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.