Our True Intent is All for Your Delight: The John Hinde’s Butlin’s Photographs, Photography by Elmar Ludwig, Edmund Nägele and David Noble, Introduction by Martin Parr

In Our True Intent is All for Your Delight, Magnum photographer Martin Parr introduces a collection of images taken from Butlin’s postcards of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Originally taken for John Hinde to sell to holiday-makers keen on sharing and preserving memories of their Butlin’s experience, these postcards are celebrated in this book for the vivid and fascinating images which they contain. 

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Front Cover of Our True Intent is All for Your Delight

Not only are the photographs aesthetically pleasing, with their vivid colours and careful composition, they also provide a fascinating insight into the society of the 1960s. This is particularly resonating to a modern day audience; in recent years popular culture has become fascinated with aspects of 1960s culture. Television shows such as Mad Men, and more latterly Pan Am, put forward a view of the decade as a glamorous and affluent period. Butlin’s holiday camps were certainly never a part of the opulent world which the likes of Don Draper would have inhabited, and they catered to the needs of a largely working-class clientele. However, Hinde’s postcard images reveal how Butlin’s attempted to provide a sense of luxury and exoticism to those unable to afford foreign holidays. The two images below capture this perfectly.  

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A Corner of Beachcomber Bar, Edmund Nagele

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Reception Hall, Edmund Nagele

A Corner of the Beachcomber Bar depicts young couples enjoying drinks at a Hawaiian or Tahitian themed bar. The image reveals how the holiday camp attempts to create a sense of exoticism by dressing their waitresses in hula skirts and designing a mural depicting an ‘island paradise’. The failure of the camp to truly capture the atmosphere of an exotic foreign holiday, however, is revealed in the mundane patterned carpet upon which the wicker furniture is placed. The image Reception Hall taken from Butlin’s in Filey also raises interesting ideas. The hall, like the bar, is decorated in a way which suggests an attempt to create a fashionable interior. The geometrically patterned floor and the clean lines of the front desk are in keeping with the modern style of this period, but the chipped paintwork and lacklustre flower arrangements reveal a sense of cheapness which undermines the effect.

The fact that Reception Hall was taken at all, in some ways, is fascinating. Nowadays, a photograph of a relatively mundane reception desk would not seem an obvious choice for a postcard image. The fact that this image was produced as a keepsake, or an image one would want to share, reveals the extent to which the patrons of Butlin’s valued the novel, would-be-stylish decor of the holiday camps.

The vivid colouring of the photographs in Our True Intent is perhaps their most striking feature. John Hinde’s postcards were known for their bright colours, which were achieved during their costly and complicated development process in Milan.[1] Without the highly saturated colours, it is likely that the Butlin’s images would not have the same power. Interestingly, however, in the introduction to the book Parr states:

‘Back in the 1970s all serious photography was done in black and white, while colour was restricted to use in commercial work and domestic snapshots. So although I loved Hinde’s cards, I thought they could never be regarded as serious photography.’[2]

This idea that colour photography has less artistic merit than black and white, to me, is untrue. The use of colour in this collection of photographs highlights the gaudiness of the Butlin’s camps in a way which could never be achieved with black and white. Additionally, the highly saturated nature of the colours lends the photographs a strange quality, as they appear almost too bright to be real. Commercial photography of the early twentieth century often displayed the same vivid colouring of Hinde’s postcard images, as shown in the image below. However, the true pioneer for championing colour photography as an artistic form was William Eggleston, who in 1976 achieved a one man show at MoMA in New York with his collection of colour photographs.[3] His images contain the same vivid and saturated colouring of Hinde’s postcards, which had previously been reserved for commercial photography.

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Ladies Home Journal, Swimsuit Layout, by Nickolas Murray, 1932

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Taken from William Eggleston's '14 Pictures', 1974

 

Martin Parr once said of the everyday object, ‘Taking photos of them in splendid isolation, the results are both compelling and surreal.’[4] It can be argued that this statement is never truer than in the images contained in this photo-book. Take, for example, the image Lounge Bar and Indoor Heated Pool (Ground Level) by Elmar Ludwig. The photograph depicts a group of people sitting in a dining area, observing a swimmer through the windows of the camp’s pool.

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Lounge Bar and Indoor Heated Pool (Ground Level), by Elmar Ludwig

This photograph was taken in order to capture a novelty feature Ayr’s holiday camp, but the effect is the production of an image which is eerie and almost otherworldly. The position of the swimming man makes him look as though he is floating in mid-air; his legs are outstretched behind him and his arms are positioned as though he is flying. This, combined with the blurred nature of the man’s features and greenish tinge which the water imparts upon his image, makes the figure of the swimming man seem almost ghost-like. Surrealism has been described as having an ‘emphasis on the poetry of the unconscious,’[5] and this image certainly has a dreamlike quality about it.

The surrealist nature of the images in Our True Intent mirrors the work of photographers from the early twentieth century. Man Ray and Pierre Molinier were fond of manipulating the human form to unusual effect, and this is something which is echoed in Ludwig’s above photograph. Furthermore, the focus on Butlin’s quirky design in images throughout the photobook is highly reminiscent of the work of Eugène Atget. 

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Cabaret de L’Enfer, boulevard de Clichy, by Eugene Atget, 1910

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The South Seas Bar, Edmund Nagele

 At the turn of the century, Atget photographed street scenes of Paris, with a focus on peculiar features such as the one depicted above. In a similar fashion to the Butlin’s photographers, Atget’s work was not intentionally surreal. However, free from the context of their surroundings, both the Butlins’ photographs and Atget’s work provide the ‘compelling and surreal’[6] effect which Parr describes. This idea of finding the surreal in everyday surroundings, as Atget and the Butlin’s photographers unintentionally achieved, is something which has been since explored in the work of Bill Owens and, unsurprisingly, Martin Parr. 

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Taken from Bill Owens' 'Leisure'

 

The fact that Parr introduced this photobook is incredibly apt; it is clear that his photographs have been heavily influenced by Hinde’s work. Saturation of colour, and a sense of ‘surrealist documentry’[7] are ever-present in Parr’s work, and both of these qualities appear in abundance throughout Our True Intent is All for Your Delight.

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Taken from Martin Parr's 'The Last Resort'

 

Bibliography

Lenman, Robin, The Oxford Companion to the Photograph, (Oxford University Press, 2005)

Ludwig, Elmar, Nagele, Edumund, Noble, David and Parr, Martin, Our True Intent is All for Your Delight: The John Hinde Butlin’s Photographs, (Chris Boot, London, 2002)

Marien, Mary Warner, Photography: A Cultural History, (Laurence King Publishing, London, 2002)

Mulligan, Therese and Wooters, David, (ed.), A History of Photography: From 1839 to the Present, (Taschen, Koln, 2005)

Parr, Martin, ‘Out of the Ordinary’, The Guardian, (April 4th, 2003), http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2009/apr/04/secret-britain-photography-martin-parr

Wells, Liz, The Photography Reader, (Routledge, London, 2003)


[1] Our True Intent is All for Your Delight, (2002), p. 124

[2] Our True Intent is All for Your Delight, (2002), p. 5

[3] Lenman, The Oxford Companion to the Photograph, (2005), p.190

[4] Parr, ‘Out of the Ordinary’, The Guardian (2003)

[5] Lenman, The Oxford Companion to the Photograph, (2005), p. 611

[6] Parr, ‘Out of the Ordinary’, The Guardian (2003)

[7] Lenman, The Oxford Companion to the Photograph, (2005), p. 612

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2 Responses to “Our True Intent is All for Your Delight: The John Hinde’s Butlin’s Photographs, Photography by Elmar Ludwig, Edmund Nägele and David Noble, Introduction by Martin Parr”

  1. I’ve done my best to find out the titles of all the photos included, but some of them proved difficult so I’ve just had to name the collection which they’re from! Also the accents on a few of the names seemed to disappear when I copied them into the captions on the photograph- so apologies about that.

  2. our true intent book photos of Butlins–I have this book by my reading table and look at it frequently–I worked at butlins as a dustman in the 1965 era the rolling stones the kinks era and i must always be in debt to the Butlin family for givng me a job chis boot for publishing it and john hinde for the photographs–it was the happiest time of my life working at butlins I met the most wonderful people in life at Butlins and am so lucky that i found the book here in las vegas–frank

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