Street Photographs

Yesterday The Observer added a great set of 12 pictures by Picture Post photographer Kurt Hutton* to its web site. In November 1939, shortly after the start of the Second World War, he was sent to Wigan along with two other photographers to photograph George Orwell’s Wigan. (Thanks to EPUK for the link to this in their weekly newsletter.)

It is perhaps surprising that Hutton doesn’t feature in the London Street Photography show, but it does contain some fine work by his fellow PP contributors Humphrey Spender and Bert Hardy, along with an unusually slack image by Felix Man. Also notably absent are Thurston Hopkins and John Chillingworth, and given that this is not really a ‘street photography’ show, perhaps Bill Brandt might have been there too. But of course there wasn’t space to include everyone.

But these Wigan pictures strike me as remarkable for several reasons. Not least that although there was a war on, the original PP caption to one of them included “The authorities asked to have all pictures left with them to be checked up. When the batch was forwarded on to us, this and other pictures on these pages were missing. They were considered unsuitable. We made new prints of some of those missing pictures.”

These pictures evoke their time very powerfully, and remind me of my own childhood. A dozen years later I might have been one of those urchins sitting on the street, although the street on which I grew up was a little more suburban and slightly less bleak. But we played on it much as they did. Two things have changed – there was little traffic and no parked cars, and parents who give their children the kind of freedom that we enjoyed would now be prosecuted for neglect.

But would a photographer dare to take similar images now, when photographing children has become such a suspect activity?  And certainly any photographer taking pictures of the ‘Air Raid Precautions’  would expect to attract the attentions of the law. One unfortunate amateur photographer, physics teacher Rik Rutter, even got stopped by police for photographing a tourist attraction, the London Eye, in January, although now, as the Amateur Photographer report states he has received an apology from Commander David Zinzan of the Met police who confirms he should not have been stopped.

© 2005 Peter Marshall
© Peter Marshall, 2005
London Eye and Houses of Parliament on a typically gloomy London day


*You can see a wider range of Hutton’s work on the Getty Images site which includes the Hulton Picture Library containing work by all the Picture Post photographers, and a search brings up over 3000 pictures. There is also a smaller selection, concentrating on celebrities and a few of his best-known images, available on the GettyImages Gallery site – search for ‘Hutton’.

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