Posts Tagged ‘Picture Post’
When Picture Post published “Back to the Middle Ages” November 26th 1938, the magazine was less than two months old. Launched on October 1st, it was from the very beginning staunchly anti-fascist, thanks to the editorship of Stefan Lorant, an Hungarian refugee who had been previously imprisoned by the Nazis in Munich.
Situations had gotten worse in Germany that November. An assassination of a German diplomat in Paris provided the Nazis with the pretext for the Kristallnacht, an antisemitic pogrom. To cover the event, Lorant thought he should juxtaposed the faces of the Nazi leadership alongside those of the writers, actors and scientists they were persecuting.
Four central figures loomed large above the headlines, three still well-known, one less so. Alongside Hitler, Goebbels, and Goering was Julius Streicher whose newspaper Der Stürmer was the centerpiece of the Nazi propaganda. A former schoolmaster who was expelled from his profession, Streicher was anti-Semitic, almost to a comical degree: he wrote anti-Semitic books for children, and frequently repeated the medieval accusation that Jews killed Christian children to make matzoh. An early practitioner of what you would today call ‘Fake News’, Streicher argued that since his articles were based on race, not religion, they were protected by the German constitution.
When Picture Post went to press, Streicher was at the height of his noxious power: at Nuremberg, where he was the local Nazi party chief, he was treated almost as an absolute monarch. During Kristallnacht, he ordered his followers to sack the Great Synagogue of the city. But Kristallnacht also proved to be his downfall: he was accused of keeping Jewish property seized after Kristallnacht in November 1938, and his enemies within the Nazi party hierarchy — especially Goering whose daughter he once accused of being conceived by artificial insemination — were all to glad to denounce him. Hitler also grew tired of Streicher’s hysterical tirades, and would travel to Nuremberg only in secret, in order to avoid having to dine with Streicher.
In 1940, Streicher was finally stripped of his party offices, although his paper continued publishing until the war’s end. But Der Stürmer, like its publisher, itself limped into the 1940s. Once its pages were full of denunciations of Germans who were friendly to Jews or patrons of Jewish businesses, and exaggerated stories about misconduct and crimes by Jews, but as deportation of Jews intensified and Jewish life all but disappeared across Germany, there was little material for the paper. After 1940, this was literally true as paper restrictions were imposed on Der Stürmer.
The photo on page 19 read: Humanity at its Lowest. Young Nazis look on smiling while Elderly Jews are forced to scrub Vienna streets. On the back of this picture, the agency circulating it had felt it necessary to print: “Under no circumstances whatsoever may the source from which this picture was obtained, be revealed.”
While it revealed only a small segment of the society, the above photo of two filthy street urchins walking arm-in-arm nonetheless became one of the most famous icons of post-war Glasgow – a symbol of renewal and regeneration amidst the decay and ruin that was the Gorbals.
The Gorbals was often referred to as Europe’s worst slum, and the most dangerous place in the UK; poor design and low-quality construction led to many social and health problems. Street gangs and casual violence were rife, and the infamous Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer, was born in the Gorbals.
In 1948, Picture Post first assigned a feature story on poverty in the Gorbals to Bill Brandt; Bert Hardy, who grew up in equally deprived Blackfriars, claimed he could shot the story better and got the assignment. The above photo was Hardy’s favorite: the depiction of misery lifted by the cheeky playfulness of the children perfectly captured the spirit of his own difficult childhood. However, the magazine’s editors declined to publish it, choosing instead to include grittier shots of Gorbals life than the smiling “street urchins”; indeed, it was those haunting photos of vandalized tenements and tattered curtains that won Hardy the inaugural Encyclopaedia Britannica Photographic Awards.
The picture was taken on the city’s long since demolished Clelland Street. The identities of two boys were unknown until an Evening Times campaign to trace them in 1985; Les Mason (boy on the left) and George Davis were reunited for the first time since primary school. Back in 1948, Mason and Davis, both aged seven, were running to the chemist on errands for Mason’s mother. Davis died in 2002 and Mason died in July 2011.
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In 1950, editor of Picture Post Tom Hopkinson sent reporter James Cameron and photographer Bert Hardy to cover the Korean War. While in Korea the two men produced three illustrated stories for Picture Post, including General Douglas MacArthur’s landing at Inchon. But the photos Hardy took outside Pusan Station were the memorable images that eventually ripped Britain’s premier picture magazine apart.
In early September 1950, Pusan was the only Korean city held by U.N. Forces. There outside the train station were about sixty political prisoners, aged 14 to 70, suspected of opposing South Korean dictator Syngman Rhee. They were tied up, and wore almost no clothes; when they tried to scoop a drink from the puddles of rain that they were squatting in, South Korean guards beat them with rifle butts. When Hardy took the photos, they were about to be taken off and shot. Their fate reminded Hardy and Cameron of the horrors of Bergen-Belsen. Cameron wrote a story harshly critical of the Allies, the UN and the Red Cross for giving Rhee a free rein.
In London, Tom Hopkinson admitted that Hardy’s photos were the best he ever received; but considering the story’s sensitivity, he waited until Cameron and Hardy came back to confirm the story’s authenticity and assure him that it was no isolated case. Even then, he attached a picture of an American prisoner being paraded cruelly through Pyongyang (taken from in a Czech magazine) to achieve some balance, and asked Cameron to remove any trace of excessive emotion which might lead people to accuse the paper of sensationalism or bias. Cameron rewrote the story in flatter style, and later reflected that he had “never worked so hard to write so badly”.
But Hopkinson was constantly conflict with Picture Post’s owner Edward G. Hulton. In August 1945, Hulton wrote to Hopkinson whom he suspected was a socialist: “I cannot permit editors of my newspapers to become organs of Communist propaganda. Still less to make the great newspaper which I built up a laughing-stock.” While Hulton initially did not object to Cameron’s story, he was persuaded by his beautiful émigrée wife Nika to remove the story. Hulton — on the verge of receiving a knighthood — stopped the presses, fearing that coverage would “give aid and comfort to the enemy”.
After a week’s cooling period, Hopkinson insisted on printing the story; he refused to accept the management’s invitation to resign, and they sacked him. He persuaded most of the staff not to resign in protest, although some did. Hulton sent Cameron and Hardy into the Himalayas on a wild goose chase for the Dalai Lama. Their “Inchon” story touting Gen. MacArthur covered nine pages of the Oct. 7, 1950 Picture Post. After Hopkinson, Post was led by a revolving door of incompetent editors until it finally closed shop in 1957. Syngman Rhee’s authoritarian presidency lasted ten more years until 1960, when following popular protests against a disputed election, he resigned. More than 200,000 perished under his reign of terror.
A newspaper that tells only part of the truth is a million times preferable to one that tells the truth to harm its country, once wrote The Sun. The Picture Post would have disagreed. “Responsibly Awkward” had been the motto of the Post, Britain’s answer to Life magazine, throughout the Second World War. With the nation engulfed in the greatest conflagration it had ever seen, humour was in low supply but the Post steadfastly provided it with pictures of dozing soldiers, sleeping people in underground shelters, and amusing street graffitti. When the Germans were preparing to invade Britain in the darkest days of the war, the paper calmly produced an 8-page feature titled, “How to Invade Britain”, an account of Napoleon’s grandiose but scuttled plans.
Paper-restrictions reduced it to mere 28 pages (from 104 pages before the war), but its patriotism was never in doubt–the paper set up a training school for the Home Guard while its manufacturing units were alloted to create cheap mortar. The issue Picture Post was confronted again and again was that of censorship. This absurdity was exposed in one issue by running multiple images of black-out photos (like above). Below these “Pictures We Would Like To Publish,” captions read:
“Some of the Leaflets our Airmen Dropped on Germany: Our country has at least done something in propaganda. Our planes have dropped leaflets over Germany. But the leaflets are a dead secret. Only Germans may read them. Britons may not. We asked to be allowed to show them to you. Permission refused.”
“British Airmen Shoot Down German Planes: A German raider crashes into a hillside — only one of dozens of pictures we should like to publish. We cannot. we can see the need of a reasonable censorship. We can’t see the need of a black-out. Can you?”
“British Troops Are in Comfort in the Front Line: So well-built are the lines which British troops have occupied in France that even in recent floods they are bone-dry. You see troops enjoying lunch — or would if we are allowed to send a cameraman. Repeated requests to War Office produce nothing but courteous acknowledgments.”
Only picture printed on that page was this one which the original captions scathingly read:
“Our Thanks are due to them for the pictures on these pages: the picture censorship department of the Ministry of Information. Lord Raglan (centre) and two colleagues in the department of the Ministry of Information, which decides which pictures the press may have and which it may not. WIthout their cooperation and far-seeing initiative, we could never have presented these exciting pictures of Britain at war.
The public and authorities were able to laugh these censorships off with typical British “Mustn’t Grumble”. The Post‘s publication peaked at 2 million copies a week in 1943, but it eventually overstepped itself. The government cancelled its subsidies the Post after it questioned the quality of some military equipment in the Middle East. Its last crusade was to release the photos of the destruction of the Farringdon Market by one of the last German V2 raids (March 8 1945), which didn’t happen until 1948!