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.


  1. I was a seaside photographer in the late eighties in Blackpool. We were each allocated a number of streets, and would run into hotel dining rooms during breakfast and teatime, photographing the diners. More often than not this was against their will, especially at breakfast time, funnily enough.

    It was a race against the clock, as you'd take as many snaps as you could before mealtime was over. Then we'd head back to HQ, where our films would be developed, and we'd spend the next couple of hours cutting out photos to insert into keyring fobs, which would then be made available for purchase in the (hopefully) appropriate hotel.

    I hated the job at the time and even now the thought of it fills me with dread. Amazingly, quite a few of the photos sold, though none of them had anything like the charm of yours.

    (Sorry for going on a bit.)

  2. Some wonderful detail in this photo:

    Your Dad wearing a shirt, tie, and jacket to the seaside; the tin bucket and wooden handled spade (all would be plastic today); and Gipsy Smith - we shall never know if she foresaw that she would tell fortunes from the tiniest hut ever seen on a prom....

  3. Ah yes, black and white. I still used to do a fair percentage of my people and band shots in B&W right up until i made the jump to digital Now i can have it both ways by converting the finished pic to BW (and back) at the push of a button. BW is always kinbder to the skin, and seems to introduce for less background distraction.
    For the life of me I don't really know why it works, even after some 20 years arseing about with all manor of camera. Doesn't hurt that these seaside photographers were usually journeyman craftsmen working their way up tree to Fleet St one frame at a time. It was a much deare game then, and avery frame had to count, or you were taking money out of your own pocket. Take a look at any compendium of Bert Hardy's work for more of the same.
    I've gone on a bit haven't I, sorry.

  4. A photography book I recently thumbed mentioned the secret was, "F8 and be there."

    I.e. stick the camera on a setting that'll work reasonably well for most things and concentrate on what you're photographing and not the tech.

    More here:

  5. I was not a seaside photographer but I did work for J Barker & Sons Ltd of Great Yarmouth printing the "walkies" that the photographers took. My father-in-law also worked for Barkers. See