Monday, 7 August 2017

Bert Hardy – Photographer

(A. L. Lloyd, 'Life in the Elephant', Picture Post, 8 January 1949, vol.42, no.2, p.10)

Its voice has the rasp of trams, trains, trucks. Its eyes have the blaze of street-stalls, eel-stands, pin-table arcades and chestnut cans. Its anatomy is decked with sooty bricks, cast iron spikes and the marble pillars of pubs. Its heart is that of its people - kind as a housewife, rough as a worker, busy as a tradesman, wide as a wide-boy.

Following recent publications on paintings, drawings, sculpture and prints by Britain's leading artists of the twentieth century, we are delighted that there is now this opportunity to give photography the status it deserves alongside these other media.

Bert Hardy gained fame as the chief photographer for Picture Post, the most important photograph-led news magazine of the 1940s and 1950s. He traveled widely, capturing the leading events and personalities of the day, as well as gaining acclaim for his pictures of deprived areas of Britain, including an award-winning series of photographs of life in London's Elephant and Castle district.

Bert Hardy: The Elephant and Castle presents a selection of vintage photographs from this celebrated series. over a three week period, between 18 November and 8 December 1948, these photographs were taken for a picture story entitled 'Life in the Elephant', which appeared in Picture Post on 8 January 1949.

As well as including pictures that were reproduced in Picture Post, accompanied by their original captions by journalist A.L.Lloyd, the exhibition also displays for the first time a selection of other photographs from this series which were never published.

The wintry weather had much to do with the atmosphere in these photographs. As a result there is an almost Dickensian quality to some of these scenes. A dense haze of smog shrouds the carts, trams and buses and the streets teem with a lively mixture of different characters.

An entrée into this world was provided by Maisie, a prostitute who appears in some of Hardy's photographs of Elephant and Castle. She introduced Hardy to many of those he photographed, allowing him an insight into domestic life as well as life on the streets.

Against a backdrop of bomb and building sites, Hardy captures unchanging patterns of life - street markets, coal deliveries, horse dealers - as well as providing glimpses of the modern city, such as some of London's first traffic lights. Bursting with incident, these photographs range from intimate domestic interiors to convivial pub scenes, moving from bustling streets filled with people, buses and trams to scenes of children playing hide and seek amidst the rubble of a bomb or building site.

One of Hardy's earliest stories for Picture Post was about fire-fighting during the London Blitz. He got some amazing pictures of the sort which make one ask, "But where were you?" (He was high up, and in as much danger as the firemen he was photographing.) The story received the first ever photographer's credit in the magazine. "From our rule of anonymity," the credit ran, "we except these pictures. They were taken by A. Hardy, one of our own cameramen."

In 1942 Hardy was called up into the Army and put into public relations for the War Office. As the War Office supplied stories to all the magazines, Hardy's ambition was to get a story into both Picture Post and Illustrated each week; this he managed to do on numerous occasions.

Bert Hardy (1913-1995) started work as a laboratory assistant in a photographic agency, worked freelance as a photographer and then for the newly launched Picture Post. Deserving of consideration alongside contemporaries such as the great photographers of Magnum, including Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa, Hardy also produced memorable pictures of the Korean War.

2013 sees the double anniversary of the photographer Bert Hardy and Picture Post, the magazine with which he is inextricably linked. Born 100 years ago, Hardy is probably the best known of all the Picture Post photographers.

His stories cover situations as diverse as the Korean War, the Portuguese rice harvest, fashion on the French Riviera, Italian immigrants in Britain, and the Chinese invasion of Tibet.

Today, his images are still widely used in all contexts from editorial features to interior decor. The images are classic, timeless and transcend territorial and language barriers thanks to Hardy’s ability to capture the essence of every story.

First published 75 years ago in October 1938, Picture Post broke new ground for magazines, selling 750,000 copies within six hours of hitting the newsstands. Photographers worked alongside writers and layouts were picture-driven, changing attitudes towards magazine design and content forever. The wide-ranging coverage of domestic and international stories became essential reading, informing the public through both words and pictures.

Hardy’s original contact sheets and negatives were meticulously researched to uncover work which was never published in the magazine and which may never have been printed before. The main exhibition reveals the extraordinary versatility expected of Picture Post photographers. The final section showcases some of Hardy’s more familiar images which remain bestsellers today.

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