E Chambre Hardman: Life Through the Lens

I’ve been to see the exhibition of Edward Chambré Hardman’s photographs – Life Through the Lens – at the University Victoria Gallery and Museum. I’ve been looking forward to this, ever since we visited Hardman’s former studio and home at 59 Rodney Street (maintained now by the National Trust) in the summer. It is the first major showing of his work in more than 10 years,and includes 56 of Chambré Hardman’s original black and white photographs, depicting the industrial and commercial changes in Liverpool during the mid 20th century.

Chambré Hardman – born in Dublin in 1898 – spent his youth experimenting with his father’s camera and developing negatives in his parents’ wine cellar. It was during his time in the army in India that he met Captain Kenneth Burrell who shared his passion for photography and later became his business partner in a portrait gallery in Bold Street, Liverpool. Working in the photographic tradition of pictorialism, he used devices such as soft focus, manipulation and retouching to create photographic impressions or moods to give a depth and atmospheric intensity to his images.

The exhibition illustrates the busy industrial and commercial life of Liverpool from the 1920s to the 1960s. The photographs also chart the city’s architectural development and transport system, as well as its flourishing shipbuilding industry. Moira Lindsey, art curator at the University’s VG&M, said: ‘It is fitting to end Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture with an exhibition that illustrates so beautifully how the city has grown into the place it is today’.

This is a review of an earlier exhibition of Hardman’s photographs at the Walker Art Gallery, from the Independent in 1994:

‘E Chambre Hardman had three great loves: his wife, the countryside and his photography, and when he died in 1988, he left a legacy of prints, negatives, cameras, lights, darkroom equipment, letters and studio records that prove the strength of these passions. Indeed, Hardman’s Rodney Street studio provides a rare insight into the life and working practices of a mid 20th-century photographer…

Born in 1899 in Foxrock, south of Dublin, Hardman later admitted that the beautiful landscape that surrounded him in Ireland inspired him from childhood. ‘Most of my childish dreams were of landscapes, usually of some remote and spectacularly sited lake, which I could never find again.’ After public school, he went to Sandhurst and was commissioned to the Brigade of Gurkhas, spending four years in India where he began to experiment with photography – and in particular, with the soft-focus, pictorialist landscapes that were to become his trademark. With fellow officer Kenneth Burrell putting up the capital, Hardman finally set up a photographic studio in Liverpool, later moved out on his own and eventually settled for good in Rodney Street.

Hardman became the leading portrait photographer in Liverpool from the 1920s to the 1960s: he photographed John Moores (founder of the Littlewoods empire), Robert Donat, Michael Redgrave, Ivor Novello, Margot Fonteyn, Beryl Bainbridge and the beautiful socialite Deryn Arkle. But it is the landscapes and cityscapes culled from his imaginative powers that remain his most memorable work.

He travelled extensively, taking photographs wherever he went in India, Spain, the south of France and throughout Britain. Views of Wales and Scotland display his fascination with wild, mountainous terrains and cloud formations, and contrast with his timeless visions of traditional English countryside: rolling fields, farms, cornfields and cottages. Then there is A Memory of Avignon, a wonderfully hazy study of three friends relaxing at a cafe in the dappled sunlight under the trees, which exudes an air of painterly French Impressionism.

But his most famous image is The Birth of the Ark Royal, taken around 1950. Showing the great ship shining like a ghost over the terraced houses of Birkenhead, it demonstrates the photographer’s ability to see beautiful pictures where others might not. He used a telephoto lens to bring foreground and background closer together, and waited for the ship to be painted white in preparation for its launch by Queen Elizabeth.

Hardman wasn’t worried about a little retouching either. As with all good pictorialists, it was simply a case of ‘improving’ reality. So in The Birth of the Ark Royal he had no qualms about painting out an unwanted lamp-post and retouching one of the schoolboy’s socks to bring it up to the same height as the other.’

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