Picture Post may be a forgotten magazine now, familiar only to those with some cultural memory of Britain during its run from 1938 to 1957, or those with an interest in vintage photojournalism, but it has a long influence on how photographs are still the most important element of bringing a news story or item of documentary to life. Nowadays, anybody can be their own photojournalist with the camera in their mobile phones, as the everyday is recorded endlessly by the ordinary folk who seek to elevate their own experiences into the equivalent of their own personal news stories for the consumption of friends, family and anyone else online, but that idea had to stem from somewhere, and Picture Post, with its snaps of the real world, is as good a place as any.
This is a documentary about that magazine from director Rob West, who assembled interviews with talking heads who knew what they were talking about, and archive chats with some of the main players in the publication's production. Although obviously a low budget work, West did push the boat out and hire some actors in costume to play some recreations of the era in black and white, so as not to be too jarring as most of the photos in the magazine were monochrome, largely to keep costs down. Despite a circulation at its height of around two million readers, it was not flush with cash, and as mentioned here the paper it was printed on was as thin as they could get away with. However, that use of the black and white image was what cemented it as an authentic record.
Funnily enough, although colour photography was around, as well as being more expensive its alternative simply looked like an unfussy, non-extravagant method of capturing the news and lives of people around Britain, and indeed the world, and in the days when the newsreels were really only that kind of journalism's competition, there was a lot to be said for a well-presented photograph. Be that the composition, even the cropping of anything extraneous, or merely the happy happenstance of the shutterbug being in the right place at the right time, from the wealth of pics we see here they did elevate the so-called ordinary into the levels of an importance that was established in the editor's often left-wing ideals. The magazine was established by a Hungarian refugee from the Nazis, and he felt the duty to make plain the fight against fascism could be staged within the pages.
With horrible irony, the first editor was forced out of Britain by the suspicion he and his countrymen were possible insurgents, but his successor was just as wrapped up in the classes of the nation and is often credited with encouraging the creation of The Welfare State thanks to its campaigns against poverty, ill-health and taking care of those who the Second World War had so deeply affected. But thereafter, this film seems to indicate a slide set in, as while the depictions of everyday Britain continued, as the fifties dawned Picture Post was keen to keep its readership by appealing to the male readers who wanted to see attractive young ladies modelling beach and underwear, or having their skirts blown up by a gust of wind on the promenade. Many of those working there felt this cheapened their more serious efforts, though nonetheless the announcement of the closing of the magazine came as a shock. Some blame television, just as the internet is blamed for magazines folding in the following century, and Picture Post's final circulation of 600,000 sales would be looked on with envy by many mags now. But it was a pioneer, of forward thinking and promoting women in the workplace, and if this doc is rather brief, it is a valuable reminder.
[UK screenings of Picture Stories will take place from 18th September and will be available on Digital Download from 27th September 2021. More info can be found at Click here for more information.]