From the slums of London and Glasgow to the battlefields of World War II and the Korean War, the photographs of Bert Hardy are amongst the great documents of the twentieth century.
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Liverpool, c. 1950
Maidens in Waiting, 1951
British press photographer, Bert Hardy, was born into a working class family in Blackfriars, London in 1913. The eldest son of seven children, Hardy left school at the young age of 14 to begin earning money working in a chemist’s shop which also processed photographs. A self-taught photographer, Hardy’s first break came when he managed to photograph King George V and Queen Mary as they passed through his borough in a carriage. The young photographer was able to sell 200 small prints of his shot, and use the success to buy his first small-format Leica 35mm, with which he went on to freelance for The Bicycle magazine.
He adapted his Leica to enable him to shoot in poor lighting conditions, allowing him to produce high quality photographs in a variety of environments. Hardy had an excellent eye for both light and composition. In 1941 he joined the increasingly respected Picture Post, earning his first photographer credit in February of that year for a photo-essay about Blitz-stressed firefighters. Hardy became the magazine’s chief photographer after just a few months.
He later served as a military photographer from 1942-46, taking part in the 1944 D-Day landings and covering the liberation of Paris, the allied advance across the Rhine and was one of the first photographers to enter the liberated Belsen. Towards the end of the war, Hardy went to Asia where he acted as Lord Mountbatten’s personal photographer. He went on to cover the Korean War for Picture Post, documenting the Battle of Inchon, for which he won the Missouri Pictures of the Year Award.
After the war Hardy worked in poor districts such as the Gorbals in Glasgow and Elephant and Castle in London, documenting their social scene. The resulting images are today considered classics showing the strength of the human spirit despite the dire poverty found there. Hardy received substantial critical acclaim for these photographs. Three of his pictures were selected to be in Edward Steichen’s famous Family of Man exhibition and the resulting book.
After writing an article for an amateur photography magazine claiming that photographers did not need expensive equipment to create good photographs, Hardy staged a carefully posed photograph of two women sitting on the railings of Blackpool’s promenade using a Kodak Box Brownie in 1951. This photograph has since gone on to become an iconic image of post-war Britain.
Since his death in 1995, memorials remembering his life and work have been erected in St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, and the Priory, Webber Street, London.