SHOOTING STREET IN 1964
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CARL LINDHE
WRITTEN BY KARIN SVADLENAK-GOMEZ
London in the 1960s was undergoing a lot of social changes, there was economic growth, the Beatles, the Kinks and the Rolling Stones topped the music charts. Carl Lindhe was a young Swedish man, fresh out of vocational school, ready to embark on his photographic career. Some months ago I stumbled upon his wonderful street photography from London in 1964. Those photos have a vibrant classic documentary character, they transport the viewer back in time to a London that is still somewhat recognisable, while telling stories of days gone by. I wanted to find out more, and Carl graciously agreed to let me interview him for a “Pictorial Story”.
Off On A Journeyman's Adventure
After spending two years training as a photographer in Stockholm, Carl and his friend Leif decided to broaden their horizon - to gain experience and improve their craft. They decided to apply for internships abroad. Since both liked what they had seen of England in books and movies, and with the assistance of the Swedish Association of Professional Photographers they managed to contact some photo studios in England. And they got lucky.
Leif ended up in Birmingham, while Carl got a job as assistant at a very large photo studio, Woburn Studios in Brewery Road, London. There were seven staff photographers, each in a separate studio with two assistants, shooting commercial pictures, anything from perfume bottles to specially built interiors.
“The seven studios were named after Greek gods. The biggest one, which was called Palatine, could have swallowed fifty London Double Decker buses,” Carl recalls. Carl feels lucky to have been assigned to a very good photographer at the Aurora studio, Dennis Anthony, who later became chief photographer at Ilford Photo.
The 1960s were a great time for magazines such as Life, Paris Match,German Twen, Zoom, Camera, and many more, not to forget all the fashion magazines. Carl thought working as a freelance photographer for one of them would be his ultimate dream job. “These magazines inspired me a lot,” he says. “David Bailey was on top, and Norman Parkinson, the fashion photographer whose house we (me and my guru Dennis Anthony) bowed to, was still kicking.”
Woburn Studios Ltd no longer exists, but on the same location there now seems to be a rental studio for commercial photography and video making, something called Big Sky Studios.
Hitting The Streets On Foot
On weekends, Carl had time off, time that he used to walk the streets and take pictures. He could not get enough of it. “I shot some of my best pictures in Petticoat Lane,” he says. “Again - hustle and bustle, atmosphere, vibrant life in the streets.”
“I didn’t earn much (with no money left at the end of the week I lived on Limmits Slimming Biscuits until payday), so when the rent was paid I had little money left, which I did not want to spend on bus tickets. Walking, taking pictures. Walking, taking pictures,” says Carl. Everything seemed interesting and sometimes amusing. The Speaker´s Corner, for example, provided an odd assortment of one-of-a-kind characters. “Listening to them was fun and most of them willingly let me photograph them. Not only let me, but encouraged me! There were many serious speakers as well of course.”
Before digital cameras arrived, and before social media platforms such as Instagram made it globally popular, street photography was less common. Carl thinks that those who did it took it more seriously. For him it is not enough to be taking a picture of somebody just standing there on the pavement doing nothing, or photographing someone with a pretty face. The picture has to tell a story, preferably trigger the viewer's mind to see something beyond the image itself.
Carl´s photos certainly do that for me. I asked him how people reacted to being photographed. “Well, if they noticed me and my camera, I don't think they disliked it. Nobody told me to piss off. But many of my pictures are shot from the hip, so people often didn't realise what was happening. It was a bit tricky though, aiming the camera right. Lots of could-have-been-a-smashing-picture got lost, but a few turned out very good.”
Nowadays, Carl uses only digital cameras for his street photography. Although he was reticent about it at first, he now loves the amenities of the digital era. “No darkroom necessary, no more shirts destroyed by chemicals, no more stained fingers. And sitting by the computer I can easily find my cup of coffee,” he says. He admits to once ruining a very good timer device in the lab by accidentally pouring a cup of coffee over it in the pitch dark. Carl also did not enjoy retouching pictures with ink and small brushes. “Inside me I am certainly still full of ink from licking the brush to get a fine tip,” he jokes. “Working on a computer you can just click all the spots away as if by magic.”
For actual shooting though, things have pretty much stayed the same for Carl. Watching, aiming, pressing the shutter button, the process does not change. Except that back in 1964 you had to set exposure and focus manually. Using separate exposure meters slowed things down too. Today all cameras can at least take care of focus and exposure, which is good when you have to be quick. “You can fire off immediately. I do remember a few times when I missed a good picture because I had to set the camera manually.”
What he also prefers now are the geotagging possibilities of modern cameras - the photographer no longer has to remember where a picture was shot. “Now, after all these years, I curse myself for not having written down where I shot my pics in 1964. For a few of them I know where they were taken, and I have amused myself with Google Earth to track the places down to see what they look like today. Many places have changed shape today, not always to their advantage.”
Another problem was that when shooting on film, you were limited by the number of rolls you had with you. A 35mm film roll contained 36 frames (or 24), a 120 roll only 12 frames. Memory cards today can hold thousands of photos. That is good, but can also be a drawback, as many people tend to shoot without reflection of the message they actually want to convey.
Coal, Cinema and Pubs
Life in London was different from life in Sweden, but also in many ways similar. I asked Carl how London compared to his home country at that time.
When Carl and his friend arrived in England by boat (at Tilbury), their first impression was the heavy smell of coal. Carl got used to it later, as coal fired heaters were very common in England at the time. Some of what appears to be fog (and London is indeed naturally foggy because of the River Thames) in old photographs may actually be smog. The famous coal-burning-induced “Great Smog”, a four day event in 1952, killed some 4000 Londoners and made 100,000 seriously ill. By the time Carl came to London, the situation had improved, after the 1956 Clean Air Act restricted the areas where coal could be burned in UK cities - but there was still a lot of coal burning going on. “London is cleaner nowadays and the burning of coal has stopped. We did have the yellow thick fog a couple of times in 1964. Dennis, my mentor, used to wear a military gas mask those days and I know the fog took many lives among people with lung and heart diseases.” (It has only been announced recently though that the sales of the two most polluting fuels, wet wood and coal for home stoves will be phased out in England to help cut air pollution by 2023).
Be that as it may, Carl thought London was great, lots of people, hustle and bustle everywhere. It was his first trip abroad, and everything seemed new and fascinating. He rented a room in Orleans Road. Thinking back on his old neighbourhood, Carl says, “I thought 'Orleans Road' sounded so exotic. Not to mention the 'Black Lion Yard' where one of my English friends had a flat.”
In some ways London was not that different from Stockholm. “Well, it was the sixties in Sweden too, of course. A time when youths created a new era never seen before. A clean cut from our parents generation. Many had revolutionary ideas. The sexual revolution. A new lifestyle emerged, and I think we all felt free,” he remembers. So in that sense Sweden was similar to London, but on a much smaller scale. “But, and that is essential,” he continues, “we had no pubs in Sweden. Instead we had lots of bakeries and confectioneries almost in every street corner and we sat there eating cake and drinking coffee. I very soon learned to appreciate the London pubs with not only beer but steak and kidney pies and cheese plates.”
Despite his limited finances, Carl managed to see some films at London cinemas, which was quite a different experience from his frequent cinema visits in Stockholm. “I remember West Side Story was on show and you could enter the theatre at any time. I happened to take my seat twenty minutes before the end of the movie. Had to close my eyes and ears until the movie started all over again. They ran it more or less nonstop.”
You could buy sweets and cigarettes from girls walking around in the cinema auditorium. You were even allowed to smoke the cigarettes while watching the movie. Very different from the cinemas in Sweden. To look cool I smoked Gauloise - the most dangerous cigarette of them all. Also Rothmans without filters. Nearly as bad. Stupid me. Stopped smoking twenty years ago.” He also thought it rather odd that, after the last show in the evening, everybody stood up and waited, motionless, while the speakers played ”God save the Queen”.
The young Swede ended up spending a full year in London. “Minus one day, I should add, which allowed me to get all my paid tax money back.” He returned for visits with his wife Marscha in 1965 and 1969, and then again in 2013 and 2017. His former mentor Dennis Anthony is now over ninety years old. Seeing the old familiar places was nice, though many of the places he used to see no longer exist. “What I don't like is that the house I lived in, 13 Orleans Road, was knocked down. Not only the building but the whole street was just gone, which was a disappointment to me when I was going to show my wife where I had lived. Those things are unforgivable and I hope the culprits rotate in their graves!” He also notes that there were a lot fewer homeless people in London's streets in 1964 than he noticed in 2017.
Less Is More: Analog Lessons For The Digital Age
In analog times, when you found your motif you just had to wait for the right moment to press the button. “With the Hasselblad I got only twelve frames. I had to use them with care. No unnecessary shots.”
Unlike with digital cameras, firing away like a machine gun could get extremely expensive. Most often it is one single moment alone that makes the picture. And, Carl thinks, it is worth selecting carefully what you want to show. In his view, false “creativity”, such as simply turning a bad or meaningless photo upside down or turning it into black and white in an attempt to make it more interesting, something he sees quite a lot on Instagram, is absurd. Nor does it help to publish your pic in both b/w and color. Instead, Carl thinks, photographers should make up their mind and decide which version they prefer and just show that one to the public. Less is more.
“You should not be afraid of throwing away the not so good pictures. Better to show a few good ones than hundreds of bad ones. On Instagram I have seen people publishing thousands of pictures and it can still be impossible to find even one worth looking at for a bit longer.”
Carl´s London street photos to me are truly special in their authenticity. True to his credo, there is nothing staged or manipulated about them. He now regularly publishes old London pictures on his Instagram gallery @carllindhephotos. Also you can read more about Carl in our candid interview here.
Thank you for telling us your story, Carl! It is a true pleasure to be able to highlight some of your work.
© All photographs are the property of artist Carl Lindhe.