Oxford School of Photography

insights into photography

FIVE BOYS: THE STORY OF A PICTURE – “toffs and toughs”

I was wandering around my ipad when I chanced upon a magazine called Intelligent Life and the first article that caught my attention was about an image well known to me. I had, like many people, made obvious assumptions about what the picture told, we all do this we bring our experiences, preconceptions and prejudices to bear when trying to understand something obscured by time. The article is fascinating, not only does it tell the story of the picture but gives the full history of the subjects and what became of them and naturally reduces my reading of the image to tatters.

Picture credit: Peter Wagner, Thomas “Tim” Dyson, George Salmon, Jack Catlin and George Young, outside Lord’s, 1937; Jimmy Sime/Getty

For 70 years, this picture has been used to tell the same story – of inequality, class division, “toffs and toughs”. As an old Etonian closes in on Downing Street, it is being trotted out again. But what was the story behind it? Ian Jack investigates …

From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Spring 2010

“Almost since its invention, photography has had the habit of turning people into symbols by accident. A painter might spend a year on a canvas, working up the personification of an abstract idea to its full visual glory (“Truth Triumphant” or “Temptation Denied”), but a camera could capture a scene in a fraction of a second, and if the scene was somehow striking and memorable – in its composition, its subject matter, its light – it might become “iconic”, meaning that its particulars might be understood to suggest much more general emotions, conflicts and problems. When the shutter clicked, such a metaphorical future was rarely suspected either by the photographer or his subjects, who might not even be aware that a picture had been taken. The moment could be ordinary or extraordinary: a couple kissing in a Paris street, a sharecropper and her children in California, a burning child running down a road in Vietnam. It could happen anywhere, to anybody. It might happen even at an old-fashioned English cricket match. ………..What story did this particular picture tell? Its minimal presentation left all interpretation to the reader, but as the News Chronicle was a left-leaning newspaper – fiercely anti-Franco, for example, in the Spanish civil war – the implication was clear enough: the picture exemplified the scandalous gulf between Britain’s rich and poor.

This is a story worth reading because of it’s enlightenment and depth of investigation....read the full article here

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