British photographer John Hinde was a pioneer of color photography and the founder of a picture postcard empire.
“He wanted very much to make people feel happy,” journalist David Lee said. “(It was) a unique combination: a technical idea and a simple philosophy.”
At a time when black-and-white snapshots were the norm, Hinde’s desire to please merged with his technical prowess for color production in the mid-20th century. This quickly led to the creation of a successful postcard business using large format cameras.
Although Hinde died in 1997, his idealistic images continue to incite feelings of nostalgia.
Lee says he got to know Hinde while working with British photographer Martin Parr to curate an archive of Hinde’s work for the Museum of Modern Art in Dublin in 1992. The exhibition was accompanied by a biography about the photographer titled “Hindesight.”
Hinde developed his fascination with impressing audiences while working as a circus manager in the 1940s and ‘50s. He was interested in how the bright colors and performances left attendees “taken out of their lives for a certain amount of time while in the Big Top.”
As a businessman, Hinde set out to bank on making postcards that would have that same effect on people.
He and a team of photographers put a calculated effort into capturing all of Ireland, where a government grant and tax break helped him start the business he envisioned.
Though trained as a photographer, Hinde eventually stopped taking the pictures when the postcard business took off. He could no longer afford to be on the road and out of the office.
Art and stock photographer Edmund Nagele went to work for Hinde as a young man and credits him with making him a better photographer. “He made me who I am today,” he said.
Hinde was noted for his meticulous attention to detail. Nagele said he was asked things such as, “Ed, why didn’t you wait for this cloud to shift?”
Lee speculates that Hinde was a perfectionist because he had something to prove. He was born into the wealthy family behind the Clark’s shoe brand. But after an accident as a child left him partially disabled, he was considered an “invalid.”
So throughout his life, he was determined to succeed. He would have photographers do whatever it took to get the perfect shot: paying someone to sail a yacht with a red flag, waiting for the weather to be perfect or even bringing along a tree.
Hinde was also known for the vibrant colors he often manipulated to get the most striking effects.
His obsessive nature proved to be very successful. In the travel-heavy culture of the 1950s, postcards were chic and expected. As the only color picture postcards available, Hinde’s were the clear choice.
Lee says it was the striking color of his work that drew people to it in the old days. At the time his postcards were produced and sold, the only other color found would be “so badly reproduced on newsprint it looked like a watercolor.”
Today, the easygoing life captured on a Hinde postcard is the alluring factor for those who collect his work, says Gemma Barnett, the sales manager of the Photographers’ Gallery in London.
“We can’t help ourselves but look back in a fond way,” she said.
A current exhibit of Hinde’s work at the Photographer’s Gallery has garnered a lot of attention. Sales for his pieces are raking in between $900 and $3,000 each.
People love to reminisce about the days he captured, Barnett says. His images took away the “daily grind” and focused on the “joyous bits.”
She says his intense focus on getting the perfect image didn’t cause his photographs to be inauthentic. They were “just precise, not fake.”
Hinde explains the motivation behind his work in the book “Hindesight.”
“I had this sort of vision thing, of the top of the ladder when I was at the bottom, of fantastic color photographs that I had never seen and that nobody else had ever seen,” he said.
“My whole aim was all the time how to get there, how to achieve it. You ever visualize heaven?”
- Mo Alabi, CNN