August 27, 2015

The Long Shot – The Untold Story of the history of Photojournalism

Unity is an agency that prides itself on thinking visually, understanding the meaning behind a news story, and we love exploring why our media is the way it is. That’s why we were so excited when we came across The Long Shot, the story of Bert Hardy and the Picture Post.

It’s the untold story of one of our most important photojournalism agencies, by Bella Bathurst, and is currently crowd-funding for support on Unbound (which is like a Kickstarter for the literary world).

So, what exactly was the Picture Post? Established in 1938, the Post became so successful that we still see WWII through its editorial filters. Within two months of the first issue it was selling a million copies, after six months it was on 1.7 million, and after a year it was said to be read by half the population. The Post exmployed the best writers and the best photographers to cover the biggest stories of the 20th century. There had been nothing like it before, and there is nothing like it today in 2015.

And what made it different? The Post set out to be the first genuinely classless publication in British history, read and trusted by people from all backgrounds – from top to bottom nad from left to right. The Post’s founder Stefan Lorant aimed to “appeal to the masses, the common man, to the workers, to the intelligentsia. To print the truth and do it honestly, to enlighten the readers of subjects on which they have little knowledge; never talk down to them; never underestimate their intelligence; but share with them a common knowledge, to learn together.”

It quickly drew the best writers and photographers of the generation – including George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, Dylan Thomas, HG Wells, Evelyn Waugh and more.

Unusually for the time, Post chiefs chose to use women in senior staff positions all the way through his tenure, not just as a response to wartime conscription but because he saw their contribution and talent as equal to the mens’. Ultimately, the Post’s life was pretty short – it only lasted 19-years. But the power and energy of its formula was such that it continues to have a huge influence on photojournalism today, but its version of the world has become part of our collective DNA.

Our image of war is still the one the Post gave us – sharp, monochrome, often brutal, but full of electrifying detail. It covered all aspects of war and its aftermath, tracing the time not just through the movements of armies but through the experience of children or animals or those caught up in something too big to comprehend. It quickly became a campaigning organisation too – staffed campaigned for a Welfare State, lobbied for better troop conditions, exposed government censorship, and started their own battle school (a project that eventually became the inspiration for Dad’s Army!)

The team behind the Post were central figures in defining a moment. They were funny, unscrupulous, courageous, charismatic and worked entirely to the Fleet Street principle that everything was possible as long as you could get away with it. Befre the Post, photography was either high art of low prying. But the Post helped destroy divisions. Anything could be a story, and anyone could be a subject – softening hard news into something warmer and much more human. It didn’t just influence the media which came after, it changed forever the sense of what, and who, was fit to print. And by doing so, the Post helped give us the world we have today. So, why is this relevant now? Not all of this story will be around forever.

The very last of the Picture Post generation are now in their 80s or 90s. They, more than anyone, are conscious that time is running out. Not just for themselves but for their images too. Much of the film available in Britain during and after the war is degenerating. There’s a chance to support this story, and give it the wider audience we think it deserves. Author, journalist and writer Bella Bathurst is currently looking for backers on the Unbound platform. See all the details here.

Starting at just £10 there’s chance to back this book. There are other rewards if you have more to spare; including a Getty Archive Tour, a lunch with the author, and special prints. There’s even a one-off Martin Parr pint available. Bella is the perfect writer to bring this story to life. Her first novel, Special, was published in 2002 and was longlisted for the Orange Prize. Her first non-fiction book, The Lighthouse Stevensons, was a national bestseller and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award.

She told Unity: “I can’t remember exactly when I first came across the story of Bert Hardy and the Post. If you work in journalism, they’re part of the air you breathe. Without the Post, there is no Sunday Times Magazine, no Horizon or Arena, and without Hardy, there is only the kind of photojournalism which gets taken from outside. Hardy died in 1996, and his colleagues on the Post are going or gone. Before the last participants have vanished, I want to make them better known”

The team at Unity are fascinated by this part of British history, this style of journalism and are hoping we can help Bella bring it to life. For more information on The Long Shot.