Britain in Focus – Episode 3

The final episode in the BBCs series Britain in Focus hosted by Eamonn McCabe aired on Monday March 20.

In this episode McCabe brings the 180 years of photography history up to the present day by covering colour film and digital advances.

Photography had been in a monochromatic world until after the second world war. When colour film was introduced and John Hinde created the colour picture postcard. Hinde had created a colour picture book before the war and set up the picture postcard business in 1957. The vivid colours in the postcards were created in a development laboratory in Italy, which Hinde over saw.

Hinde Postcard
Hinde, J, Egremont Castle

Hinde inspired the colour palette of documentary photographer Martin Parr.

Parr is one of Britain’s most famous photographers, whose photographs have divided opinion on him. In 1984 Parr released The Last Resort looking at the working class area of New Brighton in Liverpool. The response from some was that it was a cruel and snobish view of the working class. In Parr’s next book The Cost of Living he looked at the middle class in Bristol.

In 1963 Kodak launched the Instamatic camera that used a cartridge film making it easier for people to use and colour images started to replace black and white.

Though black and white was still seen as the way forward for serious documentary photographers however John Bulmer on assignment for the Sunday Times Magazine conducted a shoot in the North of England and used colour film.

Bulmer, J

While colour film was becoming industry standard Jane Bown of the Observer continued to work in black and white taking portraits of the Beatles and other celebrities. Bown split time her time between London spending two days in the city and the rest of her time in the countryside. In Bown’s portriats the eyes very important and would circle the sitter until Bown had an “ah, there you are” moment.

Jane Bown Samuel Beckett
Bown, J., Samuel Beckett

As cameras became increasingly available the 1970s saw independent photographers looking at the stories that nobody was telling,  Vanley Burke a Jamiacan immigrant to Birmingham was one of these and displayed his photographs locally rather than natinally allowing them to speak directly to the people he was photographing.

Another independent photographer was Peter Mitchell, who documented the demolishing of old town Leeds. Mitchell’s photographes are almost a text and image piece with the depth of informatin that is held in the caption. In 1979 Mitchell started photographing a Homemade Ghost Train with owner Francis Gavan and continued this for over 30 years. While shooting in Leeds Mitchell developed a reputation of if he photographed it it was going to be demolished.

Helping to develop the emerging photographers were groups of galleries, of which Val Williams was working for one and exhibited Mitchell’s photographs at the time when none of the major galleries such as the Tate would buy and exhibit photographs.

Moving away from documentary photography McCabe looks at Fay Godwin who was a landscape photographer. In 1985 Godwin released Land a black and white book of landscape photographs, the book contrasted with Godwins view of the country. Godwin’s follow up book Our Forbidden Land showed how the landscape was being changed by money and power.

The last part of the episode was McCabe looking at the future of photography, with a reference to the Digital vs Film debate. Does an automated focus and exposure mean loss of composition?

To this McCabe brings the work of Mishka Henner who uses satellite imagery to access forbidden areas. Then places the satellite image in the border of the restricted area, adds the name and the coordinates to the piece. Is what Henner does documentary photography? Is it art?

To finish the series the social media application Instagram is discussed by McCabe and 16 year old Molly. The accessibility of the images produced with people around the world seeing photographs that would once over have only been seen by extended family and friends or had the reach if they were published in a national newspaper. The content was also discussed with McCabe coming to the conclusion that self portraits or ‘selfies’ are the photograph of Instagram.

The series has been very good, it has highlighted some of the important developments in photography and named some of the important figures in its development and establishment. It has I feel missed some influential photographers such as Tony Ray Jones and David Bailey to name two. The basic discussion on the potential of social media also missed the mark as news agencies are sourcing images and videos from there as well as the range of landscape photographers that are on instagram.


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