John Bulmer




Primarily known for his social documentary photography of the north of England, John Bulmer (born 1938) was the first to produce a colour cover for The Sunday Times Magazine.

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Early Life

John Bulmer was born in Herefordshire on 28 February 1938, a scion of the cider-making family that had brewed in the area from 1887. After studying Engineering at Cambridge, where he took photographs for the university magazine, Varsity, and Image, a magazine he co-founded. After selling a story on night climbing in Cambridge to LIFE Magazine, Bulmer was expelled from university just six weeks before his finals. Bulmer then moved to London and pursued a career as a photographer.

Photographic Career

Bulmer was offered a job as a staff photographer on the Daily Express, where he stayed for two years. The young photographer further supplemented this income by shooting stories for Town magazine, a publication that prided itself on the quality of its photography. He developed a reputation for photographing picture essays about deprived communities in Britain, particularly in the North of England, becoming equal in stature to his friend and competitor, Don McCullin. Bulmer produced intimate close-up shots of people on the streets and public places with a wide-angle lens, which he interspersed with compressed views of architecture, industry and townscape, created with a longer lens.

In 1962, The Sunday Times published its first colour supplement, and one of Bulmer’s photographs featured on its cover. This led to a permanent contract in which Bulmer was commissioned to shoot sixty pages a year, and for which he developed a name as a talented colourist. In the early 1960s, colour photography as journalism was new. Until the publication of the first colour supplement by The Sunday Times in 1962, colour photography had been used for advertising, fashion or travel pictures but rarely for photojournalism. Most photojournalists looked down on colour photography as a commercial medium, and saw colour film as difficult to work with, as it was slower than black and white and had less exposure latitude. John Bulmer was a pioneer and his work is now receiving the recognition it deserves. He used saturated but muted colours in his work on the North of England, creating hugely evocative imagery.

In 1964, The Sunday Times Magazine commissioned journalist Richard West and Bulmer to document the radical changes sweeping through Africa, devoting a whole issue to their report, The White Tribes of Africa. Visiting 14 countries over a two-month period, Bulmer captured the dying embers of colonialism set against a growing African nationalism. Over the next decade, Bulmer travelled to over one hundred countries on assignment for The Sunday Times.

Later Life

Bulmer’s last story for The Sunday Times Magazine was a piece in 1973 on North Korea. He continued to photograph for other publications, making his last story on the north of England in 1976, for the British edition of Geo. During the 1970s, Bulmer moved into documentary filmmaking, with a particular focus on the world’s more remote tribes. These were shown on the BBC, the National Geographic Channel and the Discovery Channel.

John Bulmer continues to live and work in Herefordshire.