The British Abroad

The British Abroad

Another brilliant photobook from Peter Dench is released on 10 July. Just in time for your summer holiday reading!

The Sunday Times Magazine gave the book an incredible 10 pages in its 28 June edition:

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Is photography art?

Patrick Ward Pearly Kings and Queens, East London, 1974

Patrick Ward Salvation Army at a care home, Accrington, 1976

Patrick Ward Master of Hounds, Blencathra Hunt, 1992

Patrick Ward Ballet students waiting to dance, London, 1978

While down in London last week, I picked up a copy of Grayson Perry’s new book Playing to the Gallery. As you would expect, it is both witty and profound at the same time, with his illustrations illuminating his reflections about art. I was particularly taken by his paragraph on photography:

‘We live in an age when photography rains on us like sewage from above. So how do you tell if a photo’s art? Well, you could probably just see if they’re smiling. If they’re smiling, it’s probably not art. And you could also ask, is there a lot of meaning emanating from this image?’

Perry then asked Martin Parr for his definition of an art photo. “Well, if it bigger than two metres and is priced higher than five figures” was the slightly facetious reply.

Now I am not going to get embroiled in the arguement about photography and art – too much energy has already been spent in that direction. My own interest in photography is in its value in documenting the moment. I am fascinated by that frozen moment in time that will inform future generations about who we are. My support for photojournalism is to ensure that the hard work of great photographers is made available for a wider public.  The books I publish are a record of their time, whether the 1940s and 50s through the lens of Bert Hardy, 0r, more recently, Pete Dench’s often shocking images of our obsession with alcohol. Are they art? Well, they don’t sell for five figures and they are available only in a modest 29x27cm page format – so that might answer the question. And people do smile – maybe not all of them but a good percentage.

At least they do in Patrick Ward’s marvellous Being English. Fifty years of documenting his fellow natives have resulted in a perceptive and funny take on how we celebrate and enjoy our leisure time (even in windswept Blackpool). Patrick is the consummate professional; having started work as ex-Picture Post‘s John Chillingworth’s assistant in the early 1960s, he went on to work for The Sunday Times and Observer magazines in their pioneering days. I have not asked Patrick if he considers himself an artist – I am sure he will be happy to be known as the great photographer that he is.

 

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Remembering Thurston Hopkins

Photographs courtesy of Getty Images

The recent death of Godfrey Thurston Hopkins at the grand age of 101 did not pass unnoticed. I was saddened at the news, having intended to publish a book of his work. I am slowly working my way through the great Picture Post photographers, starting with Bert Hardy (Bert Hardy’s Britain published 2013) and following up with Kurt Hutton next year. Gordon Fraser did publish a slim monograph of his work some 30+ years ago (as they did with Bert Hardy) but Thurston deserved much more.
I communicated by letter and received detailed replies full of wit and wisdom (astonishing for a man approaching his century). A specific question was about his award winning assignment on Liverpool’s slums in 1956, which Picture Post proprietor Edward Hulton pulled from publication after representations from Liverpool City Council – who thought it was a slur on the city. The remarkable pictures, like Bert Hardy’s controversially unpublished photos of Korean prisoners of war, won the Encyclopaedia Britannica award for the year (the photo-journalists’ ‘Oscar’).

To quote from Thurston’s letters: ‘My memory of that week roving around the city’s really bad spots is of encountering friendliness and hospitality almost everywhere. As soon as we uttered the words Picture Post, doors flew open, a cuppa was produced and reminiscences of years living in the area flowed.’
‘In the picture of the harassed father carrying his baby son, I was too occupied with obtaining any kind of exposure in the dim light to be really aware of the other children dancing around him … To me the edge of darkness is a magical time; black and white film might have been invented to serve the nocturnal imagination. “Black, far more than all the resplendent colours of the palette and prism, is the medium of the mind,” wrote the painter Odilon Redon, and it really does seem as if black and white, much more than colour photography, has the power to sort out and emphasise significant form. The same picture is now travelling around the country in a show entitled Unpopular Culture, selected by Grayson Perry for the Arts Council. All of which is a far cry from your book (Picture Post on Liverpool) except that I remember revelling in the bad light prevailing throughout the slums. Grayson Perry also fell for the child in bed.’

In his hundredth year, Thurston send me a card apologising for the delay in replying to a point I had raised, explaining that he had been extremely busy but he would get round to it as soon as possible. What a way to live your life and what a great photographer!

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Wind of Change

Wind of Change
Photographer John Bulmer
ISBN: 9781908457226
Format: Hardback (270x290mm)252pp
RP: £19.99

“The wind of change is blowing through this continent, and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it.”

On 3 February 1960, Harold Macmillan, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, made his controversial ‘Wind of Change’ speech to a hostile South African Parliament, in which he signalled his government’s intention to roll out independence to many of the British colonies. The speech was received in stony silence, particularly his critical comments on South Africa’s abhorrent policy of apartheid.

In 1964, The Sunday Times Magazine commissioned journalist Richard West and photographer John Bulmer to document the radical changes sweeping through Africa, devoting a whole issue to their report, ‘The White Tribes of Africa’. Visiting 14 countries over a two-month period, John captured the dying embers of colonialism set against a growing African nationalism.

Africa was just a starting point and over the next 15 years, John continued photographing the profound social and political changes sweeping across the world, from the slow disintegration of the Middle East and the early signs of the collapse of the Communist bloc, to the totalitarianism of China and North Korea.
In the mid-sixties, as now, America was a country of extremes, but the grinding, hopeless poverty of two very different areas – Appalachia in East Kentucky and Oakland, California – was still a shocking contrast to the rest of America’s wealth. President Johnson’s War on Poverty, launched in 1964, appeared to have had little effect. In South America, as capitalism and communism fought out their ideological battle, Bulmer brilliantly captured the collusion between the military and church for control of the hearts and minds of the people.

The pictures in this book offer a glimpse of a changing world. Colour photography as journalism was new at that time. Until the publication of the first colour supplement by The Sunday Times in 1962, colour photography had been used for advertising, fashion or travel pictures but rarely for photojournalism. John Bulmer was a pioneer and his work is now receiving the recognition it deserves.

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Being English

Being English
Photographer Patrick Ward
ISBN: 9781908457219
Format: Hardback (270x290mm)216pp
RP: £19.99

The English are a gregarious lot. Give them the chance to party and they turn up in their droves. For fifty years, Patrick Ward has been documenting their glorious mix of eccentricity, exuberance and quiet reserve. His early photographs show a class-ridden society still hide-bound and traditional – the antithesis of the Swinging Sixties. Only a lone image of the 1968 Isle of Wight Festival hints at that seismic cultural change. Even in the 1970s, photographs of the Eton Wall Game, a stiff city gent being measured for a hunting jacket and debutantes at Queen Charlotte’s Ball contrast starkly with Yorkshire miners enjoying their gala and whippet racers in Accrington.
In the mid-1970s, Ward switched to colour and his glorious shots give full reign to a nation’s love of occasion and dressing-up. The class divide is still there but the photographs increasingly emphasise how the English have changed as newly arrived ethnic groups claim their place with their own celebrations.
But there is a common factor; a love of tradition and occasion and in Patrick Ward, we have a photographer in the finest documentary tradition, who has assembled a magnificent, often hilarious, record of the English at play.

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A&E: Alcohol and England

A & E: Alcohol and England
Photographer Peter Dench
ISBN: 9781908457233
Format: Hardback (270x290mm)156pp
RP: £19.99

Pickled. Soused. Mullered. Blotto. Hog-whimpering. Pie-eyed. Tired and emotional; downwind of a few. The presence of so many words and phrases in the English language to describe a state of inebriation surely says something about the English themselves: this is a nation that seeks the comfort of oblivion – towards the bottom of a bottle.
But why do the English tipple until they fall over? Is it simply the weather, so wearyingly unpredictable? Is it to overcome the awkwardness inherent in a half-denied class system? Is it just because the English are more culturally advanced, and have realized there is no cure for the human condition but nice-tasting painkillers?
All these possibilities are explored in Peter Dench’s witty, challenging, sometimes dazzling, sometimes affecting photo-diary of Anglo-Celtic drunkenness. The result is a unique and compelling visual history, full of photography that bears a striking resemblance to the drinking it depicts: at best it is perfectly intoxicating.

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Streets of Liverpool Blog

Colin Wilkinson, managing director of Bluecoat Press also has a popular blog, Streets of Liverpool.

Colin says about the blog:

The idea for a site dedicated to photographs of Liverpool came out of my work as a publisher. I set up The Bluecoat Press in 1992 and have published over 200 books on local history and related themes. My particular interest is the visual image (I have been involved in photography for many years and set up the city’s Open Eye Gallery in 1977).

Over the years, I have collected a substantial archive photographs documenting Liverpool in the 19th and 20th centuries and have attempted, through Bluecoat Press’s books, to bring them to a wider audience.

One of my main aims as a publisher has been to create awareness of the thousands of images that are stored in archives, public and private. Liverpool is fortunate in that so much of its history has been documented photographically but, all too often, it is difficult for the public to access collections.

The internet is a tremendous (and free) way of opening up archives to a wider readership and Streets of Liverpool is my contribution towards encouraging a better understanding of Liverpool’s great history.

Please add your comments. If you can add information about each posting, this will only make the blog more worthwhile.

Visit the Streets of Liverpool blog.

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