural flow of time – much as can be gotten from the allotment where I’m writing this post from on a Blackberry, having just eaten a very late raspberry off my neighbour Maurice’s bush. And just to be neat about things I’ll pause for a moment to go and get a late blackberry off our fence…

…Yum, had three but they’re pretty much done now for the year, they’re mostly rotting on the plant, covered in a yellowy fungus or something. Ah nature, dontcha just love it – one big restaurant.

Now where was I? Ah yes, close to the Meridian in East London. Laura is also truly inspired by London and the Thames. The lunar clock is, naturally enough, tidal powered, sitting on the bend in the river with one of the fastest tidal flows. The artwork will be driven by turbines in the river which will generate surplus electricity to sell back to neighbouring houses making the whole thing self-sustaining.

So between Emily and Laura, the ol’ creative batteries were certainly recharged yesterday, ready to plug in to Medicine Men and Fourmations and all the other interesting creations coming over the horizon in the world of Channel 4 Factual interactive media.

Pictures courtesy of Emily Allchurch

%d bloggers like this: