Friday, July 06, 2007

Post War Britain - Ken Russell & David Kynaston

David Kynaston
Austerity Britain: 1945-51
Bloomsbury, 2007, 941.085 KYN

Discussing everything from the nature of 1950’s British society to his transition from stills photography to motion pictures, legendary British film director Ken Russell was in conversation at the RSA yesterday as part of our ongoing programme of lectures.

Russell was prompted to speak at the RSA by the discovery of a large number of negatives from photographs he created in the 1950’s, that until recently were lost. Discovered in the archives of the
TopPhoto Picture Library, the images have gradually been scanned, and with the use of digital technology, are now available to view in an online exhibition. The collection of "lost" 1950s photographs can also be viewed in an exhibition hosted by the Proud Galleries, located just down the road from the RSA House on the corner of Buckingham and John Adam Streets.

Chairing and also taking part in the discussion was celebrated historian David Kynaston, who has recently published the book Austerity Britain: 1945-51 which charts the period from the end of WW2 right up to the period captured by Russell’s photographs. Using a variety of anecdotal, visual and historical evidence, these two men were able to paint a vivid picture of a British people at the beginning of a new modern era, still tied to the economic and social constraints of war yet simultaneously looking to the future.

This future was encapsulated for Russell in the faces of “Teddy Girls”, less famous than their male counterparts, but representing a new breed of young modern girls desperately seeking fun and social freedom, having grown up with the constraints of war. Yet his pictures also present a landscape of poverty and even war. Bomb sights, left uncleared for a decade after the falling of the bombs that created them, provided venues for teddy girls to meet and for children, often unsupervised, to play in.

Despite the marginal time gap, many of the subjects of Russell's pictures could well be the faces of the characters described by Kynaston in Austerity Britain. Using specific characters such as Judy Haines (a Chingford housewife) and Henry St John (a civil servant from Bristol), Kynaston creates an almost novelistic narrative that paints a vivid picture of a complex postwar society.

Read reviews of Austerity Britain from
The Guardian and The Observer.

Austerity Britain
is available to borrow from the
RSA Library.

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