06 Mar Picture This: The 1950s Fairytale
In my ‘Picture This’ series I focus on an individual image, or series of images, and explain why I like it.
Harte & Garter wedding, Windsor
I took this picture at a wedding in 1958. It shows a bride and bridesmaid on a busy Saturday in Windsor, England walking into the Harte & Garter Hotel having just stepped out of a pink Cadillac.
Actually, that’s not true. I didn’t take it in 1958. That would make me, er, really quite old. It’s from Danielle and Ian’s Windsor wedding photographed in December 2016. But it looks like it could have been taken 60 years ago. At first I thought, ‘I like this picture because it looks like a photo I might have taken at my parents wedding’ or ‘I like it because it has a timeless feel to it’.
Then I looked at it again and I realised I liked it because it doesn’t just mimic a time or feel, it plays with the idea of time, location and memory, or rather, our received memories of that era at the beginning of pop culture when everything seemed to be in black & white.
Most of us have no recollection of the 1950s. We have only seen films, mostly American movies, featuring obscenely big cars and women in A-line dresses. But they were nearly always set in New York or California, not a grey afternoon in Berkshire. And I doubt there were many pink Cadillacs in Windsor in 1958, or 600-year-old castles in Los Angeles, for that matter.
I like images that have layers, both literally and in terms of meaning, especially when their meaning is ambiguous. In this image there are the main subjects in the foreground, then the car and crowd looking on, then the famous castle behind. But it also metaphorical depth and is not what it seems – a street scene from America in the 1950s dropped into a medieval location in England. It could be two famous women dressed in a way that makes them look like two famous women from another age – a kind of post-war fairytale.
Street photography at weddings
And then there’s the way it’s been shot in black & white in a classic street photography style using a 35mm lens redolent of the 1950s. Add to this the slanting street sign (mirrored by the castle wall in the background) that divides the image, and the ‘false shadow’ of the pavement brickwork acting as a leading line bringing the eye back to the women.
Of course, most of this goes on subconsciously, but there’s nothing wrong with examining why we like a photograph and what it means. If nothing else, it can deepen our enjoyment of what we see around us. That, in fact, is for me the attraction of photography.