Obituaries: John Hinde
Tuesday 03 February 1998
John Hinde was one of the pioneers of colour photography in England and a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society before he was 30 years old. He also founded a picture postcard empire which, when he sold it in 1972, could boast 50 million sales world-wide. These two achievements involved him, if not in a double life, then in a double aesthetic: the one a new and sensitive naturalism in printing and reproducing colour, the other a surreal intensification of colour - "that extra oomph" which, he said, made postcards attractive.
He was born into a Quaker (later Christian Scientist) family, a great- grandson of James Clark who, with his brother Cyrus, founded Clark's Shoes. As a child, he contracted an illness which left him partially disabled, but he was fascinated by photography and already experimenting with colour photographs while he was at school.
After being apprenticed to the family firm, and articled to a Bristol architect, J. Ralph Edwards, Hinde went to study colour photographic printing at the Reimann School in London with Frank Newens, a leader in colour printing in England at that time. In 1939, he set up his own photographic studio in London, learnt more about colour photography and its reproduction in Germany, and in 1941, began to work for Adprint, a firm of "publisher's producers" who were Jewish refugees, mostly from Austria. Before the Second World War, beautifully illustrated books had been produced in Austria, whereas in England colour reproduction was in its infancy.
While Hinde was working for Adprint, he photographed for "Britain in Pictures", a series published by William Collins, and another called "The Garden in Colour" by T.C. Mansfield. In Roses in Colour and Cultivation (1943), Mansfield described Hinde's problems and patience photographing fractious and intractable roses under studio lights, when "buds would open; petals would fall; stamens would wither". It was his infinitely patient attention to detail, to the importance of getting the photograph exactly right, as well as his mastery of photographic technique, which were the hallmarks of Hinde's work throughout his career. Mansfield also emphasised that they had not in any way exaggerated or intensified colours, something which was to be the very opposite of Hinde's later aesthetic in postcards to appeal to a mass audience.
In the 1940s, Hinde wanted to make perfect colour photographs. It was a laborious process: there were no laboratories, and it took a day and a half to make a print with the three-colour carbro process. But the production of the colour photograph was only the start: its reproduction was equally important. He persuaded Adprint to allow him to supervise the making of the printing blocks and to be present with the printer, when he set up his machines, feeling that printers and blockmakers had no idea how to handle colour photographs, and that colour reproductions were, all too often, like a piece of music badly played.
Citizens in War and After (1945), Exmoor Village (1947) and British Circus Life (1948) show the sensitivity he could bring to colour reproduction. Even The Small Canteen (1947), in which he photographed a pink-and-white- striped shape rising from a pastel necklace of stewed apples, dried apricots and prunes, is a little gem.
From 1949, John Hinde's life took another turn: having jointly written and photographed British Circus Life (1948), he worked promoting Chipperfield's and Bertram Mills' circuses, where he met his wife, Antonia, known as Jutta, a trapeze artist, and briefly had his own travelling show.
In 1957, changing direction yet again, he sold his first six views of Ireland at Shannon airport, printing them at the outset with a modified Rotaprint office duplicating machine. So began John Hinde Ltd, a postcard empire, which established his name from County Galway to Blackpool, from Butlin's Filey to Bognor Regis, and from London to the Canaries.
Among photographers, the postcards are fashionably re-nowned as "constructed" photo-graphs: their planted foreground flowers, inserted, dramatic sunsets or Mediterranean skies, emboldened colours, which could turn Torquay into a sun-soaked riviera or Ballinskelligs Bay into a bright turquoise pond, floating beyond a fuchsia hedge, offer holiday happiness with the colour "turned up".
In 1994, the Irish Museum of Modern Art toured an exhibition of Hinde's work, "Hindesight", to the Royal Photographic Society in Bath. But his earlier work, even though displayed in these hallowed halls, has been forever eclipsed by the 50 million postcards, and it is probably as an ancestral voice to the work of Martin Parr, whose photographs are in a sense an extended ironic commentary on the vivid, holiday genre, that Hinde's style will be remembered.
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