Friday, 5 April 2013

The North: A Book Well Bought

An article in British Journal of Photography persuaded me to hit the Amazon buy button. The postman quickly delivered John Bulmer's 2012 book, The North. I had admired his work in the Sunday Times Magazine in the 1960s and 70s, and I highly recommend this collection from that time.

Contrary to the popular view of those who were not even there, the early 1960s was not swinging. We may have never had it so good but Britain was still only recovering from the impoverishment of the 1930s and the years of public and private austerity following the Second World War. Bulmer's book shows the world what it was really like.

Photographically brilliant, the documentation of what life was like in the north of England, will be a source for future historians of an era of slow recovery.

Seemingly unimportant details jog memories. On page 47, in the Black Country series, can be seen a narrow-necked milk bottle. Why is this significant? Well, sterilised milk was, and perhaps still is, sold in these bottles to distinguish it from the usual pasteurised milk milk in wider-necked bottles. Sterilised milk can be kept without refrigeration for much longer than pasteurised milk because it is first homogenised and then heated to a temperature above the boiling point of water for about 20 minutes. This heat treatment changes the taste of milk, producing a characteristic 'nutty' flavour. When sterilised milk was introduced most people in Britain did not like the flavour and stayed with pasteurised. However, for some reason, 'nutty' milk took off in the West Midlands and stayed popular for decades afterwards. Hence, the bottle of sterilised milk in the photograph of the Black Country.

In the same photograph, I wondered how Bulmer had managed to incorporate the ceiling light without burning out the highlight. I then realised that I was not looking at an electric light bulb but at gas mantles. The house did not have mains electricity in 1961.

Bulmer captured the essence of The North. I cannot recommend it too highly.


The North. John Bulmer. Liverpool: Bluecost Press. 2012. ISBN 9781908457080

John Bulmer's Website: