The big picture: organised chaos in a Manchester haberdashery

The big picture: organised chaos in a Manchester haberdashery

Talking about his life in photography, John Bulmer, now 82, once remarked that the whole process was one of instinctive abstraction: “You are trying to reduce a very cluttered world into shapes and images that are simple enough to give a strong impression.” Never was that principle more severely tested than in this picture he took in 1976 of the two proprietors of a haberdashery shop in Manchester. In their coats and cardigans and caps they are only just distinguishable from the racks and shelves and piles of wool and buttons and zips from which they make their living. Bulmer, the grandson of the founder of the cider company, grew up in Herefordshire, where he still lives. Photography began as mechanical tinkering – he studied engineering at Cambridge University – before becoming a more expansive vocation. Working for the Sunday Times magazine in the 1960s, he did much to create a distinctive English palette of colour photography, which at the time was still something mostly associated with sunshine and beaches and American highways. Bulmer was among the first to see the possibilities of using colour to reimagine the gloom and glower of northern industrial towns. His pictures – some of which are collected in a new book, Manchester 1970s – gave a seductive spectrum to the last knockings of that insistently black-and-white world of people washing front steps and emerging from Victorian pubs and fixing the motor in the street. The first ever colour Sunday supplement cover was a Bulmer photograph of a woman on dank cobblestones pegging out ...
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