Wednesday 05 July 1995
Born in 1913 in Blackfriars, on the edge of the City of London, Hardy maintained that he became a photographer by accident. As soon as he left school he applied for a job at the local garage but was turned down, he said, because he could not multiply 13 x 13 in his head. Returning home he was cheered up by an aunt who said that she had seen a "Boy wanted" sign at Central Photo Service near the Strand. He got the job and began by cycling round collecting films for developing from the chemists; later he learnt to develop and print himself.
He took his first "best-seller" with an old plate camera balanced on his sister's head, when King George V and Queen Mary came riding by in their carriage during the Silver Jubilee celebrations of 1936. He printed 200 postcards of his picture and sold them all at 6d each.
Hardy's serious interest in photography began after he joined a Racing Cycle Club when he sold several pictures to Bicycle magazine. Here he met a photographer, George Moore, who showed him what could be done with a small camera. He acquired a second-hand Leica, so that he could get the early-morning shots at the beginning of races. Hearing that you could make pounds 5 a week as a photographer in Fleet Street, he took a job with William Davis at the General Photographic Agency, having first convinced him that the small camera was a viable proposition for Fleet Street work. They devised a series of "picture stories" using three or four images and Anna and the Chimp, a pictorial storyboard based on London Zoo, ran every week in the Sunday Graphic for a year.
In 1938 Picture Post started, launched by Edward Hulton as publisher with Stefan Lorant as editor. Hardy found George Davis was selling his work to them - while still keeping him on a tight contract. He approached the magazine directly and worked for them constantly until it folded in 1957.
One of Hardy's earliest stories for Picture Post was about fire-fighting during the London Blitz. He got some amazing pictures of the sort which make one ask, "But where were you?" (He was high up, and in as much danger as the firemen he was photographing.) The story received the first ever photographer's credit in the magazine. "From our rule of anonymity," the credit ran, "we except these pictures. They were taken by A. Hardy, one of our own cameramen."
In 1942 Hardy was called up into the Army and put into public relations for the War Office. As the War Office supplied stories to all the magazines, Hardy's ambition was to get a story into both Picture Post and Illustrated each week; this he managed to do on numerous occasions.
Making his way after D-Day to Paris, which was to be "freed" by the Americans and the Free French, he borrowed a large Union Jack and took a marvellous picture in the Champs Elysees with it draped over the back of a jeep. He went on to the liberation of Belgium and was joined by Macdonald Hastings, whom Tom Hopkinson, Lorant's successor, had sent out from Picture Post to cover the crossing of the Rhine.
Hardy's normal good-humour and love of life was well able to cope with most of his war experiences but faced with the horrors of Belsen he was so shocked to see the men about to be given a meal who had been guarding those starving thousands, that he took the food and threw it in their faces. Shortly after this he returned to England and was then sent as Lord Louis Mountbatten's personal photographer to the Far East - a relatively easy assignment which gave him time to take some personal pictures in Bali and to visit Bangkok, before he finally came home to Picture Post.
Then began the period for which Bert Hardy's work is best remembered: Liverpool, Tiger Bay, the girls by the seaside and the Gorbals, where his intimate pictures of the inside of houses and close-ups of people contrasted well with the cooler exterior shots of Bill Brandt. He worked for hours with the writer Bert Lloyd on that story and much appreciated the teams that Tom Hopkinson built up of writers and photographers, which avoided the friction that can sometimes happen between the writing and picture-making sides of photo-journalism.
Work was very varied, from covering the wedding of Princess Elizabeth in 1947, to being sent with the writer James Cameron to Korea. It was their last story from there in 1950 about the treatment of prisoners by the South Koreans, under UN supervision, that resulted in the famous row between Hulton, who wanted the story suppressed, and Hopkinson, who printed it. This resulted in Tom Hopkinson's being sacked from Picture Post and, though Hardy stayed on to the end, the stories got lighter in weight until it finally folded.
During the next five years Hardy successfully took his small camera into advertising. A reportage style, using black-and-white images, became popular and he was able to earn five or six times as much in a year as he had made on Picture Post. The "Strand Man" comes from this period ("You're never alone with a Strand") - he shot the whole series in one night and the pictures remain memorable although, as he remarked, the cigarettes were no good and the campaign itself a failure.
At this time he also set up a processing house, Grove Hardy, with Gerry Grove, who had worked as a printer for Picture Post, and which was used by many of the younger generation of Fleet Street and documentary photographers for both their personal and professional work.
A warm and sociable person, Hardy was delighted when, at the beginning of the Seventies, people wanted to show his pictures in exhibitions - and quite surprised that they actually wanted to buy them. It was largely thanks to the good sense and negotiating ability of his second wife Sheila that a liaison was established with the Hulton Picture Library who owned the copyright on all the Picture Post material so that these exciting new uses for his photographs could be undertaken. Her organising ability - and generosity in driving when Bert found the red wine at the private views specially good - combined with his ability as a raconteur meant that he was able to give talks to a wide variety of people in galleries and colleges all over Britain. He also became involved with the Photogallery, at St Leonards, in Sussex, acting as its chairman for many years.
In conjunction with a book, Bert Hardy: my life, published in 1985, the Photographers Gallery put on a retrospective exhibition and also produced a video in which Hardy talks about his life. A television programme for Channel 4 followed in which many of the people he had photographed in the immediate post-war years in Tiger Bay, Liverpool and the Gorbals were traced and contributed their reminiscences.
Bert Hardy always said it was the few years in advertising which enabled him to buy his farm in Limpsfield Chart and, as the farming activities decreased, he and his wife made it a base from which to explore the new opportunities of lectures, exhibitions and print sales. For many of us, too, it became a place of pilgrimage.
Albert Hardy, photographer: born London 19 May 1913; twice married (two sons); died Oxted, Surrey 3 July 1995.
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