Strike a Pose: Portraits from a Hackney Photo Studio | Hackney Museum

Strike a Pose: Portraits from a Hackney Photo Studio | Hackney Museum

Gibson was ‘the’ local studio to go to. Everyone
that had photos to be taken, if it was a wedding, christening, birthdays whatever. Gibson was the place to go. I started at Gibson Photographer’s back in
the ’70s. I started off to work there for six weeks and ended up there for 35 years. Carncross, what has come to be known as the
Gibson Collection, and I thought it sounded interesting, turned out today to be an awful
lot of negatives from the 1950s and even more from the 1960s, and quite a substantial number
from the 1970s. I came to England when I was 25 years old,
that was 1955. In 1974 I came to London. I came to England I think probably about 1961. I arrived in Southampton after 16 days on
the boat. I was happy to be in England, really happy. I was staying with my uncle, my brother, my sister in law and niece in Clapton. I got pregnant, and I decided after I was
pregnant I’m going to send up my children, because I had four children at home. This was the first time that I’d seen my parents,
because we lived with our grandparents. Back in the days that was the done thing: your
parents used to go abroad, find work, accommodation and so forth, and then once they’d got themselves
settled they’d all send for you. Migrants were arriving, getting settled, getting
employment and settling into Hackney, and then having photographs of themselves taken to
send back to family in their home countries. It was nice to have customers who would refer
to things differently as well, so you would have to learn a different language, like when
somebody would come in and go do you want a ping pong, and that actually meant they
want a passport photograph. Ron Gibson was a self-taught photographer. If he was taking a photograph of somebody,
Ron would have to work out what their likes and dislike were, and then they would go,
“well I need to see all my body in the photograph and not half of it”, because if you showed
them a photograph of only half of them, or just three quarters, they’d go “oh, you cut
my legs off, and I can’t send this home because they’ll think I haven’t got any legs.” So it
was very important to have like pens in their pockets. The more pens that they had meant
they’d really achieved something. One of the reasons why we went to studios,
because obvioulsy the cameras back in the days weren’t all that good. Pictures were coming back better than when
we took the photographs. We had a diary that would be completely filled
and they’d go on either on to the next page or a little bit rubbed into a corner to get
the information in. Gibson was the place to go, again obviously
because it was just in Lower Clapton Road, that’s all that we knew and that’s where we
went. Gibson’s customer base is quite different.
From when he started, in the 1950s images, it’s clear that he’s serving a white working
class population. By the mid 1970s, he’s not. It’s a different kind of population, a migrant
population, primarily Afro-Caribbean and Asian people, and then having different types of
photographs taken. We used to love to dress sharp, I wouldn’t
say it was a show off, but we used to think we were to business. When we went out, there
was nothing then looking sharp. Everything about you looked good, as you can see by these
photographs. I was probably about 18. In the seam of the
flares we used to open it and we used to put like a different type of material inside of
it so when you walked you’d see this brightly coloured material in the actual flares. By taking photographs you can see how fashion
changes over the years. From having the flares or to the mini skirts and the trendy suits. Every week was something different, which
was good because not two weeks were the same, from photographing somebody’s baby or maybe
somebody’s wedding. And bar mitzvahs and events. There would be this pile of work in front of
me, all these different weddings and all these different nationalities and yet they were
the same set-up photographs, for each of them. He has about half a dozen poses, particularly
for weddings and the same sorts of poses appear time and time again, right from 1952 through
to the mid 1970s. Typical one is bridegroom waiting outside the church with his best man,
either they’re shaking hands or the bridegroom is looking nervous and checking his watch. If you took away the fashion and the fact
that they’re black and white or colour film, they could be from any period. Exactly the
same repertoire right the way through. The studio stayed with the same chairs and
the same tables, having the brown-y orange-y curtains , and the creamy table tops or the
dark floor. Whoever was coming in, you didn’t have to change so much very quickly. It was
only the people in these photographs that you would actually just have to position. This one is with my wife, and this is my own
full photograph in black and white. This is mother. She was always smiling, she
is always smiling. What we called wet printing from having the
roll of film in the camera, it meant that at the end of it you needed to develop the
film to see the photographs. Once you took a photograph, back in the days,
it wasn’t a case of you can view it straight away, you had to go back to the studio, have
a look, and then if you had taken half a dozen shots, depending on how many you wanted you
would have to choose and say I like three or four out of how many you had taken. And then you’d come back a few days later
and pick your photographs up, so the whole process took about a week. Ron was lovely, he was such a gentleman and
no customer whether they were spending £10 or £110, they all got treated the same. He was always mixed with the people, very
nice. You’d sit down here, get a good photograph. He always said, when the Asian people went
to take photographs, he always said ‘just smile’ in our language. He built up such a good relationship with
all of them, and he would talk to them by first name, and they would call him Ron. And
he knew what people wanted. Looking at the photos, it really takes me
back to that day when Leine, my best friend got married to Eric.
The wedding was in August 1977. My most vivid memory of that day was how beautiful Madeleine
looked, she was impeccably dressed as always, but she had make-up on and it was the first
time in her life she had ever worn make-up. Her big sister Etheline, who we all call Sis,
insisted, because Sis was very glamorous and she was a part time model, she insisted for
the photographs that Leine would have make-up. Leine had false eye lashes, blusher on, and
she got lipstick on, and she felt very uncomfortable but she looked beautiful.
So after the ceremony we went home to her place for the reception and she just scrubbed
it all off. I go to church on a Saturday, I don’t do any
work, but because of her wedding I went to church and then I went to the wedding and
went back to church. All the family had a photograph from Gibson
even my sister on her wedding, she got photographed by Gibson at the Hackney Town Hall. Ron always told me that to have a photograph
was like having an item of furniture, you’d only have it maybe a year, a photograph you’d
have for a lifetime and it’s very important to have that because you can have a memory
to show someone, that memory is always with you. The population changes, the important events
that people want to record then change.

3 thoughts on “Strike a Pose: Portraits from a Hackney Photo Studio | Hackney Museum

  1. l went there in 1985.just before I left hackney to live in the united​stats the staff there were really wonderful and kind and really did make every one feel comfortable and relax.thaks to you goblins.😋😀😄😘

  2. I remember having my picture taken there around 1988. The guy that took the pictures had a moustache and I recall that he was about late twenties to early thirties. Now I am puzzled because if the studio opened in the fifties, the guy who took the pictures could not have been RA Gibson. He should have been a lot older than late twenties/early thirites guy who did take the pictures. Did he have an assistant with a moustache around the same time. If so, who was this man?

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