Gevacolour

This collection comes in three volumes, each with a heady smell of damp. The earliest album starts in the 1930s, but most of the photographs date from the 1950s. There are more than 40 colour photos, which, for albums of this period, is an extraordinary amount. Occasionally, some 1950s albums could, perhaps, contain three or four colour photos, if you’re lucky. Judging by the quality of the black and white photos, and the albums dedicated arrangement, it comes as no surprise that this photographer was an early adopter of colour.

Practical colour photography appeared in the UK in 1907, with the introduction of Autochrome Lumière plates. Twenty million were produced and lovely examples still exist – the photographer Etheldreda Laing was an English exponent – but their use seems to have faded out by the early 1930s. From the mid-1960s, colour photos were commonly found alongside black and white images, and by the mid-1970s they are the norm. Yet the colour photos in these albums represent the true birth of colour for the amateur. They were processed by the Belgium company Gavaert, founded in 1894. Gevacolour colour film was produced from 1947 and available in the UK from 1953. The Gevaert colour service operated in the same way as Kodak’s; the exposed film was sent of to the Gevaert Company, which would return prints to the customer some time later. There were several formats sizes available: the smallest measuring just 2¼ inches square; the largest 6 x 4 inches.

The Riviera shots, taken on board a yacht, show the merriment of a harpoon-fishing trip. One man can be seen ironically brandishing the fearsome weapon in one hand, with a minnow in the other. The lithe youth over his right shoulder has an expression that seems to announce a wisdom beyond his age. People from the 1950s in swimming costumes always look under nourished; the lack of gym bodies is striking. The photos of the little girl and young woman, both in their blue dresses with the stylish cars in the background, wouldn’t look out of place in Paris Match. One well-turned-out lady, with a little girl at her side, looks dressed for a wedding but steeled for a funeral.

There is something that distinguishes these early 1950s photos from those taken less than a decade later. By the late 1950s, rock and roll culture had made its mark, and street fashion began to have an influence. But these photos come from a time of sartorial elegance and old-school cool, when you dressed for every occasion.

Nigel Shephard

Published by The Family Museum

We are an archival project about amateur family photography, based in London and set up by filmmaker Nigel Shephard and editor Rachael Moloney.

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