This is one of a group of nineteen colour photographs in Tate’s collection from a larger series of images which were produced by the postcard company John Hinde Ltd documenting the British holiday camps run by the Butlin’s company. They show visitors dining, dancing and enjoying the amenities offered by the resorts, such as swimming pools, skate parks and boating lakes. The low-cost holiday resort, aimed mainly at the working-classes, was founded by Billy Butlin in 1936 with the hopes of igniting a ‘social revolution’ in Britain (Billy Butlin, The Billy Butlin Story: A Showman to the End, London 1982, p.29). Seeking to provide all the jollity and comradeship of a camping holiday, plus all the amenities of a first class hotel, its slogan was ‘Our True Intent is all for your Delight’.
The British photographer John Hinde had founded his successful postcard company in Ireland in 1956 (Hinde had originally moved to Ireland to set up his own circus and remained there when the venture failed). The company was commissioned to photograph the Butlin’s resorts during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the popularity of the Butlin’s camps was at a peak. Butlin’s was sold to the Rank organisation in 1972, by which time it had established nine camps, each hosting over a thousand visitors a day, as well as several amusement parks, hotels and restaurants (ibid., p.5). Although the Butlin’s holiday camps still exist today, they fell into decline with the advent of affordable package holidays abroad. Thus these images document a well-known leisure phenomenon in British culture, at a particularly significant moment in its history.
Hinde’s work is synonymous with bold saturated colour and the Butlin’s images exemplify this. Trained as a photographer at the Reimann School in London, by the late 1930s Hinde emerged as a pioneer of colour photography. He shot in colour for publications such as Citizens in War (1945) and Exmoor Village (1947), and lectured in colour photography at the Royal Photographic Society, London. Historian Justin Carville has noted, ‘Hinde identified in colour photography a spiritual positivity, a sort of evangelical vision that could be projected through society by the humble tourist postcard’ (Justin Carville, Photography in Ireland, London 2011, p.10). Other visual motifs which typify Hinde’s work, such as the placing of figures or flowers in the foreground, are also evident in the Butlin’s images.
At the time that Butlin’s commissioned Hinde’s company to create the postcards, he himself had given up the day-to-day photography and had employed German photographers Elmar Ludwig (who joined in 1962) and Edmund Nagele (who joined in 1965), and finally British photographer David Noble (who joined in 1969). Hinde required his staff photographers to adhere to the style that he had established in his own work and therefore these photographs are considered as John Hinde works. As photographer and historian Martin Parr has noted, ‘it is safe to say that the house style personally defined and dictated by Hinde really make them his work’ (Parr 2005, p.7). Reports from the photographers themselves support this assertion, with Elmar Ludwig noting that ‘picking up Johnny’s style was no problem’ and Nagele commenting ‘the final decision for all the John Hinde cards and calendars was Mr Hinde’s alone’ (quoted in ibid, p.121). Shot during a time when black and white photography was the prevalent mode for postcard production, John Hinde Ltd achieved its significant success due to its eye-catching colour palette. Photographers such as Parr have noted the significant influence Hinde’s use of colour had on their careers, with Parr stating, ‘The impact they had on me in 1971 was intense and they have haunted me ever since’ (ibid, p.7).
The Hinde company’s postcards were the product of meticulous planned photoshoots, with careful staging and alteration both at the point of shooting and in post-production. Hinde company photographer Elmar Ludwig described how, ‘we always tried to make more out of a scene. There was never an easy picture.’ (Quoted in Parr 2005, p.121.) The Butlin’s project was among the most laborious and challenging commissions undertaken by John Hinde Ltd. Shot with large format cameras, and lit like a film set, the production of these photographs was a significant undertaking, with photographers working on one particular image for the entire day.
Hinde had his images printed in Italy, where colour printing was more advanced and could satisfy the colour saturation he desired. He would personally review and make amendments to the work carried out by the photographers he employed. Photographer Edmund Nagele recalled, ‘telephone poles cars and tv aerials were marked down for magic removal. Bland skies were simply replaced by a short scribble “new sky”.’ (Ibid., p.124.) This attention to detail and level of alteration set Hinde’s work apart from other postcard photographers of the time. Hinde wished his postcards to correspond more closely to the image of a place that tourists might carry away in their memory. Curator Declan MacGonagle has explained, ‘Hinde realised that the reality of a view, and the image of that same landscape in a tourist’s memory were not the same. Colours were stronger in the mind’s eye and all the best aspects of a location were magically moved into the same picture.’ (Irish Museum of Modern Art 1993, p.18.)
Although it now appears dated, the Butlin’s imagery is both uplifting and humorous, in line with Hinde’s belief that, ‘To me pictures should always convey a positive, good feeling, something which makes people happy which makes them smile, which makes them appreciate some tenderness’ (ibid., p.19). The Butlin’s photographs have featured in numerous exhibitions including Hindsight, Retrospective of John Hinde Studio at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 1993. In 2002 Martin Parr exhibited them alongside his own work in the photography exhibition at the Rencontres d’Arles, and in 2005 made them the focus of his exhibition Our True Intent is all for your Delight, which toured several venues internationally.
The prints in Tate’s collection are posthumous prints made from an edition that was initiated and produced in 2002 by Martin Parr and Chris Boot.
Declan McGonagle, Hindsight, exhibition catalogue, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin 1993.
Martin Parr, Our True Intent is all for your Delight, London 2005.
Justin Carville, Photography in Ireland, London 2011.
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