Archive for the ‘photography’ Tag

Adventures in the Writing Trade: Day 3

I had a momentary fear of death experience this morning. Quite sobering.

I was out for an early walk on the North-East corner of the island. When I reached the 30 minutes from base point, on a narrow path above sea cliffs teaming with bird life, I sat on a small rock facing the sea/edge/void and did my short daily meditation which I almost never do daily (two days in succession on Lambay is a good run for me). Then turned for home. As I was approaching the green stile for the cross-fields path for home I noticed a small track on my right, the sea side, towards the furthest headland. I felt compelled to take it, while I was there to take a few minutes to get to the farthest point, suppress my vertigo tendencies, carefully take the muddy trail and get onto that land’s end. I was glad when I got there as the view of the cliffs was better and, more importantly, you suddenly felt among the birdlife as gulls suddenly appeared rising above the cliff edge straight in front and silhouetted geese cut across the small bay. Uplifted by these creatures I turned to go home. As i walked over a ridge between me and the path home, suddenly there was a deep gully there. I felt like I somehow had got lost on a solitary rock cut off from the mainland. Where had the path gone? How would I get back to the mainland of the island? I tried to quell the panic. I stopped thinking about the writing I was going to be doing (now) and brought my attention fully into the present. I concentrated. I considered options. I backtracked to try to figure out where the path I had taken onto the headland was. Needless to say I figured it out, hence me sitting now in front of A General Map of Ireland to accompany the report of the Railway Commissioners shewing the Principle Physical Features and Geological Structure of the Country (constructed in 1836, engraved in 1837/38).

IMG_7481 panorama view from summit trig point of lambay island county dublin ireland

There’s something life-boosting about such experiences however minor. I had another one yesterday. A bit less intense but the same underlying primal feelings. I surprised myself (usually a good navigator) by getting lost on a solo lunchtime walk to the summit of the island, the trig point a.k.a. The Nipple. After enjoying the spectacular view from Lambay Island’s highest point I started down but soon realised I wasn’t getting back onto the track I had arrived by. I was going down a gorge which was narrowing – I wasn’t sure I could get out of it, whether there was a cleared way through to the foothills. My rising panic was witnessed by wallabies, silhouetted on ridges against the darkening sky, like they were the ones in control of the situation. I had encountered my first Lambay wallaby on the way up, bouncing away as I disturbed its peace. Eventually I saw a more chilled one up close in the ferns. Lovely looking creature. Lambay started with just three wallabies as an exotic pet of the current custodian’s grandfather. In the 80s Dublin zoo was getting rid of its wallabies and asked if he’d take seven more, all female. He did but it turned out there was a rogue male in the batch. There are now between 400 and 800 wallabies on the island, depending on whose estimate you go for. I eventually found another route down and the moment of fear passed, again leaving a certain aliveness in its wake.

IMG_7476 wallaby on lambay island county dublin ireland

Where’s Wally?

Yesterday’s early morning walk was flatter and safer. As I rounded the South-West corner of the island I walked past a large group of seals slumbering on the beach. Some took to the water as I approached, while others were shaking themselves from their slumber. Curious eyes and dog-like snouts started appearing from the waves as the bolder ones checked out the red North Face jacket (kindly donated by Enfant Terrible No. 1 for my trip to the Gaeltacht in South Donegal last month).

IMG_7455 seals at lambay island county dublin ireland

I noticed after a while how much plastic had washed up on the shore. First an unidentifiable moulded shape that looked like a piece of our kitchen bin at home. Then small plastic water and drink bottles, many of them. Gallon bottles. Fishing detritus. A child’s toy. Footballs. Tennis balls (apparently a container load had fallen into the sea a while back). A slider type shoe. I thought it would be cool to come back and organise a beach clean. Probably quite a few bags would quickly fill. What would they do with them on an island? I asked our host back at breakfast – Do you ever pick the plastic off the beaches? It just comes back the next day. Sometimes our guests come back and present us with bags of rubbish they’ve kindly collected. Her eyes roll. Oh yes, how foolish of them! I try to convey non-verbally. What could they be thinking? Note to self: scratch the beach litter pick.

After warning up with yesterday’s Simple Pleasures post, I began the research on the Collaboration book project I am doing with my old colleague and friend, Doug Miller. The most interesting part of that session was using my online network to start to triangulate the areas of most interest. I put out this question into social media – Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter:

Linked In post 2019-09-06

I used an image by Rockwell Kent which its Russian owners, the Hermitage, love for its depiction of working men collaborating. It’s set on the other side of Ireland, on the West coast in Donegal near Glencolmcille. The neighbours have come to help Dan Ward build his haystack, something he can’t do alone and effort he will reciprocate in a place where for the individual to survive (the isolated valley of Glenlough) he must collaborate with his fellow beings in the hood.

The ideas and thoughts coming back from the online call-out were considered, generous and informed, with a nice sprinkling of humour. After lunch I took advantage of a touch of sun for that wallaby walk. Then another afternoon sunshine session in the grassy yard between the wings. The day passed quickly. I felt vaguely disappointed not to have cracked through more but I had worked consistently and with focus so back off self, have a bit of patience!

At the end of the day I spotted a beautiful burst of evening sunshine, threw on my petty criminal Nikes, and trotted down to the harbour. All to myself. At the end of the harbour wall, French Lieutenant’s Woman style, I had some moments standing on the ledge at the foot of the solid wall contemplating the waves. Then a stroll along the short beach, turning back to catch that perfect moment of light…

IMG_7492 lambay island harbour white house cottages county dublin ireland

Lost Postcard No. 5

The last of the re-found batch of postcards as explained here.

old postcard

This one is the most impenetrable. Very few clues. I can’t even tell if it’s a mass-produced card or a one-off/short run for a family or individual. The girl looks pretty young – perhaps 16 or less. No clues in her clothing – a simple white smock with a little detail or perhaps piece of jewellery centrally at the neck.

On the reverse the printed words are: Post x Card, Correspondence, Address Only. No stamp. In the stamp space a logo: TIC in a horseshoe.

But thanks to the internet, it turns out that actually enables us to date the card. TIC stands for Thomas Illingworth & Co.

On vintage British postcards the postage stamp square is where the manufacturer would commonly place their brand mark or logo. Thomas Illingworth & Co. were a paper manufacturer founded around 1904. TIC manufactured the Horse Shoe Brand of photographic paper in London NW10.

The large photographic supplies company Ilford bought a controlling interest in TIC in 1919.  The business was fully absorbed into the Ilford Group around 1930. During this period (1919-30) date coding appears on TIC Horse Shoe postcards. A conscientious, dogged amateur, Geoff Caulton from Norfolk, had a stab at decoding these symbols around 2010. Here’s what he worked out:

TIC horse shoe postcard date codes symbols

My card has a single tiny X between the words Post and Card. So 1920 by Caulton’s calculations.

The Norfolk man explains: “I have included the Horseshoe brand in this decade because after checking hundreds of dated photographs with this mark I have yet to see one dated outside the twenties.
Correction ‘except one or two dated 1919 and one or two dated 1930’.
Unless there is evidence to the contrary I would date any card with this mark to the 1920s.”

Caulton surmises that these date marks serve a quality control purpose for the photographic paper/card on which the postcards are printed.

Parenthetically, my maternal grandfather, Ian Harris, would love this one – he was a scientist who specialised in printing photographic images. He worked for Picture Post and Metal Box among others. His Picture Post story is covered here. I have memories of him using Ilford products.

Caulton’s theory is this: “All Real Photographic postcards started life as a pre-printed sheet of photographic sensitive card. Each photographer’s stock of photographic paper postcards had a shelf life.
If you look between the two words POST and CARD on a T.I.C Horseshoe card you should see a symbol. These symbols could be taken as typographic decoration. However I believe they have a purpose in what would now be called quality control. I suggest they represent the manufacturer’s date of production, possibly a span of six months.
There is an identifiable pattern. For example in my own collection of T.I.C horseshoe portraits I have four unrelated portraits, each dated 1922. All four have the ‘double dagger’ symbol between the words Post & Card. This cannot be chance or coincidence.
I would not be bold enough to suggest that a card can be precisely dated using these symbols but they can certainly be batched into early, middle and late twenties. I have extracted the dated portrait cards from my collection and found a very significant clustering of dates for certain symbols. There are of course stray cards which were probably inscribed many months after they were printed and other inscriptions may be inaccurate but there are enough clues to indicate there is information of value here.
My instinct tells me that a single symbol represents the first half of a year and a double symbol the second. It is only a theory but the evidence is strong and I am convinced I am on the right track.”

That’s what’s great about the Web. It gave birth to an age of the Amateur, in the true sense of the word, “a lover of something”. True expertise lies in such people as Caulton in the Internet era.

Thomas Illingworth, founder of Thomas Illingworth & Co. Ltd., was the son of a photographer also called Thomas Illingworth,  whose firm was based in Halifax, Yorkshire and also eventually had studios in Huddersfield (Bradford Rd.) and Bradford (128 St Stephen’s Road, West Bowling). Thomas Illingworth Senior was born in Oldham in 1838. He learnt the photography trade in the studio of his maternal grandfather, John Eastham, who was based in St Ann’s Square, Manchester.

Bear in mind that the first photograph (i.e. the earliest known surviving photo made in a camera) dates from 1826 or 1827 so Eastham is pretty early to the business. Eastman took Daguerreotypes and was a “Photographer to the Queen” (Victoria).

the first photograph ever earliest known surviving photograph

Here’s that first photo – taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, the view from an upstairs window at his estate, Le Gras, in Burgundy, France.

Thomas Illingworth Snr. married Amelia Oates in 1859. They had seven children – Thomas Jnr. was the only boy, born in 1867.

Thomas Illingworth & Co. Huddersfield photographer

Thomas Illingworth & Co. Huddersfield photographer

Snr.’s studio work

Jnr. went to London aged 19 and set himself up as a photographic printer and dealer at 38 Sherriff Road, West Hampstead. That’s four and a half miles from where I’m writing this (at home).

Two years later he moved to larger premises at Ruckledge Avenue, Willesden. Then in 1896 he opened a showroom at 5 Soho Square (or Street), W1. In Willesden he got increasingly involved in the manufacture of photographic paper.

The catalogues of the annual exhibitions of the Royal Photographic Society (of which my Picture Post grandfather was a Fellow) list addresses for Thomas Illingworth & Co.:
1898 – 5 Soho Street; and Oxford Street, W. [a route I take often to cut through Soho Square to Frith, Greek and Dean Streets]
1900 & 1901 – The Photo Works, Willesden Junction, N.W.

His business continued to thrive so moved to a new factory in Cumberland Avenue, Park Royal. The foundation stone was laid on 4th September 1912. Between 1911 and 1914 the Manufacturing department trebled in size.

Jnr. married Marta Ann Midgely in 1891. They had six children. Their eldest son, yet another Thomas Illingworth (Thomas Midgely Illingworth), took over the firm when Jnr. retired in 1922, going to the big dark room in the sky in 1923, three years after my postcard. Jnr. Jnr. (i.e. Thomas Midgely Illingworth) took the business closer to Ilford until it was finally amalgamated, with him becoming a Director of Ilford in the process.

I’ve found a few other Horseshoe cards online:

TIC postcard markings logo mark brand

The date code (1922)

TIC postcard markings logo mark brand

The logo

TIC postcard markings logo mark brand

Blank reverse of a TIC card (1919)

TIC postcard markings logo mark brand

Front (1919) – not my one

TIC postcard markings logo mark brand

Is the dark shadow at the bottom some kind of modesty? or a mistake?

Back to my card…

TIC postcard markings logo mark brand

On the reverse of mine is a short lightly pencilled message:

Doff

With fondest

Love

Danny

So from meagre clues we have come some way. Who Doff, Danny and the girl on the front are, we’re unlikely ever to know. But who knows – this is the Internet…

tennis TIC vintage postcard reverse

1928 (reverse of tennis portrait below)

postcard TIC

another pencilled message

TIC thomas Illingworth postcard

I found a fascinating collection of 67 TIC cards here https://www.flickr.com/photos/alwyn_ladell/sets/72157645197389979/ gathered by Alwyn Ladell. He has captioned this one: Women’s Ward, Boscombe Hospital, Shelley Road, Boscombe, Bournemouth, Dorset
T.I.C. (Thomas Illingworth & Co.) Bailey, 228a Old Christchurch Road, Bournemouth.
Postally unused (c.1923).

 

 

Postcard No. 3

old german religious postcard traut bruckmann munich 1922 johannes st john passionspiele ober ammergauold german religious postcard traut bruckmann munich 1922 johannes st john passionspiele ober ammergau

 

old german religious postcard traut bruckmann munich 1922 johannes st john passionspiele ober ammergauold german religious postcard traut bruckmann munich 1922 johannes st john passionspiele ober ammergau

The third from my random collection of old postcards.

I think I took this as Jesus when I bought it (for 30p) because I’m fond of a good Jesus. My favourite is Jeffrey Hunter in King of Kings (also Captain Pike, original commander of the USS Enterprise in the first ever Star Trek).

Jeffrey Hunter in 'King of Kings' (1961) Directed by Nicholas Ray

Jeffrey Hunter in ‘King of Kings’ (1961) Directed by Nicholas Ray

But this turned out to be Johannes or John, presumably John the Baptist. He has a big crook so is clearly also a shepherd of men. I presume he too is an actor as the card is marked (in German) as an ‘Official Postcard’ of the Passionspiele (passion plays) at O. -Ammergau, Oberammergau, a village in Bavaria where a passion play has been performed since 1634. So not mediaeval like Brit passion plays, such as the York Mystery Cycle which dates from the mid-fourteenth century, but a good effort nonetheless. The Oberammergau plays are performed on open-air stages.

This one is dated 1922 and seems to be No. 74 in a series – that’s a lot of characters.

The printer was F. Bruckmann of Munich – Friedrich Bruckmann (died 1898). His older son Alphons and younger son, Hugo (13th October 1863, Munich – 3rd September 1941, Munich) took over F. Bruckmann KAG on his death. Hugo and his wife Elsa were among the early promoters of Hitler, helping him gain access to upper-class circles in the city.

From 1928 the Bruckmanns backed the National Socialist Society for German Culture. And from 1930 Hugo was a board member of the ‘Kampfbund’ (Pressure Group) for German culture, founded by Alfred Rosenberg. He was an NSDAP (Nazi party) member of the Reichstag (German parliament) from 1932 until his death in 1941. In 1933 he became a member of the board for German museums. It is suggested his personal influence on the Fuhrer helped reduce political interference in the cultural sphere. An attempt to ban Jewish books from libraries was successfully opposed by Bruckmann. Because Hugo knew the big man after the outbreak of war his publishing house was declared of special importance for the war effort. He was honoured with a state funeral in 1941.

Also mentioned on the back is ‘the Munich graphic business’ Pick & Co. They seem to have been in book publishing too. Alongside is a reference to “Kupfertiefdruck” which seems to translate as “Rotogravure” (literally Copper Gravure – Gravure is “a printing method in which an image is applied to a printing substrate by use of a metal plate mounted on a cylinder” so the cylinder explains the “‘roto” bit). Whether this is a rotogravure… Jesus (No. 1) knows.

On the front is written “Traut photo.”. Traut seems to be H. Traut of Munich. Here’s one of his from 1906:

three-girls-ladder-postcard H. Traut of Munich

Photographer: H. Traut of Munich (1906)

Atelier Henry Traut was in business from 1857 to 1940. It was based at Herzog-Wilhelm-Straße 32, Munich.

Here’s one of his ‘glamour’ photos:

henry traut photographer photograph glamour

And here’s the gen on him from the reverse of a postcard:

henry traut photographer munchen munich germany

So his speciality was taking portraits in private houses in daylight and artfully lit. There are whole books about him.

I found one other of his 1922 photos online:

ansichtskarte postkarte offizielle postkarte passionsspiele oberammergau 1922 traut postcard photo photograph

I”m not sure which number or character this is.

Other similar images from later years:

ansichtskarte oberammergau, passionsspiele 1930, johannes darsteller- hans lang postcard saint john

Another John from 8 years later (1930) actor Hans Lang

ansichtskarte oberammergau, passionsspiele 1930, jesus und maria mary postcard

Also from 1930, Jesus & Mary

ansichtskarte-oberammergau-passionsspiele-christi-abschied-von-maria-1900

An early one from 1900 – Mary’s farewell to Jesus

ak-oberammergau-passionsspiele-1950-judaskuss-szenenfoto-mit-anton-preisinger-u-hans-schwaighofer judas kiss postcard

A later one (1950) Judas’ kiss featuring actors Anton Preisinger (Jesus) & Hans Schwaighofer (Judas)

ak-ansichtskarte-passionsspiele-oberammergau-christus-anton-preisinger-autogramm-kat-events prob 1950 postcard jesus christ

At last No.1 Anton Preisinger as Jesus, complete with autograph (probably 1950)

ak-ansichtskarte-passionsspiele-oberammergau-christus-preisinger-anton-kat-events prob 1950 postcard jesus christ

Anton Preisinger as Jesus (probably 1950)

I like my one best.

Lost Postcards No.2

old postcard berlin henry ainley

The second recently re-found old postcard from my small, random collection

old postcard berlin henry ainley

This one cost me a massive 20p (pencilled on the back). I think I bought it because it reminded me of Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde.

Aubrey Beardsley (1872 – 1898) by Frederick H. Evans (c.1894)

Aubrey Beardsley (1872 – 1898) by Frederick H. Evans (c.1894)

The postcard was “Manufactured in Berlin”. Oddly it specifies “For Inland use only” – as it’s written in English I assume it means in Britain not Germany.

The sitter is quite androgynous as you can see.

Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas (1870–1945) is best known as Oscar Wilde’s lover, and is often blamed for his downfall.

Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas (1870–1945) is best known as Oscar Wilde’s lover, and is often blamed for his downfall.

The name ‘Henry Ainley’ is printed at the bottom.

It turns out Henry Hinchliffe Ainley died the same year as Bosie. His dates are 21st August 1879 – 31st October 1945. He was an English actor of stage and screen, specialising in Shakespeare.

He was born in Leeds and brought up in Morley by father Richard, a cloth finisher, and mother Ada. He moved to London to pursue his career in acting. He made his professional stage debut as a messenger in Macbeth with F.R. Benson’s company.  Later he joined Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s company. He first came to prominence in 1902 as Paolo in Paolo and Francesca.

He played Gloucester in Henry V at the Lyceum in London. Ainley returned to Leeds to appear at the Grand Theatre. Later roles included Oliver Cromwell, Mark Antony in Julius Caesar and the lead in Macbeth. In 1912 he portrayed Malvolio and then Leontes under the direction of Harley Granville-Barker. He played Hamlet several times, including a 1930 production which was selected for a Royal Command Performance.

John Gielgud thought highly of Ainley and had a long-standing ambition to perform with him which he eventually fulfilled when he played Iago to Ainley’s Othello in a 1932 BBC Radio broadcast. Gielgud however described Ainley’s Prospero as “disastrous”, recalling it in 1996 (in The Sunday Times).

Ainley played Shakespeare on screen in Henry VIII (1911) and As You Like It (1936), the latter alongside his son Richard and Laurence Olivier.

Among the other roles Ainley played were: Robert Waring in The Shulamite (The Savoy Theatre, London, 1906.); Joseph Quinney in Quinneys (on stage in 1915 and on film in 1919); in A. A. Milne’s The Dover Road opposite Athene Seyler (1922); the Bishop of Chelsea in Bernard Shaw’s Getting Married (The Haymarket Theatre);  James Fraser in St. John Ervine’s The First Mrs. Fraser (1929 on stage, 1932 on film); and he starred in James Elroy Flecker’s Hassan (on stage and on radio). He was an early example of stage-screen crossover.

His films include:
She Stoops to Conquer (1914)
Sweet Lavender (1915)
Sowing the Wind (1916)
The Marriage of William Ashe (1916)
The Manxman (1917) – not to be confused with the second silent adaptation, directed by Hitchcock twelve years alter (1929)
Build Thy House (1920)
The Prince and the Beggarmaid (1921)
The Royal Oak (1923)
The First Mrs. Fraser (1932)

In 1921 Ainley became a member of the council of RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) and was its president from 1931 to 1933.

Ainley led his own own theatre company. In 1932 he helped save the debt-laden Sadler’s Wells theatre. Ainley thought Sadler’s Wells regular Samuel Phelps the “greatest actor of all” and Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson “the greatest of Hamlets”.

Ainley was married three times – to Susanne Sheldon, Elaine Fearon and novelist Bettina Riddle (aka Baroness von Hutten zum Stolzenberg). He had several children, including actors Henry T. Ainley, Richard Ainley and Anthony Ainley, as well as non-thesps Sam and Timothy Ainley. Another off-spring was Henrietta Riddle, who was briefly engaged to journalist Alistair Cooke in 1932.

15 letters in the possession of Olivier’s widow, Joan Plowright, suggest that Ainley may have had a sexual relationship with Dear, Dear Larry in the late 30s. The letters suggest that Ainley was infatuated with Olivier.

Ainley died in London and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. I’ll go visit next time I’m over that way.

henry ainley as romeo in romeo and juliet

As Romeo in ‘Romeo and Juliet’

The photo in my postcard seems to have been taken by Lizzie Caswall-Smith.

henry ainley Photo by Lizzie Caswall-Smith

Lizzie Caswall-Smith (1870-1958) (possibly without hyphen) is pretty interesting in her own right. She was a British photographer who specialised in society and celebrity studio portraits. These were often used for postcards.

Caswall-Smith was associated with the women’s suffrage movement and photographed many suffragettes including Christabel Pankhurst, Flora Drummond and Millicent Fawcett. The other actors she photographed included Camille Clifford, Sydney Valentine, Billie Burke and Maude Fealy. She photographed Florence Nightingale in 1910 (which fetched £5,500 (Nov 2008)). On the back of that particular photograph she had jotted in pencil: “Florence Nightingale taken just before she died, House nr Park Lane (London). The only photograph I ever took out of studio – I shall never forget the experience.”

Caswall-Smith operated the Gainsborough Studio at 309 Oxford Street from 1907 until 1920 when she moved to 90 Great Russell Street. She stayed at that address until her retirement in 1930 (aged 60). She exhibited at the Royal Photographic Society in 1902 and 1913. Her portraits of Peter Llewelyn Davies and J. M. Barrie are in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London.

 

 

Square Root of Instagram

In 2006 at Channel 4 (London) I commissioned a mobile-centred website called Big Art Mob. It enabled users to publish photos of Public Art (from sculptures to graffiti) from their mobile phones. In other words, it was basically Instagram 4 years before Instagram was invented. It was created with digital all-rounder Alfie Dennen (father of We Are Not Afraid) using a photo-publishing platform he had developed with partners named Moblog. I had been experimenting with Moblog for 18 months when a TV project about Public Art (The Big Art Project) came over the horizon and it struck me as an ideal place to apply Moblog technology.

The main difference from Instagram is that Big Art Mob’s photos were not in square format.

Today I went to see the Klimt / Schiele exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. I have been a big admirer of Schiele since I heard about him from David Bowie on a radio programme around the time Lodger was released (1979). At the time the Austrian painter was little known outside cognoscenti circles (eg the Marlborough Gallery in London). I was taught a little by Frank Whitford at Cambridge who wrote the Phaidon monograph on Schiele. And I won a travel scholarship at Girton to go study his work in Vienna around 1984. Last year while working at ORF in Vienna I got to do a bit of a self-shaped Schiele tour to mark the centenary of his death which I wrote about in On The Trail of Egon Schiele. I even had a stab at a Schiele in a painting class I recently attended locally:

adam gee copy of egon schiele painting

The exhibition was excellent, bringing out the contrast between how and why Schiele and his mentor Klimt drew. Along the way it reminded me of Klimt’s distinctive adoption of the square format in his portrait painting. Which got me thinking about which other artists went square.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is a painting by Gustav Klimt, completed between 1903 and 1907. The portrait was commissioned by the sitter's husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Jewish banker and sugar producer. The painting was stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and displayed at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt (1903-1907)

Klimt’s famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer is 1.38m by 1.38m. It was commissioned by Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Jewish banker and sugar producer, husband of Adele. The painting was notoriously stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and displayed at Schloss Belvedere in Vienna, until being returned by the Austrian courts to Bloch-Bauer’s heirs in 2006 at which point it found a new home in New York. It is considered the zenith of Klimt’s golden period. It uses Klimt’s trademark technique of cropping the figure top and bottom to create a pillar through the canvas, here set slightly right to allow the bulk of the patterned dress or aura to balance the composition.

Square and portraits reminded me of the excellent Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain last year. The square format works particularly well in the double portraits which were the beating heart of that show.

My Parents 1977 by David Hockney born 1937

My Parents by David Hockney (1977)

The emotionally resonant My Parents is 1.83m by 1.83m, even more epic than the Klimt, yet with the most down-to-earth subjects. Each parent occupies their own half in a very different way – attentive mum, square on, in her own space; pre-occupied dad, at an angle, overlapping the furniture – subtly capturing the difference in parent-child relationship.

Hockney was born on 9th July 1937, eight days before my dad. Nine days later another German Jew, Gerda Taro, died in Spain. She has the tragic distinction of being the first female photojournalist to have been killed while covering war at the frontline. This evening I started watching My Private War for this year’s BAFTA judging, starring Rosamund Pike as Marie Colvin, a latter day Taro. Recently, also for voting purposes (BAFTA Documentary Film chapter), I watched the feature documentary Under The Wire, likewise about the life and death of Colvin (killed in Homs, Syria by an Assad regime air-strike). Taro was killed during the Spanish Civil War in a tragic accident involving a reversing Republican tank.

republican woman 1936 gerda taro

Republican militiawoman training on the beach outside Barcelona by Gerda Taro (1936)

Taro was another stand-out squarist. She was partner of Magnum photojournalist Robert Capa. (Capa was introduced to the world by Picture Post in 1938, where my maternal grandfather worked. The Hungarian Jew, who famously lived out of a suitcase for most of his adult life, co-founded the Magnum photo agency with Henri Cartier-Bresson and others.) I saw Tara’s first ever US solo show at the International Center of Photography in New York in 2007. Capa picked up the habit from Taro and there are a number of square photographs attributed to Capa which are widely thought to actually be the work of Taro.

These days I find myself photographing square by default. I’ve enjoyed using Instagram for years as a platform for photography only (none of the Stories bollocks or video). Initially it was an excellent way to syndicate your photos across your social accounts (when it was linked to Flickr – the monopolists must have disconnected on account of Yahoo’s ownership of Flickr I guess). Square poses its own compositional challenges which by and large I enjoy rising to – there are not that many shots I take which can’t be accommodated in the stable, equal-sided space. It encourages the use of diagonals which can be dynamic. Here’s one of my favourite of my square compositions:

statue of george orwell outside the BBC (New Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London)

Statue of George Orwell outside the BBC (New Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London) March 2018

The square is stable enough to carry the two dark figures on the right side. Orwell’s statue is characteristically smoking, hence the appeal of the BBC smoker – both are fag in hand. Of course Orwell like Taro was a graduate of the Spanish Civil War but he made it home to the BBC and to die in the relatively civilised surroundings of UCH (University College Hospital, established by two of my distant ancestors on the Picture Post grandfather’s side, and where both my boys were born). Orwell’s house (at 1 South End Road) is along the same road in Hampstead/Parliament Hill where my dad grew up. He was a child of refugees from Nazi Germany.

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear

To round off these square stories, Taro was given a funeral, attended by thousands, by the Communist Party of France. She was buried at Père Lachaise on 1st August 1937 (what would have been her 27th birthday) in a grave designed by Alberto Giacometti. On the tomb is written, in French and Catalan

So nobody will forget your unconditional struggle for a better world

Fast-forward to the summer of 2016 – an open-air display of Taro’s Spanish Civil War photos was included in the f/stop photography festival in Leipzig. Leipzig is where my dad was born in July 1937 in the shadow of the Nazi fascist regime, a swastika and eagle on his birth certificate. When f/stop ended, it was decided that the display would become permanent. This was partly financed through crowdfunding. On the night of 3rd/4th August 2016 (two days after Taro’s 106th birthday), the display was destroyed by being daubed with black tar-like paint. This dark act of destruction was widely suspected to be motivated by anti-semitism or anti-refugee politics. A further crowdfunding campaign more than raised the €4,000 required to restore the vandalised photos. The equal and opposite forces of creativity and destruction, light and dark, squared up to one another.

Be there and be square.

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

 

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

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