Daily history caught through the camera

The photographs that graced newspaper pages during Fleet Street’s heyday of 1900 to 1982 are to go on show at the National Portrait Gallery next month.

The exhibition, Daily Encounters, which is supported by Getty Images, opens on 5 July and chronicles both the changes in the relationship between public figures and the press as celebrity culture developed and the impact of newspaper photography on the opinions and tastes of a mass audience.

Politicians, stars and royalty are included in the 90 photographs as well as ordinary people, often taken by photographers of their own class, reflecting the appeal of the popular press to a new generation that had benefited from improved education.

The images represent a ‘relatively neglected’area of photography, says the exhibition curator Roger Hargreaves, an editor of the International Journal, Photography and Culture.

‘Many of these pictures were thought of as ‘ephemeral’. When the day’s paper was out they were already working on tomorrow’s edition,’he says. ‘Many of the photographs were derivative and repetitive but occasionally there were some outstanding photographs.

Film and photographs showing the owners of newspapers and editors at work in their newsrooms are included and the close relationships that existed among the Fleet Street photographers are also examined.

Images reflecting the routine nature of the press photographers’ work are displayed – they are shown outside a hospital waiting for news o fRingo Starr’s tonsil operation.

Four pictures stand out to Hargreaves as watershed moments for press photography: David Lloyd George with his family, at a time he was having an affair with his children’s nanny, we now know. A ‘classic example’of a politician managing his image, says Hargreaves; the picture of Dr Crippen and Ethel Le Nerve in court in 1910.

Cameras were banned from courts following this case as their presence was so disruptive; the milkman in the bomb rubble. Using a positive image enabled one of the most graphic pictures of the Blitz to get past the censors; Prime Minister Harold Wilson on holiday – he was keen to use the press to contrast his modest holiday on the Scilly Isles with the expensive destinations of the Tories.

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