Photographer Paul Ellis met South London high street studio portrait photographer Harry Jacobs shortly before he retired and, realising the amassed portraits’ social and cultural value, purchased Jacobs’ archive of negatives. Several hundred portraits taken by Jacobs were reprinted and exhibited at The Photographers’ Gallery in Autumn 2002. Four artists – Jitka Hanzlova, Nikki S. Lee, Eileen Perrier, Jimmy Robert – were commissioned to make new work related to Brixton. This was shown alongside Jacobs’ studio portraits.
Prior to the exhibition, Ellis worked with Gallery staff to visit older people’s homes and clubs with a slideshow of Jacobs’ studio portraits. This was in an effort to locate some of the people that were photographed by Jacobs during his forty year career. The Gallery also set up a stand at the Lambeth County Fair with a large photograph of Jacobs against his famous studio backdrop that said ‘Do you know this man?’ Several people who attended the fair came forward to say they or their family members had been photographed by Jacobs.
The exhibition was accompanied by an education project and resource, in partnership with 198 Gallery in Brixton. Young people worked with Venezuelan artist and muralist Carlos Madriz to paint a backdrop for a portrait photography shoot. They then worked with photographer Faisal Abdu’Allah to take a series of portraits in a makeshift studio at 198 Gallery. A Teachers’ Pack was developed that included background information on Harry Jacobs’ work, as well as activity ideas related to Jacobs’ portraits and those by the commissioned artists and young people.
During the exhibition, a party was held for people who were photographed by Harry Jacobs – several of whose portraits were included in the exhibition. Unfortunately Jacobs himself was unable to attend due to ill health. Harry Jacobs passed away in November 2011.
“For over 40 years, from the 1950s until the late 1990s, Harry Jacobs worked as a commercial studio photographer in Stockwell, London, SW9. In this time he took an estimated 60,000 photographs. Jacobs’ compelling archive captures generations of individuals and families, their hopes and achievements.
Brixton Studio combines selected images from the archive with new work by four contemporary artists commissioned to use Brixton as their ‘studio’. “
Great magazine number 44