February 23: Postcards are a means of ‘monetising’ public views.
Fred Judge made postcards and money, thousands, at the turn of the century at a time when technology made photography available to more people, and more could use cameras without the necessity of processing and printing their own work.
He lived in Hastings, England a place you will remember from 1066 and all that and, thinking about it, will realise it is on the coast facing France from whence the Normans came. It’s a seaside resort. He was in the right place to start selling postards, a career he took up after being bitten by the camera bug and taking a holiday in there, deciding to drop his steam engineer’s apprenticeship. It was a remarkable leap of faith but his determination prevailed. He purchased an existing photographic business at 21a Wellington Place in Hastings, renaming it Judges’ Photo Stores, selling photographic materials and prints of local views and also hiring out his “electrically lighted darkrooms”. In 1903 he began issuing picture postcards.
Cards had been sent in the post since the advent of postal services, but cards printed with a picture on one side did not appear until 1870 in France where Léon Besnardeau printed and made them available as souvenirs of the Franco-Prussian war to soldiers at Camp Conlie, a training camp There’s no evidence they were sent without envelopes; that idea took off in the 1880s, but quite slowly in Britain where it was not until 1894 that the Royal Mail gave publishers permission to manufacture and distribute picture postcards through the post, an opportunity first taken up by the ETW Dennis company of Scarborough.
Judge’s cards were at first simply photographic prints on the back of which a message could be scribbled and a stamp attached. His newspaper advertisement of 15 August 1903 offers “P.O.P. postcards 12 costing 6d” (Printing Out Paper), multiple copies of customers’ photographs for their own use, the earliest of which is postmarked 16 November 1903.
He soon started to sell his own images when his multi-view montage card of the great storm at Hastings of September 1903 proved a best seller. One of his early cards shows a bolt of lightning at Hastings during a summer electrical storm on the evening of June 6, 1906. Within a year Fred Judge had sold 25,000 copies of the card, and it remained a best seller for a quarter of a century.
There were dozens of companies specializing in real photo topographical scenes in Britain: the best known, Valentine’s, Raphael Tuck and Frith and Co., being large family concerns, employed several photographers. Fred Judge by contrast, took his own photos, right up to card number 9347, when the carefully trained Oliver Butler shared the photographic work. By number 9847, taken in 1927, Fred Judge remained behind the desk, a highly successful businessman with six more offices and a purpose-built factory and headquarters on the Bexhill Road at Bulverhythe, near Hastings.
He had the responsibility to his business to make iconic images of significant places; of saleable significance that is, and in the first few years he sold cards at a reasonable penny each, or 13 for a shilling (about $US6.50 today), but by 1907 the price had doubled. To be so successful his mostly black and white, sometimes hand-coloured, cards had to be attractive, and their subject matter of flowers, children, sea views and famous landmarks made them appealing, but it was his Pictorialist style, then prevailing in photography, that made them especially so. Clearly he regarded himself, and was accepted by other photographers, as an artist for his expert bromoil prints like the one below, and he became a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 1915, winning many national and international medals for his work.
A comparison with a later postcard makes clear how superlatively Judge dealt with light and atmosphere by applying his knowledge of the southern coastline, even though Bournemouth is 200km from Hastings, to shoot into the morning sun where the colour postcard photographer has waited for flat light in the late afternoon to make theirs.
But the Royal Photographic Society never awarded him an honorary fellowship, and the Photographic Journal gave him a less than enthusiastic obituary. The sepia colour of his cards, meant no doubt to imitate the quality of his original printing-out paper cards and his later bromoil masterpieces, cast a pall over the images. That and the often dour, inclement weather depicted, so perfect for the dramatic effects that Pictorialists sought, reduced their appeal in later years.
The colour postcard calls for seamless blue skies and flat sunshine for the vibrant hues that the holidaymaker wants for maximum envy amongst their workmates back in the office. The postcard above, postmarked August 19th 1910, bears the message “Am having a grand time here. Am feeling very well. Sea rough today. Lifeboat launched early this morning. Love, Toots.” It is an example of the unsatisfactory coloured collotypes of Hastings and Rye that he started selling in 1906-7, which were supplied by a German printer; some being very dark and gloomy, whereas others were luridly coloured. Colour was not Judge’s forté.
There’s another side to Judge’s quest for the theatrical. In the years 1903-9 Judges produced many cards of newsworthy events; the sea front flooding that followed an exceptionally high tide in November 1905, the S.S. Lugano on fire off Hastings in April 1906, the launching of the Hastings lifeboat in a snowstorm on April 25, 1908 and the great fire in Waterworks Road, Hastings, in January 1909. Though newspaper front pages were now carrying photographs, they were not able to provide the illustrations immediately after an event, and particularly if they happened in the regions. Judge’s postcards made up for the lack in Sussex of newspaper reports with photographs of these events.
In providing images of newsworthy events, and early on, a service to print the photographs of customers as postcards, Judge’s operated as a proto-social-media; the Twitter or Instagram of his time, incorporating topical, catchy or collectable images with a brief personal message, quick and easy to send, and cheap.
Building on his ability to acquire a quality photograph even in the often inclement meteorological conditions of the coast, Judge’s series taken in Edwardian London were often made in the dark. These London views he began in 1908-9 and in 1913 Judges opened a branch at 22 Ludgate Hill. Given that Andre Kertesz did not make his first night shots until 1914 and that Jessie Tarbox Beals was working after dark in the USA only four years prior, these are quite radical efforts.
What they often incidentally reveal is a society prior to the First World War that was still reeling from industrialisation. These are not partygoers taking a rest on a bench. London attracted people dislocated from depressed areas where changes in the economy had brought sudden changes of fortune, and the first hunger marches took place around this time, one actually arriving in Hastings. It was never Judge’s intention to document society, and his interest here is in the atmospherics, but his images are worthy of sociological analysis, though I have not yet encountered any.
Neither of the following would be considered suitable subjects for postcards now, or even by mid-century when pollution was becoming a problem, prompting the passage of the Clean Air Act. To Judge, they are merely opportunities to capture light effects or to animate his imagery.
Postcards of significant monuments and landmarks are particularly popular still, though the whole industry is succumbing to the inroads of social media. A work I encountered yesterday by British photographer, academic, writer and curator Lewis Bush pulled me up as I was considering devoting this post to an exhibition at Grob Gallery, 2, rue Etienne-Dumont in Genève, Switzerland. They’re holding a vernissage tonight 6-8pm for their new group show of still life images today, the day Maurice Tabard, a practitioner of the ‘nature morte’ (but not in their show), died in Paris in 1984.
Rebelling at the tendency of officials, security guards, police and other institutional ‘heavies’ to push photographers around when they dare to photograph a bank or a government building, Bush devised a project to counter it, or at least to push back with some polite civil disobedience. In Camera Obscured he employs the oldest photographic technology to do so;
Both frustrated and intrigued by this, I decided to travel to sensitive sites around the city which I then proceeded to draw using a homemade camera obscura. In each case this procedure, which took up to an hour, was extremely visible and distinctly suspicious looking. When inevitably challenged, I attempted to engage these personnel in a discussion about art history, highlighting the blurred boundaries between images made by mechanical means and those drawn by hand, and by doing so demonstrating the absurdity of their objections.
What results is closely related to the drawings made by Judge from his photographs, which he also sold as postcards.
Bush, like Judge, is not a bad ‘pencil squeezer’ when provided the assistance of the lens.
Bush indicates a sore point for street photographers in relation to civil liberties. It is not illegal in most countries to photograph in the street, even where a building that happens into your viewfinder is ‘sensitive’ in terms of security. I recently encountered a ridiculous extreme when asked by an architect to document a completed commission, a police office in a regional city. I was told the architect and I were denied permission to photograph the building – from the outside – ‘for security reasons’.
More galling still is that part of the cause for the new ‘sensitivity’ of public buildings in public places, it turns out, is that certain photo libraries and image stock photographers have negotiated rights to image these sites in a bid to monopolise the market, just as they are doing with public collections.
Sadly this is to some extent a logical consequence of the application of the kind of commercial enterprise that Fred Judge pursued, but it is also an oppression and denial of the rights of the lover or photography, beyond any, not inconsequential, consideration of the assertion of power by the surveillant state.