Overheard pub conversation:
Everyone’s got an uncle Bill. And everyone’s got just one picture of him. Uncle Bill died before you were born. The photo is your mum’s, taken on a trip to Hayling Island when she was a girl. And she shows you this photo, a tear at the corner of her eye, ‘That’s your Uncle Bill’ she says. And she hands you a tiny black and white picture of a man in a suit standing in the middle of a field. That’s your Uncle Bill. Well, it was my Uncle Bill. Who was called Norman. Your Uncle Bill was probably called Cliff. Or Lance.
In the final of the series of Dave Hendley’s rediscovered 1970s photos, this image shows an elderly couple outside their house in Fulham; they were facing eviction from their home after living there for decades. That is as much as I can tell you about the facts of the picture; Dave doesn’t know what became of them or the house itself (if it wasn’t flattened for redevelopment, it is probably now one of those candy-coloured terraced houses that go for over a million pounds). I’d like to know the full story, but perhaps it’s as well I don’t. I imagine the outcome was shabby and depressing: the early 1970s was not a glorious era for social housing in London.
Dave’s photographs this week are fragments of a lost career, and these pictures only exist because he left some old prints at his mother’s house. I don’t know why Dave felt compelled to chuck his old negatives, but he was young when he did it and perhaps didn’t reckon on their value as a permanent record. Now that almost all photographs exist as pixellated images that never get preserved as hard copy, it is sobering to consider the implications for the future. Dave ditched his negatives and got old enough to regret it, but fine prints were (accidentally) preserved. Today’s toy-like cameras make images that are no more durable than an ice sculpture. Photography is becoming utterly ephemeral: you aren’t creating a graven image, you are generating a string of code. Then, a bit later, maybe you get short of space on a memory card so you ditch a few images you don’t think you’ll need, or you forget to back them up, or the hard drive they were on went down … you won’t recover those pictures in anyone’s attic, they are gone. The future is bright and shiny and cares not for the past. Even those of us still using film wince at the price of ‘traditional’ materials: posterity carries a premium. What did Uncle Bill look like again?
St. James’s Park. © Dave Hendley 1973.
Photography is concerned with appearance rather than truth, and occasionally, one comes across a photograph so mysterious that one is stumped for any sort of comment. One thinks of the Andre Kertesz photo of a shadow behind glass on a balcony in Martinique; of Robert Frank’s picture of a girl running past a hearse and a street sweeper on a drab London street; or Elliott Erwitt’s shot of tourists in a Mexican charnel house, all acknowledged masterpieces. I think the above photo by Dave Hendley has a similar power. Dave offers no insight: he shot it quickly with his Leica as he walked past the men, then moved along before they had time to register that he had taken their photo (‘I was more ruthless back then, I don’t stick my camera in people’s faces any more’.) But it invites speculation, so I am going to offer mine.
There are few clues in Dave’s photo as to the exact period, but somehow we know it belongs to the past: in fact, it is the early 1970s – but it evokes a time slightly earlier than that. I am reminded of the ‘black and white’ 1960s, the lost era of Victim, Pinter’s The Servant, and, especially, Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mister Sloane: a world of furtive encounters afforded a desperately genteel gloss (“the air round Twickenham was like wine”). But I don’t know whether my interpretation is correct and it probably isn’t. More than one photographer has got into trouble because a photo suggested something about its subjects that was misleading or even libellous. Whatever the reality, the picture is simultaneously comic, poignant and slightly disturbing. The sharply assessing gaze of the man on the left is unnerving enough, but I find myself worried by the man on the right, his too-tight tie and his inscrutable smile somehow just wrong. (I am also reminded of this painting.)
As with the photo we ran yesterday, this photograph is a precious survivor of a cull of Dave’s early work which the photographer carried out with youthful ruthlessness. That was many years ago and, needless to say, Dave now regrets this; fortunately, this image survived as a print which Dave recently discovered in his mum’s attic.
… for The London Column.
Robert Graves visits London and wishes he was back in Deya. Photo: Dave Hendley, poem: Tim Turnbull.Posted: November 13, 2012
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi by Tim Turnbull
All aboard now, you children of Demeter,
sling up your canvas haversacks and bedding
on the roof-rack, load the plonk and bread in,
and scrunch into the battered Ford twelve seater.
Discard your wooly hats and your windcheaters;
the weather’s always sunny where we’re heading.
Sing, as if a festival or a wedding
were the destination. Fear won’t defeat us
on our way. Pass the carafe of sangria
as we speed on through the brilliant foothills
of the island. Love and wine make us brave
in face of our enemy, so that we are
exultant first, resigned, and lastly tranquil
on the minibus that bears us to our graves.
… for The London Column. © Tim Turnbull 2012.
This week we feature some photos from Dave Hendley‘s 1970s archive; I say ‘archive’, but in fact the ones we are running were rescued from Dave’s mother’s attic, and are survivors of an ill-advised cull that Dave made of his work some decades ago. The photo above was taken for The Times; a photo call at an event to honour Graves, who looks massively uncomfortable – which is perhaps unsurprising, given that he hated to leave his beloved home in Deya, Mallorca for any reason whatsoever.
Graves’s tomb, Deya, Mallorca. © David Secombe 1990.
Travellers’ community, Westway. Photo © Dave Hendley 1972.
Dave Hendley writes:
The picture was made one Saturday in the late summer of 1972 at the other end of my working life and in a very different world. I was on a job for Time Out and the mission was to photograph a free music festival in what was then a grassed area under the Westway by Latimer Road. My brief was to photograph stock pictures of musicians for future inclusion in the magazine’s gig guides. The concert was a small and very comfy affair with an audience of around 150 – 200 people.
A short distance away, under what is now the West Cross interchange, there was a cluster of caravans and I spotted a group of traveller men-folk observing the event with curiosity and great amusement.
I wandered over and asked to take a photograph. These were times when being photographed was something of a compliment and the lads posed willingly. I suspect in today’s suspicious climate I would have met with a more hostile reaction. I took just two frames as was my normal procedure back then, film was a precious commodity and consequently I always shot very concisely. After all why would you want more than one or two shots of a particular subject?
Later in the afternoon the Time Out picture editor Rebecca John (the granddaughter of the painter Augustus John) came to say hello and I abandoned my duties for a visit to a nearby pub. Rebecca was a very lovely person and it is is one of my great regrets that we subsequently lost touch over the years.
I returned to photograph a few more bands, including a musician called Steve Hillage, a strange hippie type in a pixie hat. As I was shooting away a scruffy but very polite and gently spoken young man approached me and enquired if he could buy some pictures. He wrote his name, Richard, and contact details on the back of a crumpled flyer. On the following Monday I made my way to the Virgin shop in Notting Hill Gate where I sold Richard Branson a couple of frames for a tenner.
© Dave Hendley 2011