Photography's golden age

Two women on the London Underground in 1951

John Chillingworth is a photographer that few have heard of, even among those who have some knowledge of the genre. Yet, his work featured in the UK's best known illustrated magazine, Picture Post, which first hit the presses 75 years ago and ran for almost 20 years until 1957.

A new book looks to put this right, presenting some of his best known photographs taken during his seven years on the staff of Picture Post, during a time often referred to as the golden era of photojournalism.

A time when a magazine filled with photographs of the week's news was an essential read.

It is said that at its peak the magazine was read by one in three of the population.

At the Saturday night dance in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, 1958 At the Saturday night dance in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, 1958

Picture Post was curated by talented journalistic staff, led by Stefan Lorant and later Tom Hopkinson, who was the one to give Chillingworth, then only 22, a staff job. Other photographers who worked on the magazine as either staff or in a freelance capacity included Bert Hardy, Felix Man, Bill Brandt, Thurston Hopkins, Grace Robertson, Leonard McCombe and Kurt Hutton, with whom Chillingworth developed a close working relationship.

Start Quote

From the moment that I started work as a 'callow youth' in the Picture Post darkroom I know that I was handling images created by masters of their craft”

End Quote John Chillingworth

As many did in those days, Chillingworth began in the darkroom and was no doubt transfixed by the magic that could be had in the darkened corners. For who can resist the smell of chemicals and pools of light in which a blank sheet of paper could be transformed into a window on the world?

Writing in the introduction to the book, Matthew Butson, vice-president of the historical picture library, the Hulton Archive, says of Chillingworth's photography: "My theory is that John envisaged each feature as a narrative - and also considered how the words would complement the pictures. This perhaps sets him apart from a number of his peers who simply captured what was in front of the lens."

Sadly, Hopkinson left soon after Chillingworth became a staffer, leading to what many see as a gradual decline in the magazine's creative leadership. Yet it retained an outstanding group of photographers who continued to produce impressive work.

Here's a small selection of John Chilingworth's remarkable archive.

A grand reception at the official residence of the American ambassador, John Hay Whitney, 1958 A grand reception at the official residence of the American ambassador, John Hay Whitney, 1958
A group of children playing in the streets of Liverpool, 1954 A group of children playing in the streets of Liverpool, 1954
Alfred Bass & Sons in Greenwich, 1955 At the dawn of the supermarket age, grocers like Alfred Bass & Sons in Greenwich took up the price-cutting challenge, 1955
A girl in the East End of London, 1952 As the East End Jewish community migrated to other parts of London, many of their businesses remained close to Whitechapel Market. Here, the daughter of Jewish shopkeepers has returned, wearing her best clothes, 1952
Contestants in a heat of ABC Television's nationwide beauty contest parade before the judges, Birkenhead, 1958 Contestants in a heat of ABC Television's nationwide beauty contest parade before the judges, Birkenhead, 1958

Photographs by John Chillingworth/Getty Images, from John Chillingworth published by Dewi Lewis Publishing.

Phil Coomes, Picture editor Article written by Phil Coomes Phil Coomes Picture editor

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