Milk and Jim Barron

I got a couple of identical e-mails the other day, and the first one that I found rather startled me, as it was addressed not to me, but to a good friend of mine who died six years ago, Jim Barron.

He had a long career in photography, starting with a parrot on his shoulder taking beach snaps and then using flash powder as a scientific photographer in the Civil Service, ending up as head of one of its photographic departments, but also finding time to work occasionally on the side for newspapers etc. Three portraits by him, two of Larry Adler and one of Sir Arthur Bliss, are in the National Portrait Gallery collection. He was also well known as a collector of photographica, and his collection included one of the wooden cameras that Bill Brandt had used for those wide-angle nudes. He lent cameras and acted as a photographic consultant on several films and TV programmes.

I got to know Jim shortly after he retired, when he turned up at a meeting of a small group of photographers that I was part of, and we and most of the others continued to meet regularly to show and discuss our latest work until weeks before his death – in later years at his home in Richmond.

At the time, Jim was taking pictures using a 4×5″ camera, very much in the mould of Edward (or perhaps more Brett) Weston.  He’d walk from his home, perhaps up into Richmond Park, his camera and tripod in a shopping trolley.  Technically they were fine, but I and others tried to tell him that there were other things in photography that were perhaps of more interest.

At the time most of what I was showing was ‘street photography’ and we had long discussions about my pictures and also about some of the great street photographers whose work interested me. I remember going with him to an exhibition of the work of Gary Winogrand, going round it with him and arguing over the pictures.

Perhaps what finally persuaded him to have a go at street photography was not my example – or Winogrand’s work – but a workshop we both went to with Thomas Joshua Cooper, who told Jim rather more directly what I had been trying to say about his large-format work and encouraged him to try something new.

From then on, until shortly before he died, Jim salked the streets of the West end in his wooly hat, lurking with his Leica and usually a 24mm lens.  Ten years ago I wrote a short piece about him for the magazine of London Independent Photography, which by then we had both joined:

Most days it seems, you can find Jim in London. Several times this year I’ve been hurrying to the Photographers’ Gallery or across Soho or down Bond St and in the distance have seen a familiar figure with his Leica and hat.

I haven’t always had time to stop and talk, or even to go over and greet him, as I usually seem to be rushing to a late appointment. Sometimes I’ve realised he is at work waiting patiently for the moment to happen and not wanted to disturb him.

Though officially retired, Jim seems to be working harder than ever. After a day’s work on the street he goes home to spend the evening in the darkroom printing.

Every LIP meeting sees Jim with a new box of pictures for our delight, with perhaps another 30 or 40 or more 20×16 prints.


This print won second prize in a competition organised by the Evening Standard and Canon and was one of five or six prizewinners displayed in the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Despite this success, Jim was robbed as this picture was clearly in a league of its own compared with the other winners.

Another superb example of his street photography, this picture made a fine poster for the Soho Jazz festival. It is hard to imagine how anything or anybody in this peculiar theatre of the street could have been better placed – a moment so precisely caught that could not have been better drafted or choreographed.

I soon realised why I’d got an e-mail for Jim Barron. Both he and I had entered for a competition called ‘M.I.L.K’ in 1999, and as he didn’t do computers, he had got me to send in his entry for him. Now almost ten years on there is a second version of this competition, entitled ‘Fresh M.I.L.K.’ It describes itself as:

“A $125,000 international competition to find photographs that capture spontaneous and humorous moments shared between friends, families and lovers.

We are inviting both professional and gifted amateur photographers from around the world to submit their images now. 150 images will be chosen as finalists and the overall winner, chosen by Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt, will receive $50,000.

This is a chance to have your photograph become part of a world-renowned collection and be published in a prestigious international book.”

For details go to the Fresh M.I.L.K web site. Entry is free and you can submit up to five entries of five pictures each – online submission only. The small print looks pretty reasonable – as you would expect with Erwitt lending his name to it – and the prizes aare certainly worthwhile. We have until 31 Dec 2008 to enter, and the winners will be announced on or before 31 March 2009.

One Response to “Milk and Jim Barron”

  1. I was wrong about M.I.L.K.

    Its a way for the organisers to make money out of photographers work – and not a great deal for photographers.

    A good place to check on contests is Pro-Imaging

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