December 26: Postcard

26December 26: Holidays traditionally bring postcards usually meant to generate jealousy in the recipient, and no-one has done more to elevate this genre of photography to that of an art than John Hinde, who died in 1997 on this, the same date as Weegee, who died in 1968.

The two photographers present very different views; one grubby and sinister, the other pristine and sublime. While Weegee’s photographs of the underbelly of New York are in black and white, John Hinde was a pioneer of colour photography in Britain, developing a much more optimistic, rose-tinted image of his country.

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As we know, skies in postcards are always blue the people all tanned and not a scrap of rubbish sullies the green pastures. In Hinde’s Piccadilly Circus of 1962, even the water in Eros’s fountain is sky-blue and the predominant brown-greys of the tarmac and buildings highlight the red of the sports car, buses and ladies’ coats vibrate with a redness branded ‘London’. It’s the world of the Beatles’ Penny Lane released only five years later, not the gaudy, run-down Britain of Martin Parr’s Bad Weather (1982) or The Last Resort (1982–1985).

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Weegee (Arthur Fellig) 1952 Times Square

There’s nothing attractive for the tourist of 1952 in Weegee’s vision of the corner of Piccadilly Circus’s US counterpart, Times Square. Men loiter outside a lingerie shop studded with naked plastic breasts and advertising its ‘drastic reductions’  and model of a tawdry showgirl strutting her stuff. The underexposure of the negative smudges the smoggy distance; no blue skies here!

Born in Somerset, England and trained at the Reimann School of Photography by Frank Newens, a leading exponent of new methods of colour printing, Hinde set up a studio in London and worked as a documentary, war and advertising photographer. He was commissioned to take pictures for books by Adprint publishers who developed the Britain in Pictures series, an association that links his work with war-time Britain and the propaganda potential, Exmoor Village (1947) and British Circus Life (1948). Working on the last of these, Hinde decided to join the circus as a PR manager and attempted to start his own in Ireland until finally in 1956 he returned to photography and founded his eponymous postcard business.

Hinde’s bright cards depicting English and Irish landscape were even then considered gaudy and kitsch by an audience used to staid black and white views. However his Butlins Holiday Camps series, were so in demand that by 1966 Hinde was running one of the largest postcard companies in the world with sales in excess of 50 million postcards (or viewcards as he preferred to call them) worldwide by 1972. Hinde’s success in the postcard business parallels the post-war expansion of the tourist industry.

He put his experience as a showman to work in the meticulous staging of these images, which are always taken from carefully scouted vantage points and in just the right weather conditions with models chosen from amongst the people available but with strict direction, and processed in Italy where colour technology was more advanced. They are masterworks of the genre but of course, as a consequence, being postcards, they are at the same time quite ludicrous!

He presents us with the working-person’s family paradise.

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Following his retirement of the business he moved to Continental Europe where he lived in France and Spain until his death in 1997.

 

 

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