Pop People: Thirty Years on the British Pop Scene 1950-1980

Thu 05 Mar 1981 - Sat 28 Mar 1981

Billy Idol of Generation X. © Gered Mankowitz, 1978. PV Card courtesy The Photographers' Gallery Archive

Pop People: Thirty Years on the British Pop Scene 1950-1980

Thu 05 Mar 1981 - Sat 28 Mar 1981

This event is part of our Past Programme

05 Mar - 28 Mar 1981


This exhibition shows not only the changing faces of the musicians and artists involved in the pop music world but also changing styles of photography, from the early fifties to the present day. 

Two photographers, Harry Hammond and Gered Mankowitz epitomise the progress from the formal black and white photographs needed by the musicians for press purposes in the fifties to the much freer colour photographs that are demanded now for album covers and magazine spreads.

This is a survey rather than a complete history. With space for 120 pictures it is clearly not possible to show every recording star from 1950 to the present day. We have made a selection from the work of these two photographers to show a wide variety of British musicians with just a few of the Americans who made a particular impact on our own scene. We have covered all these styles from Mantovani to Toyah and the change in flavour from big band swing to punk rock is clearly seen with pictures of well known figures, sometimes early and occasionally more than once in their careers.

Pop music is an obvious factor in the 'generation gap' and it is fascinating to speculate as to whether Mantovani and Ted Heath were as incomprehensible to the grandmothers of the fifties as new wave music is to grandmothers today! There are of course stars who have grown up with their generation like Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard and these are shown alongside the early rock bands and todays idols such as Kate Bush and Jon Fox.

Interestingly, both the photographers were self-taught, beginning as lab assistants before progressing to actually taking the pictures. Harry Hammond was born in 1920 and was apprenticed in 1934 to a Fleet Street firm of commercial and advertising photographers where he begun by mixing chemicals, developing and printing before in 1938 he joined the studio of court photographer Bassano of Dover Street where he photographed many debutants and notables for Tatler, Bystander and Illustrated London News. His progress was interrupted by the War when he joined the RAF to perform the arduous task of hanging out of an open aircraft with a hand camera to take reconnaissance photographs for map making.

In the late forties, after a period as photographer at the Royal Aircraft Experimental Establishment, Farnborough, and then a stint as portraiture and child photographer in a high street studio, Harry decided to go freelance and took an office and darkroom in the West End. He began with general news pictures but quickly succumbed to the lure of Denmark Street or 'Tin Pan Alley' as it was nicknamed and from the late forties he concentrated on show business and pop people.

In the fifties, Denmark Street was the centre of Britain's popular music trade, jostling with band leaders, music publishers, singers, musicians, pluggers, and all the varied facets of talent, success and failure from which sprang the prolific and lucrative recording industry of today. From big bands to rock and roll bands, until the Beatles ushered in a new presentation, Harry Hammond - style by some, as the 'founder of pop photography' - followed these personalities daily, and has preserved in his collection of photographs, an unrepeatable and unique history of pop music. It is no wonder than with 5000 pictures to choose from it has been a difficult selection and I am very grateful that once the outline was established Harry undertook this task himself!

Gered Mankowitz also started work in the darkroom of a photo-agency and later worked as an assistant before branching on his own. Beginning chiefly with theatrical photography he went on to concentrate on musicians and the pop scene in general. Although he works often on album covers he thinks of himself first as a photographer of people. Good portraits have to be made with the co-operation and enthusiasm of the subjects and his undoubted talent for putting people at ease is a great asset. He is also extremely professional in his approach, realising that many of his subjects have little time, and he is very thorough in preparing the studio or the location and letting musicians known in good time, the ideas he has in mind for the session.

Gered's work with pop musicians began just when Harry's was coming to an end in 1963. While Harry was photographing the young Beatles, Gered was doing his first pictures of The Rolling Stones, so the two overlap extremely well and by using simply two photographers, we have an exhibition which is both about the changing styles of photography, two quite different approaches, as well as a show which will have immense interest to pop music enthusiasts.


Sponsored by Ilford

For further information on this and past exhibitions, visit our Archive and Study Room.