John Maltby, Couple relaxing in a modern living room, Architectural Press/RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Photography played a crucial part in recording the design and architecture to emerge in the post-war period. RIBA Photograph Curator Justine Sambrook reveals the ways in which some of the most respected photographers in post-war Britain communicated the new interior aesthetic.
Architectural photography: documenting Modern design
In the period of optimistic rebuilding in Britain that followed the War, photography, seen on the pages of the journals and magazines of the day, was the primary means of architectural communication. Modern design, with all the mod cons and furnishings that accompanied it, was trumpeted as the pathway to a better tomorrow and photographs demonstrated what this aspirational lifestyle could look like.
John Maltby, unidentified house, an open-plan living room, Architectural Press/RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Architectural photography: John Maltby helps shape home design
John Maltby produced some of the most evocative imagery of British architecture and design during this period, photographing the Basil Spence designed Britain Can Make It exhibition held at the V&A in 1946. Organised by the Council of Industrial Design, it championed the best industrial and product design and its importance in everyday life. Maltby’s firm was at its most productive in the 1950s, shooting for firms such as Heal’s and Hille and magazines like Ideal Home and Modern Woman, reflecting the contemporary preoccupation with design in the home. Manufacturers and journals like these played a crucial role in shaping public taste and the increasing popularity of open-planning and a contemporary look.
John Maltby, Alma Cogan’s flat, Seymour Place, Marylebone, London: the jazz singer with friends including Winifred Atwell in her living room, Architectural Press/RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Architectural photography: celebrity homes in the 1950s
The power of Maltby’s images, with their expertly cast shadows and clever use of reflections showing off the latest labour-saving device or built-in kitchen, or providing a voyeuristic glimpse into the home of celebrities such as Alma Cogan or Stirling Moss, was recognised by companies who soon wanted their products included in his shoots. A letter from the Persil Home Washing Bureau in 1954 writes: “I am enclosing a giant packet of PERSIL which I hope will be useful to you when dressing sets for kitchen interiors or washing machine photographs. I feel it may be helpful to you to have in your ‘props’ and may save you the inconvenience of buying a packet when the need arises.”
John Pantlin, Parkleys, Ham Common, Richmond upon Thames, London, Architectural Press/RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Architectural photography: John Pantlin captures the aspirational lifestyle
John Pantlin also produced resonant images of the home during the 1950s. Little is known of Pantlin save his extraordinary archive of work for the Architectural Press. Like a British Julius Shulman, his images encapsulate a complete aspirational lifestyle, the sunlit rooms furnished with carelessly (but in fact, highly thought-out) positioned props and models.
John Donat, student flat in Manchester shot for the ‘Living in Universities’ issue of ‘Architectural Design’, Architectural Press/RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Architectural photography: 1960s and the new photojournalism
The 1960s revealed a new affluence in Britain and with it came a new, and less theatrical, way of photographing interiors. Dutch-born Henk Snoek used his training in the Bauhaus principles at the Hague School of Art to produce images characterised by a sense of drama, powerful lines and strong contrasts. Photographers of the late ’60s employed the tenets of photojournalism and street photography to imbue their images with a more naturalistic, documentary feel. John Donat was one of the forerunners of this movement, using photography to communicate how a building was experienced by its inhabitants rather than simply illustrating its architectural qualities. These images were not about proffering a model lifestyle but sought to record reality. Not utilised by advertisers or aspirational magazines, they were instead published in architectural journals as part of a commentary on the state of contemporary design.
The full article Printed Pictures: Pioneers of Modern architectural photography was published in MidCentury 07
For more images of architectural photography, visit ribapix.com
Read more about John Pantlin’s photographs here
Check out our article on fellow British photographer Edwin Smith