And furthermore ...

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Friday, 6 June 2014

1066 AND ALL THAT

Some Judge’s Scenes of Hastings
 “No place is boring, if you've had a good night's sleep and have a pocket full of unexposed film.”
  Robert Adams


When Fred Judge started out producing postcards in about 1904, he stayed close to Hastings in Sussex, photographing scenes that made the local news such storms, fires and the inauguration of monuments. These may have impressed the locals but tourists usually wanted something less specific and more identifiable with their visit, so he broadened his horizons, as it were. This might suggest his photos became more boring; endless shot of local landmarks, but a lot of them were like this. It could be any seaside town in England. There are a couple of things to keep in mind with this photo. The first is the caption. “What are the Wild Waves Saying” was a popular song by the Victorian composer Joseph Cartwright. Most people in the 1900s would have got the reference at once (quite a lot of them would have sung it while standing around a piano somewhere). It has a Christian theme and a somewhat morbid subtext.
The other is that up in Whitby, Yorkshire, Frank Sutcliffe Meadow, had taken very similar images to this in the 1890s; so similar he could be considered an influence without any real proof. But there is no mixing of the genders in Sutcliffe’s best known images. They feature only men or women, or boys and they are inevitably from the same class. This is more interesting because we get a mix. The woman in the centre is better dressed than the others, and not how she holds the back of her skirt to stop it flapping.


Brighton was always a seedy place. Think of any novel written between 1900 and the Second World War and as soon as Brighton gets a mention you know someone’s up to no good. They are heading down to cheat on their spouse, or they’ve been cheated on, and now they are standing on the pier in gin soaked formal attire, gazing through bloodshot eyes at some children playing in the shingle and asking themselves why they were denied a normal life. Self-pity is the curse of the educated classes, it seems. Hastings on the other hand was a family place. You almost never hear a bad word about it, except that it was a bit dull compared to Brighton. You get that impression from this postcard. Another of Judge’s early ones, un-numbered, which would put it about 1905, and on printing out paper, which explains the yellow tones, but technical details aside, it’s a very genteel scene; with good reason. A walk along the promenade wasn’t just a constitutional in Edwardian times. It was also part of a mating ritual. In a world where men and women rarely worked together, where a lady never went to a bar and social events were tightly monitored, the promenade was one of the few acceptable public places where the sexes could hope to meet. One strolled, hoping to catch the eye of another one, and if one (or two) were lucky, this would be the start of many long walks together. In the seats at the front, a man is leaning forward and talking to a woman while another woman sits between them, acting as a barrier. This would be considered proper. It looks as civilized as it sounds.



 One photographer Judge declared to be an influence on him was Paul Martin, though in reference to his night scenes of London. When we think of Martin, it’s probably his seaside scenes from late Victorian resorts; images of couples groping each other in the sand, a fat man beginning a dive off a raft, and people buffeted by the wind at a beach in Yarmouth. We may sense Martin’s eye in the first image above though not in this one, yet it is all over it. Judge has followed Martin down to the beach, so to speak, and while not focusing on a few people, as Martin did, has managed to catch some of the same atmosphere of England at the seaside. This is a scene full of details; look for example at the crowd lining the promenade and the bathing machines lines up on the shore in the mid-ground. When we look at the people on the beach something odd becomes apparent, no one is doing much of anything. There’s a small group at the front that look like they’re buying something. Everyone else is sitting and talking but you get the impression there isn’t a lot of noise emanating from the throng, no high cackling or laughter at a broad joke and no children screaming. Also, there appear to be many more women than men, leading us to wonder if the beaches were still mostly segregated. There is another, glaring detail. The English liked to sit on the beach fully dressed. What a curious breed. 


At night they’d head to the pier. I could attempt a close reading of this image, but we can do better than that and hand the discussion over to Rose, writing on the back of the card in August, 1925, or 26. “Dear Les, Are having a topping time, crowds of people here. Don’t you think the bandstand looks interesting in the dark, I assure you it’s great!” You hear Rose’s voice coming through but I can’t really describe it without sounding patronising. Still, I bet she has Agatha Christie’s latest, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, up by her hotel bed and thinks it’s a smashing read.
Incidentally, Judge was usually mindful of his numbering, putting everything in the order that he took it, but this one, 204, is too early because the bandstand wasn’t erected until September 1914. This may have actually been photographed around 1914-1915 and Rose bought it later.


To Eastbourne, just down the road from Hastings, and a scene that at first glance might look like an ‘interesting slice of social history’ but on careful inspection is much better than that. Going by the number on the card, this was taken about 1909. There is an advertisement for P and A Campbell under the right kiosk. The company started a ferry run to Boulogne in 1906, so it can’t be earlier than that. But let’s start at the far left, at the poster advertising a show by Albert Chevalier. We read that Mr Chevalier (1861-1923) was one of those stars of the English music hall, who is now forgotten but was wildly famous in his time. The more important detail is the booth for the ‘animated pictures’. Cinema was just over ten years old. Audiences may have watched a few short comedies of the type James Bamforth was producing in Yorkshire but the most popular genre by far belonged to ‘scenes of daily life’. The prospect of seeing yourself or your friends walking along Eastbourne’s streets pulled in the crowds. Note the time on the clock. The woman at the booth has missed the 3:30 session. The next is at 8:15. So, is she buying a ticket? Asking if there’s an interim session? Or is she more interested in another entertainment? At the end of the pier we have the Camera Obscura; Eastbourne Pier was a visual spectacular. The kid in the sailor suit in the middle foreground and two just beside the ‘Judges’ logo aren’t wearing shoes, meaning they can’t afford them. Just behind the two on the right are a girl and a boy, both wearing shoes, both from better circumstances. Most likely the children without shoes would work in factories six days a week and go to school for two hours in the afternoon. By today’s standards they’d enter adulthood effectively uneducated. Depending what type of school the other boy and girl went to, they’d already know a bit of history, some geography and just possibly a few phrases in Latin. Judge probably wasn’t thinking about these things and didn’t see them.


What he did see, very well, was patterns, forms and shapes. This is the entrance to the pavilion at Hastings. One thing you’ll notice is the absence of people crowding his view, meaning that he had the space and the time to work out his shot. The light pole is integral to the design. Remove it and very little is happening. You’ll notice too how by shooting at an angle he emphasises how there is nothing behind the fa├žade. If I were an art critic, I’d call this proto-modernist.


If the numbering is consistent, (there is no guarantee of that) then Judge took this photo of the bandstand shortly after the one above, between 1922 and 1923, just before he stepped back from active photography to manage the business. Something about this reminds me of a Czech or Polish film from the early 1960s, where we see a few couples dancing inside oblivious to the poor outside. The war had ended four or five years ago and technically Britain was at peace. But thousands of soldiers had returned to chronic unemployment and a political establishment as incompetent in peacetime as it had been in war. In November 1922 the first hunger marches began across England and in February 1923 one arrived in Hastings. There wasn’t much evidence for a great Britain. One man who grasped the problem was the King, George V. "Try living on their wages before you judge them,” was his comment to the press during the 1926 general strike when he read descriptions of the strikers as revolutionaries. In any case, through this brief trawl of Fred Judge’s scenes from Hastings, we see a changing approach and a consistent eye.

1066 AND ALL THAT

1 comment:

  1. This was so very interesting. Each time I've been to Britain I've somehow managed to miss the famous seaside resorts. I did manage to have a picnic lunch on a "beach" which consisted of nothing but rocks. I wondered if all British beaches were rocks. Looking at the photo above of all the folks dressed up sitting on rocks I have to figure it's pretty common. You have to have a very strong bum to sit on a British beach. I'm afraid I've been spoiled all my life with sand.

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