September 21, 2021
By chronicling day-to-day life in 1940s Britain, Picture Post became a visual media pioneer, as Rob West’s inspiring documentary reveals
Picture Stories review – how one news magazine blew up British photography
With photo-editing software and deepfakes continuing to steadily erode trust in visual media, it feels almost alien to hark back to a time of reverential interest and belief in photographs – when they held a totemic power to broaden worldviews and shape politics. With photospread succinctness, Rob West’s inspiring documentary about the British news magazine Picture Post, which was published between 1938 and 1957, lays out the case for its pioneeringly demotic photojournalism, high artistic credentials and impact on public policy.
Picture Post was the brainchild of Hungarian émigré Stefan Lorant, whose editorship of German magazine Münchner Illustrierte Presse led to Hitler imprisoning him. He brought his antifascist, socialist sympathies with him to Britain – as well as a troupe of superb photographers, schooled by the European photojournalist tradition and able to frame these islands with an outsider’s eye. Selling nearly two million copies a week by the mid-40s, it featured itinerant jobseekers, sex workers, blitz firefighters and so on, socially conscious chronicling of day-to-day life that was also unafraid to make clear entreaties to those in power. After the war, the magazine canvassed readers about what kind of healthcare they would like to see.
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