Eamonn explores how British photographers responded to historic events in the first half of the the 20th century and traces the emergence of photojournalism.
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This programme contains scenes which some viewers may find disturbing.
On 29th May 1985, I came here to Heysel Stadium in Brussels.
I was a sports photographer for the Observer and looking forward to
recording the European Cup Final between Liverpool and Juventus.
I wasn't expecting anything like the horror that was about to unfold
and which I would capture on camera.
The place was packed, as I remember, and it was warm, like it is today.
And I was getting great pictures.
The stands are full of screaming and yelling
and the joy of a midsummer game. It was fantastic.
But before kick-off there was trouble.
A group of Liverpool fans charged towards Juventus supporters,
forcing them to flee.
The Juventus fans couldn't escape.
They had nowhere to go.
And just as I get to the wall, the wall breaks.
CRASHING AND SHOUTING
I take two frames on a very cheap Sure Shot camera.
And I get these pictures of these poor souls
being crushed and gasping for air,
and I got out the way
because I could tell all hell was breaking loose.
Then I went into news photographer mode.
What is going on? What is the story?
I didn't know, so I shot everything I could.
The ambulance men, the ambulances, the home-made stretchers,
all the people I remember, sadly, going blue on the pitch.
It was appalling.
And the strange thing of people losing their shoes on these terraces
is a very powerful image.
I didn't know at the time, but 39 people had been killed
and hundreds seriously injured.
My job now was to record these terrible scenes.
Heysel is by far the worst memory I have
from a long career in photography,
and that night in the stadium has troubled me ever since.
I won an award for my pictures from Heysel Stadium.
I wish I never had.
It was the most awful night,
and those pictures will haunt me for ever.
I came here as a sports photographer and left as a news photographer.
Ever since that night in Heysel,
I've wanted to better understand how photographers have responded to the
most important events in our history,
and so in this programme,
I'll look back to the start of the 20th century
when a new genre emerged - photojournalism.
I'll find out how a pioneering press
reported an infamous armed siege in Edwardian London,
how soldiers became citizen journalists,
how game-changing printing and camera technologies
transformed the practice of photography,
and I'll also discover how rare talents like Cecil Beaton
injected a new visual flair
to create a glamorous world of style and fashion.
And I'll explore how all this meant
that by the end of the Second World War,
British photography had become the dominant visual medium.
My journey starts at one of Britain's oldest newspapers.
At the Daily Mirror's press plant in Watford,
they print almost one million copies every night,
each page filled with photographs
illustrating the latest news stories.
But at the start of the 20th century,
a photograph could only appear in a newspaper as an engraved copy.
Then, in 1904, the Mirror exploited a new printing technology
to allow the actual photographic image to appear on the page.
At the Mirror's press plant, they also have an archive,
where I want to look at the first time a big news story
was extensively covered by British photographers.
Here, they have a collection of quarter-plate glass negatives,
the format of choice for the press back then,
and there's one particular event
that kick-started photojournalism in this country.
It took place on 3rd January 1911, and centred on a tense standoff
between the authorities and an armed gang in Sydney Street, east London,
following a botched robbery that had killed three policemen.
Now, this photograph is so powerful.
The soldiers are pointing their guns
at the very window where they believe the people are holed up,
and a few policemen standing underneath a hoarding by a shop.
For me, the drama is being with the soldiers.
I feel as though I am one of them, looking down this street,
not knowing maybe where the danger is.
It's got energy, it's got fear,
you're not quite sure what's happening in the middle distance
because it's a bit muzzy and soft,
but you know something serious has gone on.
But what I do really like about it
is the fact that we're right in the middle of the action.
This extraordinary photograph, taken just a few yards from where
the gunmen had barricaded themselves in,
would make the front cover of the Daily Mirror the following morning.
The first thing I noticed from this Daily Mirror front page
was the powerful crop.
There are three soldiers in the original glass plate,
but here it's down to two,
making it even stronger.
And because the background is slightly out of focus,
they've had to label what's been going on.
Plain clothes police fired from these doorways.
Police fired from these windows.
And this is the window from which the burglars fired.
And down here, sinister,
very, very sinister, is armed police.
It's a very clever device.
Looks crude now,
but very powerful at the time, but this told the viewers,
the buyers of this Daily Mirror,
everything they needed to know,
and it would've added thousands to their sales.
Now, this photograph is amazing.
I have never seen so many people watch a big news event.
Nowadays, the police would clear you behind lines half a mile away,
but here, the public are part of the picture.
Thousands of them. It's incredible.
Now, I'm astounded by this photograph -
to get so near policemen aiming to shoot their guns at a window
in Sydney Street.
You don't get anywhere near like that now.
Nowhere near. You would not see a policeman that close with guns,
and to see policemen with guns on the streets of London is shocking,
and it must've shocked the people of Britain in those days.
Despite their skill and bravery,
these Mirror photographers were never credited by name,
yet their work meant the Sydney Street siege
was covered in unprecedented depth,
dozens of images appearing to illustrate
the copy of the journalists.
The most intriguing character for me is, Winston Churchill turns up.
Now, this guy had been a journalist, so he knows the power of the press,
he knows the power of his own image being in the press,
and here he is, surrounded by guns.
It's an amazing photo opportunity.
Probably the first photo opportunity for a politician.
The most dramatic news story in Edwardian Britain
ended with a six-hour gun battle,
during which a fire engulfed the building
where the gang were holed up. All of them were killed.
I really admire these pioneers,
these early photographers in newspapers, my game.
To take such strong pictures so many years ago,
I take my hat off to them.
To get this close with the basic cameras they had,
plate cameras shooting a glass plate like this,
this is really incredible and powerful,
and the Mirror got a great set of pictures the next morning.
This fantastic story of Sydney Street
was the making of press photography
and led to the Mirror becoming one of the country's
There was a growing public appetite for photography,
and now a major national institution
sought to harness its power with pictures which, for the first time,
would reveal an intimate view of the Armed Forces.
Wellington Barracks is home to the Household Division...
..one of the oldest and most illustrious regiments
of the British Army.
I'm following in the footsteps of one photographer who was given
unprecedented access to record the lives of British soldiers here
in the years leading up to the First World War.
Christina Broom was a middle-aged housewife who took up photography
when her husband became seriously ill,
and I think her great skill was in
creating portraits that showed
the human faces behind
the fighting machine.
HE SHOUTS COMMANDS
Almost a century later, the Army have agreed to let me photograph
the same regiment as they perform their traditional morning parade.
This was ground-breaking documentary photography.
Never before had everyday life in the Army been captured this way,
with its routines and rituals,
from daily chores to the pleasure of Christmas lunch.
And as this morning parade ends,
I get the chance to snap a few more informal shots with some of the lads
from the Household Division.
Lovely. That's great, thank you very much.
Thanks for the picture. Thank you.
Broom was a canny entrepreneur and she harnessed a new phenomenon
in Edwardian Britain in order to earn a living from her work.
The picture postcard was the perfect vehicle for her, and it helped embed
photography as the most popular visual medium of the day.
At the Museum of London, they have an archive of these postcards.
Here I am meeting curator Anna Sparham
to find out how Broom exploited this new form.
She would come to the barracks a couple of times a week.
She'd set up a little table and you can even see, actually,
here, where she's got an image of the soldiers
-browsing through her stock of postcards.
So people could order several dozen at a time.
They wouldn't necessarily order one,
and obviously when you've got a group shot,
that's several heads times...
-That's good business.
-It's good business.
Broom's postcards were also sold in stationery shops across London.
This was a golden era for the picture postcard,
cheaper to send than a letter.
There were up to ten deliveries a day.
Millions were sold in Britain every year,
and it became a popular way to consume the photographic image.
How did she produce these wonderful postcards?
Well, it was very much a cottage industry.
Compared to some of the mass-production
picture postcard agencies that were out there producing millions a year,
she was at home and, to be honest,
this is very much a mother-daughter business.
Winnie, her daughter,
would have been the person printing the vast majority
of these postcards, and they could produce hundreds a night.
-Winnie has even said that she could make up to 1,000 a night.
And for them, it was very important that they were able to get prints
back to their customers incredibly quickly,
so that was really what they prided themselves on.
Living in Fulham, London,
Broom realised that every big event in the capital
was a business opportunity she could exploit.
She regularly photographed the Boat Race on the Thames
and also snapped the tumultuous suffragette marches.
But it was her work with the military
which had the most widespread appeal and the biggest impact.
The Army top brass were delighted.
Christina's ability to capture that everyday, relaxed soldier
gave a really different impression of life in the Army
and, in fact,
the Army credited her with boosting recruitment because soldiers would
send their photographs home to family and friends,
they'd see these happy, healthy soldiers at the barracks
and would be really keen to sign up.
When the First World War began in August 1914,
Broom recorded the excitement of many troops
as they eagerly left for France.
But she wasn't a combat photographer
and stayed behind to document life on the home front.
ROUSING MUSIC PLAYS
# When first I made me mind up that a soldier I would be
# The girl that I was courting with came round and said to me
# I've had me photo taken, Bill
# If we are to part
# Promise me you'll always wear my photo next your heart... #
The first wave of British troops arrived here on the Western Front
in northern France, where they dug their first trenches
and prepared for battle.
# ..The photo of the girl I left behind me
# I went and joined the Army full of glee... #
And some of these soldiers
did something that had never been done before.
They brought their own cameras
and immediately began photographing
their own unique vision of the front line.
The British soldiers were armed with one of the most important
photographic inventions of the 20th century.
The Vest Pocket Kodak was aimed directly at the troops
and became known as "the Soldier's Kodak".
The VPK was the latest design from the company
which had pioneered the first roll-film cameras,
with the release of the Box Brownie a decade earlier.
Cheap to buy and easy to use,
this revolutionary camera ushered in a mass democracy of picture-taking
and also introduced a new level of realism
into British war photography.
To find out more, I'm meeting historian Richard van Emden,
who has brought his own VPK.
The camera itself is beautiful, all metal construction, lightweight,
about the size of an iPhone today,
so you could pop it in your waistcoat.
For a soldier, it would be in his tunic pocket or his haversack.
Very easy to use.
You pull out the bellow lens here.
You then set your shutter speed,
so you could set it to a 25th or a 50th,
depending on how bright it was,
and then your aperture here on the bottom.
Then you look through the viewfinder on the top.
There is a little viewfinder here. This is for a portrait.
Take your photograph. If you're doing a landscape,
you can turn that viewfinder around, once more take your picture.
You can be taking a photograph within seconds of pulling it out
of your haversack, so perfect for trench conditions.
And it had this wonderful device for captioning.
Yes, it had this stylus,
this little rod on the back here,
and you could open up the back of the camera here
and you could take the stylus out
and you could actually write in on the negative what you'd just taken.
So, you'd taken a picture at Fricourt, a couple of miles away,
you could write "Fricourt", the date,
and that'd be preserved on the final photograph that you would make.
So you would never have to write notes about,
"Oh, where was that possibly taken?"
You had it already written on the photograph.
It's shame this went out of photography.
Every day, I take pictures
and I forget three months later where they were.
Exactly. And for soldiers, in the extremis of warfare, you know,
you didn't want to be pulling out notebooks and making notes,
you just wanted to quickly scratch it on the back, close, off you go,
continue your war.
For me, these photographs of everyday life in the trenches
are all the more poignant because of the tragedy that was later to come.
The vast majority are scenes of trench life,
of men cooking, of men... just friends together, buddies,
got arms round each other, and behind the scenes, at rest.
You would see them in their camps, in their billets, playing sport,
so it showed as much as the soldier could afford to take
given the circumstances they were living under.
In the first 12 months of the war,
there were very few press photographers on the front line,
so newspapers offered hundreds of pounds to buy soldiers' pictures.
taken by British soldier Robert Money, is believed to be
one of the first pictures of action on the Western Front.
The men are seen diving for cover from a German attack.
It was published in the War Illustrated newspaper
in November 1914.
But the Army were unhappy that they weren't in control of these images.
This was heightened a month later
when soldiers photographed one of the most famous events of the war.
The really great case are pictures taken of the Christmas truce,
an incredibly historically important event.
1914, the Germans and the British meet in no-man's-land.
The only cameras that were there that day
were privately held cameras, were the VPKs of that time.
And they took pictures of them,
standing together swapping cigarettes and food, and chatting.
Incredibly important historical documents.
Images of fraternisation like these
marked a turning point for the soldier photographers.
Strict new censorship rules were introduced.
Well, when these pictures appeared in the press, in the national press,
in January 1915, the military authorities were apoplectic.
They'd known that the fraternisation had taken place, they'd banned it,
they said nothing like this is going to happen again.
But to add salt to the wound,
were suddenly these pictures of British and German soldiers mates.
I mean, you can't have this in the middle of a war.
So they introduced this War Office instruction
saying absolutely, from now on,
you will be completely forbidden from not only taking photographs,
but they made the point,
and you are forbidden from selling them to the press,
and that was crucial.
So from that time on, was from about mid-1915,
you really see far fewer cameras on the Western Front,
privately held cameras.
It's sad but, luckily for us, for posterity,
some of them kept them and hid them.
But there was a real risk. If you were caught,
then you were straight back into the trenches,
so it was a very risky situation from 1915 onwards.
And after cameras were banned in 1915,
few soldiers risked the very real threat of a court martial.
But the pictures they had taken are a moving historical record
and, for me, these troops can claim to be the first citizen journalists,
documenting their own personal experience of war.
They were certainly part of a generation
for whom taking photographs was now a normal part of everyday life.
By 1918, when the war ended,
almost three-quarters of a million British troops had died,
including many of those captured in these pictures.
They are gone,
but the photographs survive as a compelling visual testimony
of one of the deadliest conflicts ever.
And at the same time as this new style of photography
was emerging to make a powerful document of our history,
back in London, the 19th-century tradition of portraiture
was being reinvented by a young maverick
with a distinctive artistic approach.
This is Alvin Langdon Coburn,
captured in a typically stylish self-portrait.
An American who moved to this country as a young man,
he was part of an exclusive circle of British photographers
who wanted to pursue the medium as an art form in its own right.
Coburn first made his name in 1906
with this notorious portrait of playwright George Bernard Shaw
adopting the pose of Auguste Rodin's The Thinker.
And through his friendship with Shaw,
Coburn went on to become
the country's first celebrity photographer,
taking a series of captivating profiles,
like this one of the poet WB Yeats.
I'm meeting Nadav Kander,
an acclaimed photographer
who draws inspiration from Coburn's approach
to create stylish portraits of famous figures today.
What's your appreciation of this portrait of WB Yeats?
I think it's a great example of Coburn collaborating with his sitter
and, as I understand it, WB is reciting poetry in this picture.
And through that, it feels very intimate,
and especially for the time.
I don't think there were many pictures that were
so aggressively staring at you.
When I first saw this picture,
I thought that mouth is really quizzical.
Am I being quizzed? Am I being scrutinised?
It felt quite arrogant, in a way.
Each viewer looks at that differently.
-What do you think?
-I look at it and I get a sense of danger from it.
There's an urgency, a vibrancy about it
-and it also feels incredibly intimate TO ME.
I'm thinking he's talking to me.
Exactly. The other thing that's so clear is that it's 100% honest.
For some reason, we know, we can read body language, or the frown,
or the mouth,
somehow we know that that is not set up, that is not clever,
which must have been really startling at the time.
Coburn wanted to break down
the barriers between photographer and sitter.
And Nadav, too, wants to make his subjects feel
involved in the process.
I wonder how he gains their trust.
I think that the life story of the person when they walk in the room
and my life story come together,
and it's that meeting and that collaboration,
whether it's conscious or verbal or through body language or thought,
or however it is, is what really determines that picture that day.
But there's obviously great challenges with ego
of well-known people,
and you have to be conscious and courteous
and, I think, very importantly,
I want people to feel they're in good hands
so that they can be generous of spirit,
and I think Coburn, too,
reading between the lines,
was very into the psychological presence of people
and the mystical presence of people, and himself,
so, really, what I've said
I don't think is that different to how he might have worked.
Coburn was avant-garde and modernist,
as you can see in this stunning photograph of the poet Ezra Pound.
This striking image used three mirrors attached to a camera
to create what he called a vortograph.
You feel about this man, especially with the vortographs,
that he's a man pushing,
never, ever happy with staying the same, and I think, "Good on him."
Coburn has confidence to move on,
which I think's most important
and the biggest inspiration about Coburn.
And Coburn brought his artistic sensibility to
the urban landscape, too, taking his inspiration from London,
a city he considered the most photogenic place in the world.
These images of the capital are beautifully composed
with a moody, atmospheric feel.
Coburn injected a magical quality into the great Edwardian metropolis.
And the key to Coburn's distinctive photography
was his mastery of the art of printing.
Coburn employed a technique
pioneered in the 19th century which used platinum.
I've come to rural Gloucestershire to meet an expert craftsman who will
show me just how Coburn achieved these wonderful prints.
Max Caffell runs Studio 31
and is a specialist in recreating this amazing old process.
We've got hold of an enlarged copy
from one of Coburn's original negatives
and I've asked Max to create
a platinum print of this London landscape.
Coburn was a master of printmaking techniques, and the platinum process
lends itself beautifully to a moody, dark
but tonally rich image.
Watching Max, I appreciate just how skilled Coburn must have been.
The process requires a precise measurement of platinum,
palladium and iron oxalate to create a solution
which is painted onto the paper.
It's a careful, time-consuming practice,
and is very different from the darkroom techniques
I'm familiar with.
After a few hours drying,
the enlarged negative is then placed on top.
Back in Coburn's day, you'd have then left it for several hours
in the sunlight but Max can shorten this process
by exposing it to a blast of intense UV light for ten minutes.
Finally, it will be washed with a developer mix
which will reveal our photograph.
I've heard it's a spectacular moment and I'm eager to see the results.
Wow, look how quick that is.
And there's a Coburn coming to life.
In your sink.
Are you pleased with that?
I'm very pleased. It looks very promising.
It's incredible to see this photograph
developed right in front of me and up close,
I can really appreciate the high quality of this platinum print.
Now, what does platinum printing bring to this image?
It brings the aesthetic tone that Coburn was striving for.
Coburn was looking for that dark, misty,
almost ominous feeling,
but with this ethereal light coming off the Thames.
And so he wasn't looking for a heavy, contrast-y image,
he was looking for the mid-tones,
and that's where platinum excels in
and it can create, still, a feeling of depth
and the feeling of a three-dimensional work.
I think platinum printing would be the only medium that could really
achieve that and convey that.
The market for Coburn's photographs was London's top art galleries,
where his prints were exhibited for the select few
with the money to buy them.
Coburn reinvigorated both landscape
and portrait photography in Edwardian Britain,
and his images have a timeless, stylish quality.
And this artistic tradition continued into the 1920s,
with the work of a precocious young talent
who drew inspiration from the frivolous,
playful and stylish world of high society.
Cecil Beaton captures the spirit of the Roaring Twenties,
injecting a new sense of glamour into photography.
He would combine an artist's approach
with real commercial appeal.
Beaton's personal archive is held at the Victoria and Albert Museum,
where I'm meeting curator Susanna Brown.
I want to see one of his earliest photographs,
a portrait of his sister Nancy,
which really encapsulates Beaton's signature flamboyant look.
Now, tell me what you like about this picture,
this set-up photograph of his sister Nancy?
This is perhaps one of Beaton's most famous pictures of the 1920s.
It's his sister in an extraordinary costume that Beaton himself created
with his friend Oliver Messel, the theatre designer.
She is dressed as a shooting star,
she has this incredible headpiece
and glittering stars in her hair
and she's posed against this sparkling, crinkling cellophane.
and probably very cheap to produce,
but has this wonderful glittering effect.
There are little twinkling stars
stuck on the fabric and in her hair.
It looks to me as though she couldn't stand up in this.
It looks like a set's been built ON her.
Where does the dress begin and the background start?
It's wonderful but it's a mystery.
She almost merges with the background, doesn't she?
But I think there's a great sense of dynamism to this image.
This very strong diagonal line all the way through from top to bottom,
created here and then echoed in the line of her headdress, so that we
really see her as shooting through the sky as a glittering star.
One trick Beaton frequently used in his portraits
was to place a bright light behind the sitter's head.
This technique really makes
a subject stand out against the background.
And Beaton was equally meticulous in crafting the image
after it was taken.
The image is quite heavily retouched,
which was always an essential part of Beaton's process.
Often, he would use watercolours and other paints
to slim down the waistlines, paint on extra eyelashes
and remove the double chins,
and that's all very much a central part of his photographic process.
Nancy is seen dressed for an exclusive society event,
the Galaxy Ball at the Park Lane Hotel in London.
And, for me, this photograph represents
more than just a beautifully crafted portrait.
It also reflects Beaton's fascination
with the bright young things.
The fashionable clique who've come to define our perception
of the Roaring Twenties
as a swinging decade of extravagant parties.
These sons and daughters of Britain's millionaires
and aristocrats wanted to escape the collective trauma
of the First World War by embracing a hedonistic, bohemian lifestyle.
Beaton's interesting in the circle of the bright young things, I think,
because he's very much a part of that group,
going out to the fancy-dress balls,
going on the wild treasure hunts across London,
living this kind of wild, eccentric life,
but he's also the documenter and the recorder of that group
of young people at that moment in time.
So he sits within the group but also steps back from it
to record their activities and their antics.
Beaton's glamorous photographs of this immaculately dressed,
privileged circle were published in society magazines and earned him
a call from the most prestigious fashion magazine in the world.
Beaton signed his first contract with Vogue magazine
and for him, that was a real turning point in his career.
It was an incredibly long and fruitful relationship with Vogue.
He was still photographing for the magazine many decades later.
Just like newspapers,
fashion magazines were now replacing their hand-drawn illustrations
and engravings with photographs to help sell the latest designs.
This image for Chanel is a great example
of the sense of style Beaton
brought to the pages of Vogue.
This is the model Mary Taylor
wearing a beautiful evening dress by Coco Chanel.
The picture was published in Vogue with the title,
In the Manner of the Edwardians,
a period that Beaton greatly admired and, as you can see,
the image is crammed full of elaborate lace and tablecloths
and bows, sculpted bust here,
and this very elaborate chandelier.
And Beaton in his diaries writes about
how he would appear at the Vogue studio
with truck loads of props and antiques to fill his pictures.
It strikes me, as a photographer, it's nearly all set and small dress,
you're trying to sell this dress.
The fact we can't even see the bottom of the dress,
does that matter?
I think with so many of the images in Vogue
at this era, it's about selling a fashionable lifestyle,
rather than focusing too much on the garments themselves.
But Beaton and his fellow photographers at Vogue would often
clash with the art directors and the editors for that very reason.
Some things never change.
We're still arguing about these things now, all these years later.
And in this photograph,
published by Vogue in 1936,
Beaton draws influence from the surrealist art movement...
..arranging the models in mannequin-like poses
for a shoot for the Italian designer Schiaparelli.
I think, with Beaton, there's a wonderful sense of sort of
of theatre and magic and glamour, and no restraint,
in terms of the theatricality
and how much he could cram into an image.
Beaton played a vital role in establishing the new and vibrant
genre of fashion photography.
He reworked artistic portraits for a commercial market,
and became one of the most influential British photographers
of the 20th century.
But away from the glittering elite,
there was another, very different side to Britain in the mid-1930s.
This was an era of unemployment,
poverty, and mass protest like the famous Jarrow hunger march.
And one photographer was drawn to bear witness to the bitter struggle
facing many people.
In 1937, German-born Bill Brandt travelled to the north of England,
where he pioneered a combination of art and photojournalism.
As a foreigner, Brandt brought an outsider's perspective,
claiming that he wasn't making a political point.
But his pictures, like this one of a cobbled lane in industrial Halifax,
have become defining images of the Great Depression
and continue to have a significant impact
on young photographers working today.
One of these is Mahtab Hussain,
whose work documenting northern working-class communities
is being displayed alongside Brandt's in an exhibition.
I want to discuss this striking shot of a row of coalminers' houses
in Northumbria, taken in 1937.
When I first look at this image, it's almost disbelief, really.
These are houses without windows,
and I think Brandt's asking you the question,
can you live in a house like this and if not,
why ARE people living in homes with no windows?
It's almost unreal.
And he contextualises it so well, with the chimneys.
You get this impression there's maybe three families living here
and they probably all work in these factories,
so it's all in one picture, he's told the story.
Exactly, and it's the way that he's done that.
He's pointing towards why these houses are here,
they're for coalminers.
And then, when you realise they're for coalminers,
you start to ask all sorts of questions.
Well, they're in the pits all day long,
surely they want some kind of daylight,
and why are they living without windows?
So even though it can be quite a simple image,
there's still a lot that we can read here.
This is in the tradition of landscape photography,
but applied to the gritty urban environment,
and though it looks like a scene of desolation,
there is also something else here, if you look carefully.
It's very beautiful,
it's very romantic, in the sense you've got this streetlight
and he's carefully made sure in the darkroom
to just make sure that the smoke is there.
So even though it's a very still image,
with the smoke, there's a beautiful movement in there.
So you can step back and appreciate it,
but I think, also, it's so otherworldly,
so disconnected from our reality today,
and for many people who would have seen this image,
they would never live in a house like this,
so it was a very voyeuristic image for them, and beautiful,
because it was so different.
And Brandt also wanted to bring his highly stylised approach to create
uncompromising portraits of the people who lived and worked
in these industrial communities,
like this shot, taken in 1937,
of a Durham coalminer having a ciggie and a cuppa
by the kitchen stove.
He looks completely exhausted after a long shift.
And this is Brandt's most celebrated photograph
from his northern journey -
another miner eating his tea,
watched over by his wife.
For me, this image really talks about poverty,
and true poverty and how suffocating it can be.
Here is a man who works incredibly hard.
He probably eat his lunch in the pits,
in complete darkness, or no natural light,
and inhales that dust and that dark coal,
and then comes home and is consuming it,
when he breaks the bread or picks up his sandwich,
and then his loyal wife, who's obviously cooked his supper,
and she's just as exhausted as he is,
with the real struggles of poverty.
For me, there's a sense that Brandt has carefully posed this picture,
directing the characters and arranging the set,
but does this detract from the power of the image?
You know, when I first saw it I thought, this is so staged,
the fork is too clean, and he's... It's comical in the way he's been
blackened up, almost like a Laurel and Hardy sketch.
But it doesn't bother me as much any more.
I think what's really important is Brandt has spent a lot of time
in this community.
He's really got to understand the nuances and complexities of
that community, and I think he saw himself as an artist.
He wasn't just documenting,
he was creating and, as a result,
he wanted to respectfully pay homage to a community
that is struggling through poverty.
I think it's brilliant,
and he's done a great job in representing that
true suffocation of poverty.
Brandt's northern work never made him money
and was only published later.
But what he had achieved with these pictures was an unprecedented
coming together of styles,
to create a stark and vivid vision of Britain never seen before.
And this has inspired photographers like Mahtab,
who record working-class communities today.
When I make work and I stop people,
I tend to walk the streets a lot and if you just go up to anyone and say,
"Look, I'm really interested in making your portrait,"
there's an automatic kind of, "Oh, wow, why me?
"I'm not that important."
I think very much the working-class community back then,
just as they are today, still feel like they are not part of society.
For me, and what I find very interesting from Brandt,
is that that's a really interesting subject matter,
that kind of rawness of those communities.
He made it relevant, from editing and making the work,
he made it incredibly relevant.
Bill Brandt never stopped pushing the boundaries of his art,
and he is rightly considered one of the most important photographers
to have worked in Britain.
And he went on to work for a ground-breaking new publication,
which photographed every aspect of British life.
On 1st October 1938,
Picture Post was launched, a weekly magazine filled with photographs
on every page.
Its mission was to make a visual record of British people at home,
at work and at play.
I've come to the fairground...
..which would have been a very typical Picture Post assignment.
I've brought along a camera
which was vital to this pioneering magazine.
The roll-film Leica,
which really liberated professional photographers in Britain.
Photographers could lose the tripod. They were now mobile,
they could go anywhere and take pictures,
not be slowed down by the heavy equipment.
Now, the only trouble is,
it's a tricky camera to use, tricky to load.
You always have to measure distance from the subject, you can't focus,
and your maths have to be good to get a picture.
Then you have to remember to wind on, because if you don't wind on,
you don't get another frame.
But if you master it, it takes the most beautiful pictures,
the lenses are so sharp,
and when it came into Britain, it really changed photography.
Made in Germany, the Leica used 35mm film,
with each roll taking up to 36 pictures,
enabling photographers on Picture Post to take
a series of more spontaneous snaps.
One of the first to exploit this new technology was another German,
Kurt Hutton, who arrived in Britain in the mid-1930s,
and who I really admire for his ability to make an everyday scene
In September 1938,
Hutton fired off a roll of film of two girls at the funfair.
He eventually captured a shot
which I think sums up what Picture Post was all about.
On three. One, two, three.
Nice smiles, got you, well done!
This photograph is emblematic of an era when the majority of people
holidayed in this country.
But it's also quite risque.
This is a great British holiday photograph, but it's more than that.
It's ahead of its time, it's cheeky, subversive,
provocative, and it shows working-class girls having a laugh.
Picture Post, mindful of morality,
was forced to resort to some careful editing.
So before going to press,
the girl's knickers were airbrushed out.
Despite this caution,
Hutton's photograph is the best example of Picture Post's ambition
to document ordinary people doing ordinary things.
But a year after this joyful picture was taken,
everyday life in Britain was shattered.
AIR-RAID SIRENS WAIL
When the Second World War began in September 1939,
Picture Post took on a new and very challenging role -
to record the battle to defend the country.
And to do this, it needed photographers
who had a fearless approach to capturing
what would be Britain's darkest hour.
In the magazine's archives,
I am seeing how Picture Post responded to the war,
with images of the Blitz taken in January 1941
by photographer Bert Hardy.
This is a really striking cover of firefighters,
but you sense the danger.
It is set up, it's sort of mocked up,
but it's very vital, very strong.
Two great faces, looking off camera.
It's a bit of an old photographer's trick, that,
to make people think that you're in the middle of the action,
but it works. It's very, very striking,
and an incredibly strong cover.
For Hardy, this was personal.
He was born and raised in the East End of London,
so it really was his manor that was under attack.
Bert Hardy had spent two weeks at a fire station,
waiting for something to happen,
and then, one night, the Germans bomb London,
and he gets his story.
All his time waiting pays off.
Several pages are devoted to this story.
Here, we see behind the scenes. This is the first time we've got
behind the scenes of the control rooms,
the fire station, and see people getting ready to fight these fires.
Even silhouetted pictures work very well.
Nowadays, we'd be shooting these in flash,
but in those days, it was all available light, and the mood works.
It's a very, very powerful sense of danger, fire everywhere,
Bert Hardy used the Leica camera,
which by now had become the photojournalist's tool of choice.
And with this story,
Hardy really exploited the full potential
of this small, mobile camera,
capable of firing off dozens of shots.
It was perfect for such an unpredictable assignment.
And on this last spread, you get a real sense of London in danger.
You see these tall, tall buildings,
with ladders extending up to the sky,
of men fighting the fires.
From my own experience of covering news events,
I can tell how dangerous this is.
This is not an easy place to work,
you're not even sure what's going to happen next.
Will a building come down on top of you? Will a ladder collapse?
Bert Hardy is working at the edge,
and it must have been a very, very dangerous place to work,
but very stimulating.
When you see these pictures, photographers,
we just get off on it, we like the drama, we like the energy,
we like the light and the sounds of big news stories.
And for the first time in Picture Post,
the photographer gets a credit, and I love this credit.
"They were taken by A Hardy, one of our own cameramen."
Picture Post became Britain's most popular news magazine,
at its peak selling almost two million copies a week.
And Hardy was soon recruited into a new specialist military outfit
which would document the war on the front line.
The British Army's Film and Photographic Unit,
set up in October 1941,
was tasked with recording the key battles of the conflict.
Bert Hardy accompanied British forces
as they fought their way through Western Europe.
In April 1945,
Hardy and other Army photographers arrived here in north-west Germany,
to record the liberation of a prison camp
but, although by now battle-hardened,
they were not expecting the scenes
of unprecedented human suffering that they would witness.
To discuss just how the photographers recorded
the horror of Bergen-Belsen, I'm meeting photojournalist Paul Lowe,
who has covered conflicts,
including civil war in Somalia and the siege of Sarajevo.
They made a really complete documentation
of the process of the liberation,
right from literally walking into the camp and discovering
these incredible scenes of bodies strewn all over the open fields.
Obviously, those bodies then had to be disposed of and buried,
so there are incredible pictures of these mass graves being dug
and the Nazi guards being used as forced labour
to help fill the graves.
Literally throwing the bodies into the holes
and, in some cases, even using a bulldozer to push them in.
Extraordinarily graphic and very, very disturbing images.
Some of the photographers' most haunting images
are the portraits of the survivors.
They seem to hold our gaze.
There was an extraordinary picture by George Rodger
which really sums up, I think,
the difficulty of working in a situation like this.
It's of a young boy,
who looks like a little schoolboy out for a walk in the woods.
And yet he's walking past these piles of bodies.
It's this incredible tension between this little boy,
who you sort of imagine - what was his future, where did he end up,
what happened to him? - walking past this scene of incredible horror.
I think Belsen was a really difficult experience
for all the photographers,
because they had to balance this extremely difficult problem of,
how do you represent some incredible, horrific scenes
and yet still turn it into a photograph that's going to have
some visual appeal to people, that's going to work as a photograph?
But as a photographer, that's what you're there to do,
to make the photographs.
You obviously channel the horror or the outrage
that you might be feeling into the frame.
I think you can see that in the way that they worked here.
You can see that they're taking all that anger, horror and shock
they must have felt
and then try and synthesise that into a strong, single image.
This photo, taken by George Rodger, was published in Life magazine.
Back in Britain, photographs from Bergen-Belsen
appeared unedited, in their full horror,
in every press publication,
and it would have been impossible to avoid seeing them.
Of course, they had an enormous impact on the British public.
The liberation of the camp
was one of the biggest news stories of the war,
and these pictures offer the ultimate justification
for Britain's fight against the Nazis.
A lot of the commentators at the time,
they talk about the failure of language.
Journalists say, "The words cannot describe what I saw."
Edward Murrow's famous thing, "For most of it, I have no words."
And I think the visual, the film
and, obviously, particularly the photographs,
are seared into our memory, really,
as the most defining moments that we have of this incredible crime.
And, crucially, the Army photographers
did more than educate the British public.
They created a record of the Holocaust,
which formed part of the evidence of the atrocities.
Some of these shots were used to convict Nazi war criminals,
like Josef Kramer, the camp's commander.
But there's one photograph taken by Bert Hardy
that I find especially moving.
After the bodies had been buried, the British Army,
fearful of disease spreading,
ordered the camp to be set ablaze.
With the soldiers' backs to us,
we are being asked to bear witness
to the final act of an unspeakable tragedy.
Unlike other Nazi camps,
Bergen-Belsen was completely destroyed.
Coming here to the site of the most horrific images
ever taken by British photographers
has helped me understand the importance of recording events,
no matter how terrible, as a lasting visual testimony.
There is a sombre silence here, not even the birds sing.
There's nothing much to look at,
but you get a sense that something dramatic happened here.
I'm so grateful to the British press photographers who came here in 1945
to show my generation and my children's generation
what really happened here.
Next, on Britain In Focus...
from the explosion of colour photography in the 1960s,
to the digital revolution of today,
I'll see how photographers like Martin Parr
have used their cameras to explore the zeitgeist of modern Britain.
Eamonn McCabe explores how British photographers responded to the most important events of the first half of the the 20th century and traces the emergence of a new genre of photography - photojournalism. His journey begins at the Daily Mirror's press plant in Watford, which broke new ground with its dynamic coverage of the siege of Sidney Street in 1911, before tracing the footsteps of pioneering female photojournalist Christina Broom and discovering how cheaper cameras enabled British soldiers to become citizen journalists during the First World War.
Eamonn is joined by Mahtab Hussain to discuss the work of Bill Brandt, who in 1937 travelled to the North of England to record landscapes and portraits of working class communities during the Great Depression. Brandt would go on to work for Picture Post, Britain's most popular news magazine, which was launched in 1938. Armed with a period roll film Leica, Eamonn goes on assignment to the fairground to recreate a famous shoot by the magazine that documented almost every aspect of mid-century life in Britain. He also sees how photographers captured the Second World War - from the Blitz to shocking images of concentration camps - celebrates photographers who pursued the medium as an art form in its own right, learns about the printing techniques of celebrity portrait photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn and reflects on Cecil Beaton's glamorous work for Vogue magazine.