Black and white photography

Bw diner Tucumcari

Traditional diner, Tucumcari, New Mexico

I recently watched a TV programme about Don McCullin, veteran photojournalist, whose iconic black and white photography had me looking at some of my own humble archive shots.

Famed for his war photography and images of urban strife, McCullin took viewers on a tour of modern day Britain as he revisted and photographed places he’d been to many years before. Armed with old-fashioned but stalwart cameras which have seen much action, he was equally comfortable wandering around in towns, talking to people, asking them if he could photgraph them and taking candid shots, as he was joining a local hunt in the countryside to get some excellent shots (although I was glad to hear he didn’t think much of fox hunting).

All his photographs are in black and white – the detail is superb. Viewers were taken, at the end of the day, into his dark room. He develops in the “old fashioned” way; no digital cameras for him. At 83, he’s still working…or should that be doing what he loves doing?

Every now and then I try my hand at some candid or street photography. In this shot the customer in the diner had laid his stetson on the seat beside him, and I liked the row of chairs lined up against the counter. But I didn’t ask if I could take his photo as I didn’t want him to pose. I had my lunch, left the diner and he was none the wiser.  But I’m glad he was there for my picture.

Bw old timer in diner

An old fashioned butcher’s shop

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On holiday in France a few years ago I was fascinated to discover a real old-fashioned butcher’s shop in the city of Chartres. I’m a butcher’s daughter, coming from a family of master butchers. I didn’t follow the family trade and I rarely eat meat these days, so no chance of being a chip off the old block there (pun intended!).

Nonetheless, when I saw this shop I had to take a closer look as it appeared to be remarkably like the shop my Grandpa had in Croydon, south London, in the early 1900s.

It was. Taking a closer look I noticed there was a cash desk, with a cashier who handled payment for the purchases; the butcher didn’t handle money at all. I was rather taken by the dog inside the shop, hoping for some scraps! Forget Health & Safety regs there – this was life as it used to be.

The proprietor, Monsieur Pinson – an elegant man in his 80s – was serving customers. The shop was crowded and trade was brisk. That’s me in the photo, talking to the elderly gentleman who was going to buy his weekend joint. He said that the shop was the only one of its kind in the city, and it was the best too. He also wondered how long it would remain open as the proprietor was getting on a bit.

Sure enough, the next time we visited Chartres, the shop was closed and shuttered, but appeared to be untouched and unchanged. I wonder what had happened to it?

My Grandpa’s shop in Croydon no longer exists, but I do have this old sepia-toned photo. Grandpa's butcher's shop

The shop front is open – cold in winter no doubt, but maybe an effective way of keeping the meat cool and fresh. My Grandma sits at the back of the shop in the cash desk kiosk. Her job was to take payments and keep the books. My Grandpa stands on the right, sporting a magnificent moustache and a long white apron. Two employees stand behind the open counter, and my Dad – the butcher’s boy in striped apron and flat cap – stands near my Grandpa.

My Dad must have been around 7 or 8, meaning that this photo was taken just before, or during WW1 (1914-18). As a butcher’s boy, when he was a bit older, he used to deliver orders using a bicycle with a large basket on the front. He went on to train as a master butcher, managing several different shops in south London.

Dad & staff Old Kent Rd shop

That’s him with the pencil behind his ear in the Old Kent Road shop in the 1960s.