Wwith photo editing software and deepfakes continuing to gradually erode trust in visual media, it seems almost alien to return to a time of reverent interest and belief in photographs – when they held a totemic power to expand worldviews and shaping politics. Rob West’s inspirational documentary on the British news magazine Picture Post, published between 1938 and 1957, with photographic brevity, exposes the case of his demotic avant-garde photojournalism, great artistic qualities and impact on public policies.
Picture Post was designed by Hungarian emigrant Stefan Lorant, whose management of the German magazine Münchner Illustrierte Presse led Hitler to imprison him. He brought his anti-fascist and socialist sympathies with him to Britain – as well as a cast of superb photographers, trained in the European photojournalist tradition and able to frame these islands with an outside eye. Sold nearly two million copies a week in the mid-1940s, it featured itinerant job seekers, sex workers, lightning firefighters, and more. After the war, the magazine asked readers what kind of healthcare they would like to see.
Through all of this work was a unique photojournalistic sensibility that West – with the help of archives and new interviews with contributors, including Grace Robertson, who passed away this year – contends that the Post had an innate sense of drama. in the accidental details of every frame drummed by Lorant. It would have been interesting, however, to learn more about Lorant’s difficult relationship with publisher Edward Hulton, and the underlying establishment allegiances that saw Lorant’s successor ousted after trying to expose the abuses. report on Korean prisoners of war. Subsequently, the magazine became the bland, glamor-obsessed rag that foreshadowed modern celebrity posts. But it was already a touchstone for all forms of British photography – as many modern-day practitioners make clear in this heartbreaking tribute.