Hard Sixties

Another interesting show from Le Mois was at Galerie Galerie David Guirand  in the rue du Perche with John Bulmers ‘Hard Sixties: L’Angleterre post-industrielle,’ which closes 20 Dec.   This small gallery had a series of black and white and colour images from the 1960s taken in the north of England, particularly around Manchester.

Bulmer studied engineering at Cambridge, going on to become a freelance photographer working for the Daily Express and Town Magazine before The Sunday Times, Life, Look and other magazines sent him around the world. In 1972 he worked as photographer (cinematographer) on a BBC film directed by Mai Zetterling about Vincent Van Gogh which won a BAFTA award for documentary, and after this he made his career mainly in film, although continuing to take still pictures as well.

He has directed over 30 films, photographing on many of them and also on other films. Now approaching 70, he lives in rural Herefordshire (not far from where another Bulmer, Percy, founded a cider empire in 1887) and is working with his archive of images, most of which have never been published. As yet he doesn’t appear to have put any on the web.

The show contains some dramatic images of the times, showing a clear liking for fairly extreme wide-angle views – several looked as if taken with a 21mm lens. The harsh printing of the black and white work also added to the gritty feel of the work, which did very much seem to mirror life in some of the poor and deprived working class areas which they depict.

This was a time when the colour supplements and magazines were increasingly publishing colour images, although many documentary photographers were reluctant to use colour, with its added technical problems. The magazines wanted colour transparency, and many of an older generation of photographers had never had to bother with exposure meters before. Bulmer’s colour work stands out from this era, although I felt his black and white images were more confident and perhaps more true to the subject.

For most of the sixties I was a student, and seven years of my life were spent in Manchester.  For much of that time I lived in working class areas not a great deal different from many of those where he took his pictures, but although I owned a camera (a Halina 35x), I didn’t have the money for film. Photography then was still largely a hobby for the middle class, and those of us with little money made do with a film a year  for our holidays.  At the time setting up a darkroom was beyond my dreams. Living in small flats there was no room – and we had no money.

My daily journey across Manchester in 1970 to my first job in a small town in its northern outskirts took me on the smoke-filled upper deck of a bus through miles of closely packed terrace houses,  across the dead and dreary wastes of council estates, past a working colliery and varied industries including a wire works, canals, mills and the inevitable gas works and gas holders.It was a vivid grandstand view of a slice of the industrial north for a few pence twice a day.

All of these industrial sites were on the edge of extinction and much of those older areas of housing have been bull-dozed. My journey today would be completely different  Bulmer’s work is a valuable record of and England that has changed, if not always for the better.

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