March 2014: Additional photos from Shadwell, East London added, and identified. Scroll two thirds of the way down – Le Patron.
London Town ’54 A large scrapbook of photos bought on ebay, with line drawings and ephemera
Trafalgar Square, September, 1954
London Town 54, the complete book of photos is now online. londontown54.com
The ebay auction details, from the German seller, followed by a brief selection with a commentary
Hans-Richard Griebe of Kiel went to London in September 1954 to take part in a short course of ‘Colloquial English’ run by the The London School of English in Oxford Street.
He brought with him a 35 mm Exakta camera with a standard and a telephoto lens, and a medium format Rollei.
From the album we can see he is a very good illustrator, but it is his photography that is outstanding.
His album which he called Camera Abroad is an extraordinary record of a London emerging from the rigours of the 1940’s, travelling on its way towards Harold MacMillan’s ‘You’ve Never Had it so Good’. It also upsets notions of grey, wet foggy London Town of the early 1950’s. This is a mostly vibrant, stylish city, with the Festival of Britain only a few years old, and many of its features on the South Bank intact.
We have at the moment no idea what his occupation was, or how he financed his eight weeks in London. His interest in battleships and boats, and coming from Kiel, suggests the possibility he had been in the Third Reich navy.
As with all great photographers he had the ‘eye’ – yes, for women, but also the ambience of London, and its people. Hans-Richard’s delight in London’s women captures the wonderful styles of clothing that were around that Indian summer. Although some of the sequences of women might seem disturbing – basically he was following them along busy streets – he had no difficulty in asking them if he could photograph them. He spotted Wendy when he went on a day trip down the Thames by boat to Southend.
And then he asked to photograph her, and took over ten photos of her.
He used his Rollei often to photograph himself, on, for instance, Westminister Bridge. He’d put it on the pavement with a mechanical timer screwed into the cable release socket. Anyone who has done this will know how difficult it is to position yourself just right. Hans-Richard always got it right.
Using the Exacta with a telephoto lens he got a head and shoulders picture on September 15 of Queen Elisabeth and the visiting Emperor Haile Selassie that is the equal of any Fleet Street shot.
Like most keen photographers of his generation he developed and printed his own negatives (his negative thumb print – bottom right – is visible on one of the many photographs he took in Southend).
‘Wir bleiben in Southend’ is his photo essay spread over 14 pages featuring 45 photos and line drawings by him of what was East London’s pleasure ground. The model of the Royal Hynd, the mile long pier and it’s train, Madame Rene, clairvoyant, the crowded sea front and beach, dripping ice cream cones and a placard protest against German rearmament, juxtaposed with a gent holding a placard demanding Rearmament of the Soul are some of the subjects. There is also a photo spread of Wendy, who posed for him in her shorts and blouse, and then shed those for bathing costume shots.
Hans-Richard travelled down to Southend on the crowded Royal Sovereign, embarking at Tower Bridge. The photo essay on this section of the outing runs to 31 photos.
‘Pflasterkunstler und Sanwichmen’ Four photos on the page, none captioned. ‘Pall Mall East’ sign, top left. This is at the bottom of Pall Mall. This is a typical example of Hans-Richard grabbing the moment perfectly. Another second and the downcast man with cigarette would have walked across the outlines of the people looking at the pavement artist (Pflasterkunstler). He knew exactly when to press the shutter.
‘Rush Hour. In German Rasch nach hause!’ There are three photos on the page with a nice little drawing, in his own hand, of a clock dead on 5 p.m. To take this shot he would have been walking directly behind them, trying to keep them in focus and, as he’s shooting into the light, at the same time metering for the shade. Bert Hardy in his My Life, London, 1985, says that this backlighting technique was one of his own favourites.
Hans-Richard took several photos of Indians and West Indians, a novelty for a visiting German from Kiel. He also befriended Indian seamen at the Pool of London, and the album contains several portraits of Indian seamen and the pasted in address in India of one of them.
Probably Oxford Street. Selling ladies purses out of a suitcase. His ‘look-out’ is momentarily distracted.
The Shadwell Photos
‘London Docks und East End’ 14 photos spread over 4 pages. They mostly concentrate on the streets, rather than the docks. (He has a separate extensive photo essays on the Pool of London and its ocean going ships). One striking photo, above, is of a street market on a dull dark afternoon, with a barrow of oranges piled up pyramid style foreground, folk in the street and in the distance a railway engine pulling a passenger carriage over the elevated bridge. There is something about it that reminds Le Patron of Andre Kertesz’s Meudon, Paris, 1928. Hans-Richard identifies the five photos on the page as Limehouse. However, since this article was posted online in September, 2013 Le Patron was contacted by Christopher Matheson in February, 2014, who grew up near the above street. He contacted Le Patron using the Leave a Reply facility at the bottom of every online article. (Scroll right down to the bottom to see the original correspondence.)
Christopher identified the street as Watney Street, in Shadwell, not Limehouse. Le Patron sent Christopher more photos from “London Docks und East End” and he has kindly identified where they are. He no longer lives in Shadwell, but still has family there. He has lived in California for many years. Le Patron has now added (March, 2014) several of these streets and places identified by Christopher, and Le Patron thanks him very much.
The railway bridge in the photo above now carries the Docklands Light Railway.
The grim warehouse, the deserted street and the two children at the pub corner reminds Le Patron of a very similar photograph Bert Hardy took in Thomas More Street for Picture Post in the Pool of London story, Picture Post, 3 December, 1949.
End of the Shadwell photos sequence
Interior, Lyons Corner House. Hans-Richard attended the Colloquial English course at the London School of English seen through the window. He captioned the photo ‘Lyons. Im hintergrund School Entrance’. His focus on the stylish woman, of course, makes the picture.
‘Piccadilly Circus’. 18 photos spread over 4 pages, featuring Piccadilly Circus night and day. In this shot white walled tyres on the Ford Zodiac in background, and WPC’s. (Thanks to viewer Paul Gatty spotting that it was a Zodiac, and not a Consul, as I had originally described it. Paul wrote “It is a Ford Zodiac, newly introduced, and top of the range. Very glitzy with the two tone paint as standard, as are the whitewalls.”
‘Hanover Square. Lunchtime’. Five photos on the page. This is the only one captioned: ‘Auf dem schild rechts steht: Resen nicht betreten!’ (The sign on the right says: Please keep off the grass!)
“Tower” (Tower of London). 19 photos spread over four pages plus line drawings by Hans-Richard. Some photos are captioned. This one isn’t. The pleasures, the pleasures… of smoking. And look at the cuffs on their coats. Wonderful.
In one or two of the prints there is a slight double exposure at the edge, suggesting a slippage with the wind-on mechanism, plus some photographs are soft, suggesting a problem with the standard lens. The repair bill was equal to about a third of a manual workers weekly wage.
Again, this photo shows his photo journalist talent. To get the shot of the train he is departing on, he has walked down an adjoining platform at Victoria. Above the couple someone is trying either to slide open the compartment window, or close it.
The complete set of photos from London Town ’54 is now online at londontown54.com It concludes a loose trilogy of online books by Pete Grafton that look at life in Britain from the 1930s through to the mid 1950s.
You, You & You: The People Out of Step with World War Two (2013) covers the 1930s and the Second World War, and Len: Our Ownest Darling Girl (2014) is the immediate aftermath of the war and life in Britain up until 1950.