British Photography: Some Pointers

Not much of the photography ever carried out in Britain can be classed as purely British photography. There was, though, a national movement of some consequence during the 1930s.

British Photography: Some Pointers

The names associated with it are those of James Jarche, Edward Malindine, Reg Sayers, Harold Tomlin and George Woodbine. They worked for the Daily Herald, a newspaper inclined to the Left and owned by Odhams, which also set up the story magazine, Weekly Illustrated, in 1934. They were populist photographers who could turn their hand to anything: the distressed areas, royal tours, the plight of fishing, a day at the races. Photography was never as central to the culture either before or after – partly because it had a lot of the field to itself at that time. Between them, Jarche and his associates projected an image of the British as indomitable and good-humoured participants in the national pageant. They took it for granted, more or less, that British life was a contrivance and that they were among the impresarios. They often, for example, photographed each other in action taking pictures of ‘news in the making’.

William Gaunt, the sketch writer and illustrator, called the tendency ‘Anglo-Dickens’, in honour of the writer himself and of his illustrator Phiz. By far the most successful actor in the British pageant was Winston Churchill, got up as an impresario in his own right in a Homburg and a cigar, acting the part of a man in touch with the people, brick-laying and roof-tiling. The pageant wasn’t a harmless bit of fun, but a test, which could also be failed. Churchill could cope and he could thrive on stage, but there were others who couldn’t act the part with anything like the exuberance required in the circumstances: Chamberlain and Halifax, tentative at Heston airport in outfits which made them look awkward, didn’t pass the photographic test.

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Published in Photoworks issue 8, 2007
Commissioned by Photoworks

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