Project launches to track down people in old photos taken at RA Gibson’s Studio in Lower Clapton
- Credit: hackney archives
Ronald Gibson’s photography studio was “the place to go” if you wanted to get a photo taken in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s.
Ron learned photography as a boy scout and set himself up in business in 1952 in Lower Clapton Road.
“He was well known for having high quality equipment, and at that time cameras were expensive, so if you wanted a good quality photo you went to his studio,” Lisa Peatfield from Hackney Archives told the Gazette.
“You would go to him for your wedding photos or portraits, and often photos were sent to family overseas. There were a lot of photos of people in their occupational uniforms – a lot of nurses, police officers and there is a barrister in there.”
Ron sold his business in 1989 and passed away shortly after, but it remained open until 2013. The following year the archives was donated some 150,000 negatives which had been sitting in the basement of the studio in little brown stationary envelopes.
They date from 1952, when it first opened, to 1978.
The archives obtained funding from a charitable foundation to pay for all of the negatives to be digitised, and Lisa was taken on to oversee the project. The ultimate goal is to store them online in an accessible catalogue, but in the meantime they are being hosted on Flickr and to date 1,400 have been digitised.
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While the negatives dating back to the ’50s and ’60s are labelled with surnames and addresses, those from the ’70s aren’t labelled at all – and the archives wants to track down who is pictured in them.
“Because they have come to us with no information we are reliant on people either recognising themselves or friends and neighbours and family. We have no other way to trace them,” said Lisa.
“We are always hoping to find more people and capture their stories as part of the archives’ remit to preserve Hackney’s history.”
They have already had some success stories after posting some of the photos on Facebook.
“I had a gentleman get in touch to say: ‘That’s me!’. He’s dancing at a studio called Barrie’s in Mare street. He’s now in his 80s. He was a young man in the photo.”
Another photo depicted Bethnal Green Carnival in 1955, and research uncovered a group of ladies wearing saris receiving a big silver trophy were from the All Pakistan Women’s Association.
“They won first prize for best float in the carnival,” said Lisa. “I tracked down the association which is still going and the chairwoman forwarded it to a friend who said: ‘Oh my goodness. That’s me on the float as a seven-year-old’.
“She is now living in New York.
“Thanks to the power of email and the internet we managed to track her down which is wonderful. If we had done this 20 years ago we would never have found her.
“It’s great when we track someone down. When they come forward it’s lovely to hear their story and to meet them 30 or 40 years on.”
The collection illustrates a period of social change in Hackney after the Second World War, and pictures show weddings, company parties, long service awards, pubs, cafes and street scenes.
“One of the exciting things about the collection is it shows Hackney’s different communities over the period, from the Jewish and Afro Caribbean communities to the first Asian families. There is a real cross section.
“It’s a real mixed bag of Hackney life. That’s the beauty of the collection.”
The vast majority of the collection is of wedding photos.
“That was Gibson’s bread and butter,” said Lisa. “Ron tended to take pictures of brides in their homes before they left for church, so you can see the TV and sofas and wallpapers. It’s a rich resource.
“There’s so much in there - hairstyles, fashion, interiors.
“The fashion is fascinating. There are some great outfits throughout the collection, and you can see how wedding styles change.”
An open studio will be held at Hackney Museum in Reading Lane at 6pm on July 5 where more photos will be on display.
There will also be a pop-up replica studio so people can take their own “Gibson photo”, and the archives will be asking people to share their ideas what should be done with the collection.
To see the photos go to flickr.com/people/hackney_archives.