British photographic history

Information and discussion on all aspects of British photographic history

I am researching the photographic scene in the late 1940s and 1950s and am trying to get a better idea of what aspiring photographers would be looking at and learning in these years.  Questions to which I would like to find answers include:

1. What courses were available for training in photography - and who was teaching - between 1945 and 1960? I am aware of the course run by Ifor Thomas at Guildford from 1947 onwards but were there really no others until Derby in 1966?

2.  What were the more typical technical photography courses - eg. City and Guilds or others?

3. What was the typical course content for courses examined under the Institute of Incorporated Photographers or City and Guilds?

4. What was the content on Ifor Thomas's Guildford course?

5. When did Ifor Thomas move to Farnham, and did his approach - or course content - change when he went to Farnham?

6. What role (and when) was played by Walter Nurnberg in photography education in Britain?

I will also be posting a similar request on the British Photohistory website - so don't be surprised if you come across a similar request there.

Many thanks in advance for any offerings.

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Have you spoken to May McWilliams who is doing a PhD at DMU looking at the postwar history of photographic eductaion in Britain? She has a paper here: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a914805916~... which looks at thepost 1965 period but I believe her PhD starts before this.

In the gap between your dates of 1945-60 and May McWilliams' 1965-1980, I took the three-year course in photography from 1962-65 at what was, in 1962, The London School of Printing and Graphic Arts, and became in 1963 The London College of Printing. I would guess that May McWilliams has included this course in her paper, otherwise the library of the University of the Arts ought to have all the necessary documentation.

 

David Stone

Thanks Michael - Yes, I have read May's paper. I am in contact with May who has given me a few extra pointers.


Michael Pritchard said:

Have you spoken to May McWilliams who is doing a PhD at DMU looking at the postwar history of photographic eductaion in Britain? She has a paper here: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a914805916~... which looks at thepost 1965 period but I believe her PhD starts before this.

Thanks for this David. May has mentioned the London School course. Do you have any information on course content? Was the course very technical, documentary, photojournalistic or aesthetic in outlook?
Also, I would be interested in your impressions of what aspiring photographers were looking at in the late 1950s, early 60s. What made you and your fellow students 'sign up' for photography. Did you all look at other photography - if so where did you find it? Exhibitions? Magazines? Which magazines?

David Stone said:

In the gap between your dates of 1945-60 and May McWilliams' 1965-1980, I took the three-year course in photography from 1962-65 at what was, in 1962, The London School of Printing and Graphic Arts, and became in 1963 The London College of Printing. I would guess that May McWilliams has included this course in her paper, otherwise the library of the University of the Arts ought to have all the necessary documentation.

 

David Stone

Your request for more information, Damian, forces me to search my memory, since I have no personal documentation from the course.

 

On page 555 of the BJ Photographic Annual for 1962, however, you will find an advertisment for this course. The alternative course at the Regent Street Polytechnic (also advertised here) was generally considered to be rather old-fashioned by comparison.

 

I became aware of the existence of the course via an illustrated article describing it in some detail, which, so far, I've failed to track down. I'm fairly sure that it was illustrated in colour, which would narrow the field a bit. Probably published some time in the first half of 1962.

 

The 3-year, full-time course in Photography was located until the end of the 1962-63 academic year at Back Hill, in Clerkenwell. From September 1963 the course moved to the top floor of the new building - barely completed - at the Elephant & Castle, complete with double-height studio.

 

Course content was an interesting mixture of very forward-looking thinking and the use of, and instruction in some practices that were then decades out of date, but nevertheless gave us a solid grounding in the basics of photographic practice.

 

One morning a week for the whole of the first year was devoted to life drawing, for instance. And all the photographs we produced at college for the whole of the first year were made with half-plate Gandolfi cameras, with quarter-plate reducing backs, and a collection of uncoated brass lenses, and no shutter. And we learned how to develop an ortho plate by inspection. And much more. But of course we moved on subsequently to modern materials and methods.

 

The course, generally speaking, was technically oriented, aimed at making us into competent, versatile photographers, while allowing considerable scope for experiment.

 

And a major benefit of moving to the new building was the consequent interaction between photographers and those on other courses. In the third year, joint projects were encouraged between the photography and graphic design students, to the benefit of both.

 

The students in my year came from a wide variety of backgrounds. Athough the majority were British, others came from Italy, Switzerland, Japan, South Africa and Belgium, indicating perhaps that such courses were not generally available in other countries.

 

As for the reasons for joining the course - I think that, without exception, we all wanted to be professional photographers. An occupation that was seen as far more interesting than most others that were available to us and, in the early sixties, potentially both glamorous and lucrative.

 

Our inspirations were, to a large extent, the work being produced by our near-contemporaries. This was the era of Bailey/Donovan/Duffy/McCullin, all young photographers who had started to gain a reputation. We kept a close watch on Vogue and its competitors, where all editorial photographs were credited. And anywhere that good quality advertising and editorial photography was appearing, which meant, to a large extent, the USA. So we relied heavily on the library, since most of us couldn't afford to buy these expensive magazines. As I remember it, we didn't take any interest in photography magazines, only in published work. And I can't remember going to an exhibition.

 

My general impressions of the course are entirely positive. It was, I think, for its time, exceptionally wide-ranging in its content, and in the way that it introduced extra-photographic elements (such as life drawing), the results of which were a positive influence on me in my subsequent career as photographer and teacher.

 

David Stone



Damian Hughes said:

Thanks for this David. May has mentioned the London School course. Do you have any information on course content? Was the course very technical, documentary, photojournalistic or aesthetic in outlook?
Also, I would be interested in your impressions of what aspiring photographers were looking at in the late 1950s, early 60s. What made you and your fellow students 'sign up' for photography. Did you all look at other photography - if so where did you find it? Exhibitions? Magazines? Which magazines?

David,

Thankyou so much for this really interesting insight.

It seems the first year was pretty well devoted to understanding the fundamentals, using basic (if apparently antiquated) technologies. I can see the sense in this approach if you are training in photography from scratch.

When you say you subsequently moved on to "modern materials and methods", could you be a little more specific - what was available (cameras, film, darkroom technologies and materials etc.) to a college student at this time and how did it relate to professional photography of the day?

It sounds like most students were drawn to fashion, advertising and editorial. Was there much talk of what we would now call "independent" or artistic practice? You went on to a career in photography - what did other students do?

Feel free to email me on damian@dandthughes.plus.com if you would find it easier.

There is good article on the Photography School (by Ifor Thomas) in Miniature Camera World (June 1947) and another in Photography (1950).  Both give a good insight into Thomas' teaching and outlook.  I have copies of these if necessary. Matthew

The earliest reference to the teaching of photography that I have found was part of the engineering degree course at Kings College. The teaching of photography and perspective is listed in the curriculum. Tutors included Phillip Delamotte, Francis Bedford and Thomas Sutton I discovered this when researching the career of Evelyn George Carey. So, Carey was taught photography by the man who recorded the dismantling of the Crystal Palace and its reconstruction at Sydenham! Kings was the first university to establish a degree in engineering in 1838. Due in no small part to Charles Blacker Vignoles, an engineer who was also one of the founding members of the RPS.

 

Michael Gray 

There certainly were other photography courses before 1966. The one I did was run at what was then Manchester College of Science & Technology (later UMIST) where photography courses had been offered from around 1947 until 1966, under the leadership of George L Wakefield. The staff team was only three - George, Frank Wardlaw, and from 1963 (I think) Duncan Backhouse.

 

The course was in the Department of Printing and Photographic Technology, which says it all really. Actually taking a photograph was, with hindsight, really only done to prove the science worked! So, quite Victorian in its philosophy, but I learned a lot of good sensitometry which became invaluable when I first encountered Photoshop some 30 years later! I was one of the final cohort to complete the course in 1966 before it moved to the new School of Photography at Manchester College of Art & Design in autumn 1966, with Jack Tait as Head of School. I learned much more about the 'art' of actually taking good photographs during my subsequent three years working as a technician there.

 

John Hannavy

One further thought - Kodak ran a number of photographic training courses from 1946.

Damian - we have just about recovered from the excesses of the HayFestival now so why don't you call Jack for a chat about the halcyon days of Guildford (01497 821132). I can see a number of queries raised in this discussion which I am sure

he could answer having started and run Derby & Manchester Schools of photography ( John H was his technician I think for example)

 

Do you know for example that Ken Russell was taught at Walthamstow by Ifor's ex student Henry Lewes - still alive but in his 90s?

Priscilla Conran was ex of Guildford.

Agatha Christie was taught by Ifor Thomas at the Reimann School of Design, London as she prepared to travel to Iraq with her new husband the archeologist Max Mallowan as his site photographer.

 

Thankyou for this Duncan - lots to think about.

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