Thursday, September 17, 2009

John Hinde (1916-1998)

Consider the lowly postcard.  So simple, yet able to achieve a complexity of functions all at once. An inexpensive means of correspondence used to communicate a message both written and visual. The postcard also serves to promote a business, vacation spot or perhaps even a piece of art.

In the late 80’s I used to frequent an establishment called Quantity Postcards in North Beach, San Francisco. A large open space with two facing walls covered from floor to ceiling with racks of Postcards. Every type of imaginable image was represented – scenics, portraits, illustrations, sports, paintings; all of human activity condensed to 3 x 5 bits of cardboard. It was a glorious visual overload.

Unable to afford costly hard bound catalogs of the painters whose work I admired so fiercely I instead collected their postcard reproductions. When I travelled to museums across the US or Europe I always made sure to visit the museum store before leaving to collect my souvenir postcards.

Which brings me to a rather obscure photographer (to Americans at least) that single-handedly conquered the Postcard trade in Ireland and the UK. John Hinde was perhaps an unintentional artist. His main objective was to create images for mass consumption. He created his own business, John Hinde Ltd. in 1956 to facilitate the printing and distribution of his photographs through books and postcards.

John Hinde was born in Somerset County, England to an Irish national mother and was raised as a quaker. Pursuing amateur photography at an early age by 1940 Hinde had conquered the difficult tri-color carbo printing process developed by Paul Outerbridge. He fervently believed in craftsmanship and insisted on the  finest color reproduction possible. Throughout the decade he worked on several books including some on horticulture where he struggled to match his meticulous color prints to the means of mechanical reproduction available for mass market books at that time.

During the war he utilized his passion for photography making pictures for the British Civil Defence Organization. This work was later published in a book entitled Citizens at War - and After 1945.


By wars end Hinde was ready for new endeavors. In 1944 he photographed a circus to make pictures for his book British Circus Life. The circus bug had bitten and for the next ten years he participated in his own circus life, first as a manager and then owning his own circus troupe until 1955. It was during this period while traveling with this troupe that he first experienced Ireland. He made several scenic photographs depicting the wild, natural beauty of the Emerald Isle. Opportunity had struck again. He began his postcard business, catering to the tourist trade, illuminating the allure of his adopted new home.

Prior to World War Two color photography was still a difficult process, both costly and labor intensive. It was not easily accessible to the amateur photographer. But by the wars end color photography’s moment had truly arrived. Inexpensive color film stock had finally arrived on the market. The stark, black & white, blitzed and bombed British Isles were primed for a new era of optimism and freedom best represented by vibrant, exciting colors.

Hinde was famously quoted as saying “the lily has to be gilded”. He felt that the scenics must adhere to his rigorous definition of photographic composition. He had no problem rearranging his landscapes by adding plants or tree limbs to the foreground  or perhaps wiring stalks to force their shapes into a pleasant symmetry. He wasn’t so much recording nature but reinterpreting it to match the tourist’s heightened memories.

In the late sixties Hinde began working with Butlin Holiday Camps producing postcards advertising these low-cost working class vacation camps dotted throughout the UK. At this point he relinquished much of the actual shooting to a group of hired photographers and supervised the reproduction of the images still holding to his aesthetics of bold, vivid colors.

In 1972 Hinde sold his business and retired to a life of landscape painting. While he never had much regard for his own photographs as “art” he nonetheless was honored with a retrospective show in Dublin’s Irish Museum of Modern Art in 1993.

I leave you with one final quote from John Hinde – “I had this sort of vision thing, of the top of the ladder when I was at the bottom, of fantastic colour photographs that I had never seen and that nobody else had ever seen and my whole aim was all the time how to get there, how to achieve it. You ever visualize Heaven?”


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good brief and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Thanks you for your information.