A story from the archive that illustrates why Bert Hardy’s ability to think on his feet inspired a generation of reportage photographers. Matthew Butson tells the story…

As ex-Random House President and former Editor of The Sunday Times Harry Evans once remarked, “…the Hulton is an extraordinary Aladdin’s cave of treasures, one of the finest archives in the world…” and it is true to say we often come across a work that is akin to Aladdin’s lamp. Sometimes this may be a vintage print of great value, at other times an item of ephemera we later discover to be unique. Sometimes it is simply a case of rediscovering a piece of work that has lain dormant for many years. In this feature we pay homage to Bert Hardy and a remarkable picture he shot which originally appeared in the seminal news weekly Picture Post in the late 1950s. This complex montage has been rarely seen since it appeared in Bert Hardy’s autobiography ‘My Life’ in 1985.

Much has been written over the years about the genius of staff photographer Bert Hardy who was arguably the living embodiment of Picture Post’s inspirational photography during its nineteen-year existence. As one of the genuine greats of British photojournalism, who inspired a generation of reportage photographers, Hardy was certainly blessed with many qualities; not least his gift for thinking on his feet and working quickly. This story is a perfect example of Hardy’s craft and his uncanny ability to create something truly unique in a highly pressurised situation.

This image was shot on the occasion of H.M. The Queen’s state visit to Paris in April 1957. Though Hardy had been sent by Picture Editor Harry Deverson to cover the story, he was not part of the Royal press photographer rota and therefore not officially supposed to be present at the Paris Opera House, certainly not inside.

However, Bert being Bert, he very quickly decided the opportunity would be too good to miss. Wearing a borrowed dinner jacket several sizes too large for him and a pair of brown shoes instead of the mandatory black, he managed to sneak in – with his trusted Leica carefully concealed under his oversized jacket – whilst hidden amongst a group of French dignitaries.

Making his way up the grand marble staircase he decided that the only way to do justice to the scene would be to create a montage effect – a wide angle or fish eye lens would just distort the shot. Though Picture Post were famous for their join-ups, this was usually restricted to a few images at most, Hardy’s ‘creation’ would present a much trickier task for the art department. Working from top left to top right, top to bottom, Hardy shot twenty individual frames – a technique he had learned during his days at General Photographic Press, some twenty years earlier – and even had to change rolls halfway through. Remaining in Paris to shoot the rest of the Royal visit, Hardy telephoned Sheila Marshall (the future Mrs Hardy who also worked at Picture Post) with instructions for putting the ‘jigsaw’ together. Once the negatives had been received in London, it was left to the magic of Art Director Henry Fuller to create the finished piece – consisting of fifteen individual frames – which appeared in the 20th April 1957 souvenir issue of Picture Post.

It has often been said that the magazine went into sharp decline after the departure of Editor Sir Tom Hopkinson in 1950 and it is therefore somewhat ironic that the montage shown here was from one of the last major stories to be published by the magazine which folded less than two months later. Even though the magazine was in terminal decline, Hardy was always determined to create something unusual or memorable – in this instance, as was the case throughout his career, he succeeded with some aplomb. After the death of Picture Post, Hardy went on to future fame and fortune as an advertising photographer though, for many, it was his output for Picture Post which Hardy will be most fondly remembered. A great raconteur and a larger than life character, Bert Hardy sadly died in 1995.

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