This week we’re back with the skilled eye of John Bignell and if there is a theme to this collection it’s “ordinary” people going about their lives barely realising that a photographer can take a moment of that daily life and turn it into something permanent.
A group of men standing outside a pub in 1958 waiting for it to open, bantering with each other. A regular activity that by time, memory and the photographer’s art becomes emblematic of all the men who have ever waited outside a pub.
A pair of women look into a window at the Peter Jones store on a quiet morning.
A lone man hacks away at a wall. Dangerous work, perched on top of a crumbling building that you yourself are making more hazardous to stand on. Did Bignell see the poster for the 1958 film The Last Days of Pompeii? A classical case of destruction echoing the destruction of a building in Manresa Road? The star of the film was former bodybuilder Steve Reeves, the hero of many sword and sandal epics. Reeves played Hercules on several occasions. Is it stretching a point to say that the man above the poster is engaged in a Herculean labour? Probably. You can find lots of fascinating and possibly unintentional details in photographs just like when you walk down a familiar street and notice some telling detail in a building or a shopfront.
In Magrie’s forge in 1951 a moment of high concentration
Not far away on Dovehouse Street a man resting on a bench looking for all the world like he’s using a mobile phone. Except that it’s still the 1950s. One of those poses we always had ready for when the relevant technology emerged. As if I had been blogging in 1966. Speaking of the sixties:
Royal Avenue: a trio consult a map or a guide book, a couple of genuine hippies, a woman surprised or a bit shocked at something she sees. But not at that dog behind her and what he’s doing. There used to be a sign forbidding “illegal dog fouling” in Royal Avenue. It’s one of those phrases that fascinates me because it can be read a number of different ways, like “hot bread shop” or “building alarmed”. Perhaps it’s me.
I’m not entirely sure where this street market was. My first thought was that it was opposite Royal Avenue. Before they built the mini shopping mall there was an open area like this with a Sainsburys and a Boots (and a shoe shop?). The mall was built in the late 80s or early 90s with a big Virgin shop at its heart, But I wonder about the building behind it, a residential block not really visible on this picture. Any suggestions?
Back on the King’s Road, a cool looking girl and a man with big ears.
A collector for the British Red Cross meets up with one of those end of the world guys you used to see on London streets. I’m not sure what the earnest young man (who looks like a young version of Michael Gove) is saying. Is it an impromptu theological discussion, or is he resolving a dispute? We may never know.
Not far away geographically but in the previous decade a couple pose for the camera in Wellington Square.
Below, a picture Bignell has set up:
A pensive child in a near deserted St Pancras Station. Bignell’s writing on the back of the print says “rail strike day”, which explains the quietness of the scene. The girl is cooperatively looking away from the camera, probably at one of her parents. Perhaps the photograph was a welcome distraction from the tedium of waiting for a train that might not come.
This picture of a Victor Sylvester dance class is not exactly set up but it’s a pleasing image of the girls having to dance with each other because you could never get the boys to go to these things.
The all girl sporting picture below is more unexpected:
Cricket practice outside the Duke of York’s Headquarters.
Nearby, at the Royal Hospital:
Oak Apple Day, according to Bignell’s note. A very effective picture – the two Pensioners standing at ease echoing the line of bandsmen. The conductor in the background provides the only sense of movement.
Finally, another puzzle.
Who are these four sixties people? Where was that shop? The bus, I’m told, doesn’t look much like a London bus. Again I’m happy to hear any ideas about people or location.
Hardly anything to add this week. Bignell’s book Chelsea Photographer can still be found from second hand dealers although prices vary considerably.