Feb 16 2012: Ten Scenes from a Post-War British Childhood (1960s)
The other day, we were walking back down Mansfield Road after dropping off some bags of vinyl, CDs and DVDs deemed surplus to requirements during an ongoing clear-out and swung into the retro shop, Daphne’s Handbag, along the way. Just inside the door was a plastic box full of old photographs, and a superficial rummage quickly drew out the image above, followed by nine more in a similar vein, all likely to be from the same family album.
What’s striking about these – even at first glance – is the quality of the photography, which has a similar feel to much that is better known in the realms of 1960s photo-journalism, a sort of post-Free Cinema aesthetic in which ordinary lives are caught on a knife-edge between formality and engagement. These are shots that don’t follow the standard formats of family snaps, but have an intimacy that isn’t quite detached or documentary either.
The characters emerge in ways that go beyond the usual smiling postures to convey (for example) the genuine wonderment expressed by the two girls in the picture above, or the unexpected jolt when we can’t help noticing the youth of the mother as she sits among the children while they eat ice-cream around a table: she holds a position of undoubted authority, yet is pushed towards the edge of the shot and betrays an engaging uncertainty about her role.
There’s no indication on the pictures as to who the family are or where the pictures were taken, though it’s probably safe to assume – given the place they were found – that there’s some local connection. Taken together, as a collective evocation of their era, and individually, as images that would often not seem out of place in an anthology of British photography of the 1960s, these are, by any standards, quite fascinating portraits.