October, 2013 Archives

Catholic Evidence Guild, 1955

Chinese hostel, Chinatown, 1942

My latest book is about that brilliant photojournalist, Bert Hardy. Bert was born into a poor working-class family in Blackfriars in South London in 1913. Leaving school at fourteen, his first job was as a delivery boy with a photographic printing company. Fascinated by the photographic process, Bert bought himself a secondhand camera and started taking photographs of pub outings and other local events, selling copies to make a few extra shillings.
From there, he soon progressed to freelancing his work, combining his love of cycling to take photos of races for The Bicycle magazine. Using the newly introduced 35mm ‘miniature’ cameras, he was able to catch action with a flexibility that was not possible with the standard plate film press cameras used by most professional photographers.
Bert’s photographs were eventually noticed by the editor of Picture Post magazine, Tom Hopkinson, who took him on as a staff photographer on the trailblazing magazine that was redefining the use of photographs in Britain. Apart from spending three years in the Army’s Film and Photographic Unit, Bert became a mainstay of Picture Post until its demise in 1957. His outstanding work includes such iconic photographs as the two Gorbals boys and the two girls on the railings at Blackpool with their skirts billowing in the breeze. He visited Liverpool regularly and I have reproduced two of the images from the book courtesy of Getty Images. The first is of a lady espousing the virtues of Catholicism (I am guessing – the photograph is captioned the Catholic Evidence Guild). The other is a very atmospheric image of four Chinese sailors sitting round a table in a Chinese hostel in Chinatown. In a much earlier post, I have mentioned the dreadful way Chinese merchant sailors were treated (they were expected to take all the risks on the convoys at a fraction of the pay of British seamen with no compensation for death in service).
The book Bert Hardy’s Britain is now available and is, if I may be so bold, the best book I have ever done, with over 200 of Bert’s photographs taken between 1940 and 1956.

Following my last post about Sefton Park Meadows, the City council has taken another step towards approving the sell off of this important green space. Mayor Anderson claims that the impending ‘bankruptcy’ of the Council leaves him no other option and that the people of Liverpool understand and are behind him. I doubt his assumption and can only ask why this particular piece of land? There are acres of brownfield land that needs regenerating, so why choose perhaps the most sensitive plot for luxury, speculative housing.
Today’s photograph is of one such brownfield site that has been successfully redeveloped. The architecture of the new Princes Dock is bland and unexciting but, at least, it contributes to the regeneration of the city. Its redevelopment came at the early stages of Liverpool’s renaissance – perhaps too early in the sense that later development might have meant better buildings. However, as Quentin Hughes once pointed out to me, most buildings are only temporary and will be replaced in the course of time – unlike green space which once built on will nearly always remain built on.
The 1880s view of Princes Dock has only one familiar landmark – the spire of the Church of St Nicholas. The scene is devoid of people and, judging by the lack of shadows, must have been taken close to midday. My guess is on a Sunday. At any other time, the dock would have been a hive of activity. The long exposure meant that movement would be blurred, so the photographer has timed his exposure to eliminate such a risk.