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Sunday, October 26, 2008

In praise of the seaside photographer

I don't think we had a camera in the family until the sixties. Prior to that photographs were entrusted to professionals: men from the local paper, specialists in "scholastic" photography who came to school every couple of years and then, once a year, the chaps who appeared in front of you on the prom at Filey or Scarborough and fired off one exposure. They would give you a ticket to produce at their HQ, which was usually a hut. Your picture would be up there with hundreds of others. If you liked it, you bought a print, took it home and put it in a frame.

My sister turned a few of these up the other day. The one here shows her with Mum and Dad, probably in about 1947. We were amazed at the quality of all of them. They're nothing flashy. What's amazing is how with minimum cooperation - they never even asked people to stop - they nonetheless managed to get their quarries properly framed and in focus. Did they even have focus on the cameras they used? These shots, which were the least ambitious pictures imaginable, are leagues better, somehow easier to read, more satisfying to the eye and more full of information, than anything done by even good High Street photographers after colour came along.