BBC Britain in Focus series

BBC Britain in Focus was a series of three programmes focusing on British photography broadcast in March 2017 on BBC4. I had watched the series when it was originally broadcast, but thankfully I had also recorded it and I’ve been rewatching it as part of my learning; it’s an introductory programme and so seems like a really good place to start. It’s introduced me to a lot of work that I am going to follow up on. These are my NOTES, they are only vaguely readable and may provide some evidence of insanity for the uninitiated.

Part 1


Part 2

The main idea here seems to be about how photographers respond to the world around them, so is mainly, but not exclusively, about photojournalism.

1904 Halftone meant that actual photographs could be published in newspapers for the first time. Christina Broom took portraits of the army, she made postcards with her daughter and sold them to the soldiers. This was a cottage industry for her, but photographic postcards were becoming a big thing. (The Museum of London has an archive). War photography VPK, ‘vest pocket kodak’ was the size of an iPhone and marketed at soldiers in WW1. The army didn’t like it.  Photographic portraits, Alvin Langdon Coburn (followed up p172, 173 in Photography; The whole story – research point Notan system). I really liked the self portrait and the portrait of WB Yeates, but I loved his images of London. Apparently he broke the barriers between photographer and sitter, made images using a vortograph – 3 mirrors attached to the camera. The key to his London images was the platinum process used for printing that brings out midtones. 1920 Cecil Beaton (joined Vogue 1927) helped create costumes for his sitters (e.g. for his sister Nancy dressed like a shooting star). There is a strong diagonal in the image and he placed bright lights behind the sitters head and retouched with watercolours. He was influenced by the surrealists. (I’m used to seeing his images as I frequent a Beatons Tea Rooms in Blandford that has his prints on the wall. There is one of a man with a rabbit suit behind him – it looks really modern, and his image of Queen Elizabeth is easily my favourite portrait of her). In the 1930s Bill Bryant mixed art and photojournalism. He was a German who made (sometimes staged) images of gritty urban environments, miners, poverty, working class communities. On 1/10/1938 Picture Post magazine launched, with then contemporary images of British life. The introduction of the Leica in 1938 (???) was really important as it meant photographers of the era were freed from tripods and glass plates and could use 35mm film. (I read in the course that the instructions were 20 pages long and it wouldn’t take long to learn how to use it, but on the programme they seemed to suggest it was difficult to use).. Kurt Hutton, another German photographer, took an iconic image of two girls at a funfair in 1938. WW2 started a year later and picture post changed to recording the defence of the UK. Albert Hardy used a Leica camera to record the blitz. In October 1941 the army film and photographic unit was established and in April 1945 they recorded the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. (I think I saw some of these images in the Imperial War Museum a few years ago).

Main points to follow up:

  • Coburn, Alvin Langdon, Notan System.
  • Vortograph


Part 3

Published by Sarah Cassin Scott


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