Bignell’s world: the photographer at work

 I was going to do another post in my Interiors series this week. There were a couple of other ideas bubbling under as well but Tuesday rolled round and none of those ideas were quite ready so I turned to our old friend John Bignell. I looked for a selection of photographs that would show some of the range of his work. Bignell photographed the famous and the obscure, the artistic and the ordinary. As a jobbing photographer he worked to order but he also worked for himself.

 He did fashion shoots like this one:


A model (unknown to me but I’m open to suggestions) in a Chelsea street.

Then there were catalogue jobs.

catalogue shoot 02

I think this was part of a tryout rather than the finished work but Bignell thought the series was worth keeping.

He was also out covering feature stories like this one at Battersea Park Fun Fair:

Battersea Park fun fair2

That’s the Caterpillar they’re getting out of according to my wife who rode on it in its final days.

Here’s another feature, where he followed his friend Paul Raymond to Clacton. The Raymond showgirls pose for some publicity pictures.

Raymond girls at Clacton 27

When he was bored with the glamorous jobs he sought out more authentic subject matter.

Woman in Dovehouse Green fac_rbkc_jb_80p

A woman feeding birds in Dovehouse Green – behind her is the Miller monument which is still there in the centre of the green which was landscaped in 1978.

Chelsea Library Manresa Road

A boy demonstrating the power of reading outside the first Chelsea Library in Manresa Road. Bignell may have set this picture up but it still looks spontaneous.

This one is somewhere in Chelsea too I think.

Fish shop - Coley jb1

Is the girl shocked at the price of coley, or worried that she might have to eat it? (Some people used to think that coley is just for cats.)

Sometimes Bignell concentrated on landscape:

St mary's Church Battersea from Lots Road JB5 box

St Mary’s Church, Battersea reflected perfectly in the shallow water at low tide.

This pair of images contrasts night and day:

Kings Rd from P Jones at night JB3 box

Kings Rd from P Jones JB3 box

Looking down the King’s Road from the roof of Peter Jones department store. (Bignell had a bit of a knack for getting to the top of buildings with a good view.)

And then there was just hanging out with the bohemian crowd, as in this party at David Rawnsley’s Pottery in 1960.

Party at David Rawnsley's Chelsea Pottery c1960 jb 210

Lucette de Fongere jb329

This lady is Lucette de Fougere, about whom I also know nothing apart from her name. As with all the Bignell posts I would appreciate any further information.

This is another carefully posed picture:

Regin de Cerchard and wife 1955 jb39

It features  Regis de Cerchard and his wife who is pretending to examine a painting of Chelsea Reach and Lot’s Road Power Station. Bignell had many friends  among the art and antique dealers of Chelsea. That was 1955.  Fifteen years later he had other artistic friends.

Filming under Battersea Bridge 1970 jb63c

Once again all I can tell you is the caption: filming under Battersea Bridge.

My final picture this week is one of my favourites, taken in Woolworth’s in Victoria in 1959.

Woolworth's Victoria 1959

I think this is one picture which wasn’t staged. As he so often did Bignell had the photographer’s instinct to take the picture at exactly the right moment.

16 responses to “Bignell’s world: the photographer at work

  • Michael Gall

    The bed under Battersea Bridge reminds me of scenes from The Knack. Another excellent post Mr Walker.

  • Debbie Robson

    Thank you for posting all the wonderful photos. Bignell is a fascinating photographer. I’m now off to look him up. Here is what I came up with regarding Lucette:
    Could this be her and her work?

  • Lucretia

    Something about the night & day shots made me pause and wonder if he’d gotten to the same rooftop spot on the Peter Jones department store twice. The cars in the daytime shot seem older than the nighttime one… But it was the lamppost right there in the part where the road jogs out on the right side of the picture that sealed it. How cool that he scaled those heights and set the shot up so closely despite the time!

    Love these ones!

    • Dave Walker

      I don’t know how far apart in time the two pictures were taken. Bignell was pretty good at matching angles – one of his pictures is an exact recreation of a photograph by James Hedderly taken in the 1860s from the tower of Chelsea Old Church – pretty remarkable considering that almost everything had changed between the 1860s and 1981, even the church tower itself.

  • P Taylor

    Wonderful post. Slightly off topic, when I was looking at Bignell’s photos in a book at Chelsea Library I looked through archive copies of a local Chelsea Times magazine from the mid-70’s, in articles it describes, in issues over a year or so, how councillors were trying to have a plan approved for pedestrianising the Kings Road and building a road tunnel from Sloane Square to the Embankment, I suppose an extreme way of diverting/controlling the increasing traffic. Thankfully, the plans was disregarded, probably as the ideas of a loon.

  • rbkcmarkets

    The next Portobello & Golborne Road Flash Fashion event is coming up on September 7th – what wonderful inspiration from Kensington & Chelsea’s fashion legacy!

  • john bignell: battersea fun fair, 1957

    […] I just discovered John Bignell in this post on The Library Time Machine website. There’s another post on Bignell’s work here. […]

  • Reg Francis

    I have told Dave Walker that the old lady feeding birds in Dovehouse Square was Nellie perhaps the original bag lady and always with her little dog.In my young days in the Kings Road Nellie was part of the furniture along with Quentin Crisp and a bloke in a kilt playing Bagpipes who used to frequent the then,and possibly now Gay pub near or in Lincoln Street.

    Whilst I’m here do any of you old timers remember Jack the old Italian who would sell ice cream from his little cart in the summer and roast chestnuts and some times roast spuds in the winter months ,one of his favoured pitches was outside The Forum cinema in the Fulham Road.He lived near Fulham Broadway and sometimes we would push his barrow back to Fulham for a couple of bags of chestnuts.

  • john bignell: woolworth’s, victoria, 1959

    […] photo by John Bignell from The Library Time Machine website. The signage is as intriguing as everything else in the […]

  • Tracey baker

    Hi is there any where you can purchase these pictures I’m after the battersea funfair 1957 ladies getting off the caterpillar thanks

  • Tracey baker

    Anymore pictures of battersea funfair ?? They are beautiful

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