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Speakers' Abstracts

Juliet Baillie

Birkbeck, University of London

Beauty v. the ‘Modern’: Attitudes towards ‘New Vision’ photography in 1930s Amateur Photographer and Cinematographer Magazine

This paper explores responses to ‘New Vision’ photography in the popular photographic journal Amateur Photographer and Cinematographer in 1930s Britain. This specialist photographic journal provided an organ for the dissemination of information, of both a technical and an aesthetic nature, amongst amateur photography enthusiasts.

The amateur photography scene, to which the journal catered, in 1930s Britain was steeped in photographic traditions which had emerged from Pictorialist photography of the late 19th Century. While the proliferation of precision miniature cameras and improvements in film speeds in mid 1930s Britain did have an impact upon the ‘pictorial’ photography, which was produced by members of Camera Clubs, seen in photographic salons, and promoted in their journals, there remained an attitude of ambivalence towards the ‘stunt’ photographs created by the ‘modern school.’ This paper argues that, against the back drop of what was perceived to be novelty for novelty’s sake, as represented by this ‘modern,’ ‘Central European’ style, there was a struggle within the magazine to reconcile strongly enforced aesthetic conventions, with a need for innovation within the club scene. Furthermore, Amateur Photographer and Cinematographer promoted a tendency towards the pursuit of beauty in photography, an aim which was undermined by the ‘modern’ photographer.

Thus, by closely examining a selection of articles which touch upon photography associated with the New Vision aesthetic, this paper analyses the variety of responses which such photographs received in the context of the, arguably, conservative and middlebrow taste of photographic salons, which the journal might be said to represent.

 

 

Ruth Brimacombe

National Portrait Gallery

‘A peculiarly modern profession’: The nineteenth-century artist-reporter’s role in the promotion of a pre-modernist aesthetic taste.

Focusing on the images produced by two of the ‘Special artists’ employed by the illustrated press during the period 1870-1890, this paper will explore the ways in which the practice of pictorial journalism in the late nineteenth century encouraged the development of modernist thinking and established a new visual nexus for a middle-class reading public. By analysing selected examples of work by William Simpson, the pioneering artist-reporter attached to the Illustrated London News, and Sydney Prior Hall, a leading member of the Graphics team of staff artists, this paper will consider how the artist-reporter’s central preoccupation with the idea of actuality served fundamentally to alter the parameters of traditional art forms such as portraiture.

Generally underrated in the accounts of mainstream nineteenth-century art history, this paper aims to demonstrate instead how the exigencies of the journalistic profession, the artistic agenda of the illustrated journals, and the mode of production of reportorial imagery, all led to innovations in compositional styles and techniques that are essential for understanding the growth of the middle-brow print culture of the next century. It will also show how, in the words of the Graphic, this unique convergence of art and actuality came about simply from the business of catering weekly for ‘the ever-craving appetite of public curiosity.’

 

Ann Compton

Glasgow University

‘ ‘How to do it’: Re-reading the Sculpture Manual in the Context of Early British Modernism

In the decades between the creation of Jacob Epstein's sculptures for the British Medical Association building in 1907-8 and the launch of Unit 1 in 1934, an increasingly intense critical debate pitched practitioners of 'direct carving' and 'truth to materials' against sculptors utilizing a plastic, modeled approach to the medium. During the same period, artists published at least twelve books on various aspects of sculpture technique. However, although early twentieth-century British sculpture has been the subject of many recent studies, handbooks on sculpture have received little attention as a source for investigation. This paper revisits the sculpture manual, to propose that this utilitarian area of artists' writings constitutes a valuable part of the critical discourse and has the potential to contribute to alternative narratives of early modernism. In particular the paper reconsiders the relationship between sculptors and stone masons and the culture surrounding carving and working on stone.

 

 

Elizabeth Darling

Oxford Brookes University

Towards a ‘Living Contemporary Architecture’: Focus and the Progression of British Architectural Modernism, 1938-39

Recent scholarship (Cornforth, Darling, Higgott) has explored the role of the architectural periodical in the formation of modernist taste in Britain. From the late 1920s onwards, de Cronin Hastings’s Architectural Press and journals such as Country Life, laid the foundations of a profound shift in British architectural culture through the medium of text and image. The Architectural Review, in particular, exerted a formative influence on the ongoing development of British modernism through its advocacy of the Picturesque and the New Empiricism in the war and post-war years.

The role of the architectural ‘little magazine’ in this transition in taste is less recognised. Indeed, a connection between such media and 20th-century British architecture is an unfamiliar one and one is hard-pressed to find the ‘30s equivalents to 19th-century precedents such as Hobby Horse or The Evergreen or to contemporary magazines such as Axis. One example can, however, be found: Focus, a journal produced by students and graduates of the Architectural Association in London between 1938-9, and which ran to 4 issues and an ultimate circulation of approx 2, 000. This painstakingly designed, typeset and edited quarto periodical, its pages bound with the latest plastic spiral binding, was intended to offer its primarily student readership with a blueprint for the form a future architecture and profession should take. What they called a ‘living contemporary architecture’ was intended as a counterpoint to, and critique, of the modernism purveyed by mainstream architectural media such as the Review. A position which, as this paper will show through an analysis of specific articles and editorial correspondence, had a significant counter-influence on the development of modernist culture in Britain from the late 1930s.

 

 

Fiona Hackney

University College Falmouth

The Art of Being Modern: Gendered Subjectivities and Popular Women’s Magazines in Britain in the 1920 and 1930s

This paper explores what being modern and a woman might mean as this was framed for readers in popular British magazines in the interwar years. Interpreting ‘art’ in its broadest sense as a form of everyday creativity, it focuses on interior design, making and modern living. Recent work in design history and print culture contribute to a reassessment of periodicals in the light of current debates about modernism, modernity and the middlebrow (Ardis & Collier, 2008; Aynsley, 2007). Building on these insights the paper contextualises them within the changing nature of the women’s press and the conditions of women’s lives in the 1920s and 1930s. It argues that, unlike avant-garde architects and designers, journalists such as Edith Blair (a pseudonym for Norah Schlegel), home editor on the high-selling colour weekly Woman (1937), shaped tastes for ‘simple modern living’ that combined modernism with desires for comfort, security and decoration that suburban housing materialised. Magazines, moreover, like interiors, are complex designed entities; composite objects consisting of editorial, fiction, advertising, pictures and text, in colour and black and white, which encourage particular forms of engagement, form distinct reading habits and fantasies and provide a space for readers to consider, critique, imagine and perform modernity.

 

 

Arlene Leis

University of York

Post-Bombing and Blasting: Group X and the Exhibition Catalogue

On 26 March 1920, the newly-formed Group X made their first public foray into the capital’s art scene at Heal and Sons’ Mansard Gallery on Tottenham Court Road, London. In addition to the paintings, drawings, sculpture, and pottery that were offered for display, the exhibition catalogue equally conveyed the group’s artistic range and avant-garde aesthetic. The catalogue contained a foreword written by Percy Wyndham Lewis, followed by a list of the works on exhibition. Accompanying the list were stark woodcut portraits of the artists together with some of the pieces being showcased. Compared to many of the exhibition catalogues being published at that time, the Group X catalogue presented an innovative prototype that clearly distinguished it from most other catalogues. This paper focuses on a fascinating yet understudied piece of material culture-the exhibition catalogue in the context of British modernism. I pay attention in particular to those produced just before and after World War I. By closely comparing and contrasting annotated copies of the Group X catalogue alongside a range of catalogues including The Omega Workshops, The Cumberland Market Group, Camden Group, The Vorticists, The London Group, New English Art Club, Imperial War Exhibitions, Seven and Five Society, Allied Artists and Friday club I will consider the innovative strategies by which modernists’ catalogues were designed to appeal to an exhibition-going public.

 

 

Dr Lesley Whitworth

University of Brighton Design Archives

Paper shortage and newly abundant colour: some insights into 1940s design publishing opportunities

This paper will explore some of the opportunities and challenges associated with periodical publishing in the commercial and public sectors in the 1940s.

Faced with the proposition of taking on the leadership role in the UK government’s newly created Council of Industrial Design, SC Leslie (formerly of the London Press Exchange; Gas, Light & Coke company; and war-time administrator-associate of Herbert Morrison) quickly spotted a potential conflict of interests. Would there, he enquired, be any difficulty arising from his ‘advisory’ role with the company Adprint? Adprint were poised to exploit newly economical techniques for quality colour publishing, and Leslie was tentatively involved with a new current affairs journal positioned among the many responding to a perceived thirst for thought-provoking socio-political – and importantly design-relevant - content in the wake of the Second World War.

There followed an intricate civil service negotiation intended to ensure no detriment to the new body’s reputation: Leslie could contribute as well as advise, but not under his own name. Given the public’s apparent appetite for design-related content – expressed, for example, through attendance at the Britain Can Make It exhibition, and before that through some aspects of the work of the Army Bureau of Current Affairs – there was a speedy ‘volte face’ on this issue.

The paper will contextualise the emergence of a new range of design-led publications by reference to some key individuals, some target audiences, and problems that were particular to the period, such as the chronic shortage of paper.