Richard Hamilton

People

1968

Medium
Photograph, gouache, screenprint and postcard on paper
Dimensions
Support: 384 x 591 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Dr and Mrs C.W.L. Smith 1971
Reference
P01019

Summary

People is one of several works Hamilton made from postcards with figures on the beach as subject during the 1960s. The paintings and subsequent prints examine small areas of the postcard close up, reproducing figures at the edge of legibility and showing the half-tone texture of the printing process. The print People is based on a painting of the same title Hamilton created in 1965–6 (collection the artist) made from a postcard of a view of a beach at Whitley Bay, a small town on the north-east coast of England. Hamilton was teaching design at the University of Newcastle in the north-east of England at this time. The People image was preceded by the painting Whitley Bay, 1965 (private collection), a colour image, showing people in swimwear on the sands and in the water, developed from a postcard printed in the usual way. The postcard from which People was derived is unusual in that it was a real photograph printed on emulsion, rather than a halftone reproduction. This means that when it was enlarged it did not break down into a landscape of dots. Instead it is a composition of shadowy black forms on a light ground. Because the beach was quite crowded when the photograph was taken, only isolated figures are recognizable as people. Hamilton was interested in the information which could potentially be discovered by enlarging a general image. He wrote: ‘As this texture of anonymous humanity is penetrated, it yields more fragments of knowledge about individuals isolated within it as well as endless patterns of group relationships’ (quoted in Richard Hamilton, p.161).

To create People, Hamilton closely examined the scene on the postcard and selected the area he was interested in. He photographed this detail, using an extension bellows on the camera which allowed extreme close-up, producing a 35mm negative from which he printed an eight by ten inch enlargement. The artist followed this procedure several times until the prints lost legibility, discovering to his great interest that there is a precise, identifiable point at which legibility breaks down. He played on this in a work derived from the same photograph and focusing on the same area as that used in People. To mother, 1968 comprises a series of eight stages in the zooming in process printed as a fold-out emerging from a copy of the postcard. The crop that became People constitutes the fifth stage of the enlargement process shown in the fold-out. The image features mainly dark clusters of bodies sitting and standing on the beach. A child is recognizable standing on the left and another child may be identified approaching a supine figure on the right. The two latter figures – possibly a mother and child – are the last stage of enlargement in the multiple To mother to which they gave the title.

The painting People comprises the photographic enlargement mounted on a wooden panel, to which Hamilton made several additions using magnolia and black oil paint. Their main purpose was to add textural interest to the otherwise smooth photographic surface and they do not disrupt the composition. For the print, the artist again added markings in order to create points of special interest. He used four hand-cut stencils to print marks in white, black and grey that enhance the composition. The white area is the same small organic form that he painted, in magnolia, onto the painting. He then sprayed black pigment onto the photograph and added more by hand. He placed two small paper circles, of the type once used to reinforce holes punched in paper for filing purposes, in the upper right of the print. One sits on an area of black and the other is on an area of grey, with its central hole filled by an area of black. Three small painted magnolia circles float over the surface of the print.

Photography became a central focus of Hamilton’s practice in the mid 1960s. During this period many artists, such as Robert Rauschenberg (born 1925) and Andy Warhol (1928–87) in the US and Gerhard Richter (born 1932) in Germany, were using the camera to transfer imagery onto their canvases. Photographs – the material of the media – are fundamental to Pop art, one of the dominant artistic movements from the late 1950s to which Hamilton was a significant contributor. He had already used photographs culled from magazines to produce collage; from the 1960s he began to categorize the types of imagery he derived from photographs. Photographs from the field of cinema generated Hamilton’s portrait of Hugh Gaitskell as a Famous Monster of Filmland in 1963–4 (P78721), his Interiors in 1964–5 (T00912 and P04250) and his images of Marilyn Monroe in 1965 (P04251). He continued to work with pictures of celebrity in a series of prints based on a press photograph of his art dealer Robert Fraser handcuffed to the rock star Mick Jagger in the late 1960s and early 1970s (P01855, P04254, P04255, P02416–32 and T01144). As well as contributing to the postcard works, found photographs of anonymous people were the source for A dedicated follower of fashion in 1980 (P07448) and The marriage in 1998 (P78290). Images from advertising provided the materials for Adonis in Y fronts, 1962 (P04247), Fashion plate, 1969–70 (P07937) and Soft pink landscape, 1980 (P07447). More recently Hamilton has used photographs taken in his own home and spaces where he has exhibited to create paintings and digital collage (P78289, P78705, P78919 and P20287).

People was created in several stages. The photograph was printed on photo-enlarging paper and mounted on board at Carlton Studios, London. It was then screenprinted by the artist and Chris Prater at Kelpra Studio, London before being retouched and collaged on by the artist. Hamilton published People in an edition of twenty-six plus one artist’s proof.

Further reading:
Etienne Lullin, Richard Hamilton: Prints and Multiples 1939–2002, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Winterthur and Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 2003, pp.84–5, reproduced p.85 in colour.
Richard Hamilton, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1992, pp.160–1.
Richard Hamilton: Collected Words 1953–1982, Stuttgart and London 1982, pp.68–9.

Elizabeth Manchester
October 2007

Catalogue entry

Richard Hamilton b. 1922
P01019 People 1968

Inscribed ‘People’ b.l. and ‘R.Hamilton 20/26’ b.r.
Silkscreen, collage and gouache on photograph, 25¾ x 33¼ (65.5 x 84.5).
Presented by Dr and Mrs C. W.L.Smith 1971.
Coll: given to the donors by the artist.
Lit: Richard Hamilton, ‘Photography and Painting’, in Studio International, CLXXVII, March 1969, pp. 120–5 and cover; Richard Morphet, catalogue of Tate Gallery retrospective, March-April 1970, pp. 62–3 (repr.).
Repr: catalogue of retrospective exhibition of prints and multiples, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, February-March 1971 (20).

An enlarged detail, with additions screenprinted and added by hand, of a picture postcard of the sands and promenade at Whitley Bay, Northumberland. (Three works by Hamilton dated 1965 were based on other views of people on the same beach). Other series closely related to the ‘People’ theme in both time and subject were the postcard-derived ‘Trafalgar Square’ crowd subjects of 1965–7, the ‘Bathers’ works of 1966–9, and the postcard subjects, ‘Landscape’, 1965–6, and ‘La Scala Milano’, 1968.

The artist wrote (statement published in the Stedelijk Museum catalogue, loc. cit.): ‘Photographic half-tone screens inevitably introduce a mechanical dot over the picture. Step exposures and multiple prints avoid the dot. Neither half-tone [screens] or steps can give the fine gradations of tone that photographic emulsions provide. It seemed a little absurd to be striving for photographic effects through a print medium and to overlook the possibilities of a purely photographic print on sensitised paper. “People” is an edition of photographic prints dry-mounted on card to flatten and stabilise the print. Certain parts were then screenprinted in blacks, white and grey. Other parts were sprayed by hand to give gradations not possible with printing. Some marks were collaged and some hand-painted for an impasto effect.

‘The subject is a detail from a postcard, itself a photographic print without an intruding reproduction screen, examined in many degrees of enlargement for a painting dated 1965–6. This is one of a series of explorations into the breaking point in legibility of a photographic image degraded by enlargement. Photographs such as this heavily populated beach in the north of England show a random sample of humanity. When broken down and analysed it provides an incredible amount of information about the individuals and their activity. There is, however, a breaking point, a place where the grain of the emulsion is too large to absorb the imprint of the form. It was a search for this moment of loss that became the true subject of the series, and the print is perhaps the best expression of this endeavour. When viewed from a distance it appears thoroughly informative in a photographic sense. At a middle distance the ambiguities of alien forms begin to intrude. Closely, the image disintegrates into an assemblage of discrete surface qualities which seem totally unrelated to the information at a photographic level, especially in the upper part of the picture where loss of contact with the source forms is complete. In other words it becomes progressively abstract from distant to close and progressively so from bottom to top’.

Hamilton’s first version of this subject, dated 1965–6, was in oil and cellulose on a photographic enlargement measuring 32x48 in. Four further versions were made after T01481. ‘People/Popel’, 1968, was made in collaboration with Diter Rot. Hamilton sent Rot an impression of T01481 to which none of the silkscreens, collage or hand-painted elements had been applied. He told Rot he would apply these after receiving the print back, but gave no clue as to their nature. Rot was asked to augment the print as seen in whatever way he chose. On its return, Hamilton simply made the predetermined additions, some of which fell on and others off Rot’s heavy pigment. Rot’s self-restrictions to black and white and to the already-existing outlines were entirely free choices. ‘People Multiple (1/1)’, 1968, is an enlargement of the original picture postcard, a rectangular portion of the centre of which has been cut around to make a flap. The enlargement is intended to hang on a wall; from the flap, an eight-sheet black and white pull-out extends to the floor; its eight same-sized sheets present successively greater enlargements of a portion of the original postcard view, culminating in an image of a recumbent mother-figure. This work was developed from Hamilton’s small (5 x8 in.) contribution in sepia to SMS magazine N0.1, February 1968. The final version, ‘People again’, 1969, was made for reproduction on the cover of Studio International (loc. cit.) where it extended over both front and back covers and the spine. Unable to make as powerfully there the distinctions between different pigments which had been a key point in earlier versions, Hamilton strengthened the theme of different ways of giving information by writing- in the identities of both materials and—with imagined names—people (the absurd interchangeability of material and image thus appearing still more clearly). As they had earlier been with paint, so here the people arc made as real by words as by their direct photographic images.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.