Thursday, 21 August 2014

British Journal Photographic Almanacs in the 1950s: How were the photographs selected?

It is a mystery how the photographs that appeared in a special photogravure-printed section of the old British Journal Photographic Almanacs in the 1950s were chosen. Some were superb; others were dreadful. 

Roger Hicks it was I think who in one of his articles stated that many old photographs were actually very poor photographs. Excluding even the kitsch still lifes and the banal pictorialism, there were still some really poor images selected for the BJ Almanac amongst a few that were superb examples of photography of that era. Some it would seem were gleaned from superficially prestigious amateur photographic exhibitions held in the previous year. Whatever the selection method used by the editor from 1937 to 1967, Arthur J Dalladay (1894-1989), his choices often left a lot to be desired. So much so in fact that one might wonder if being in the same club might have been one criterion.

One of the worst—if not the worst—to be found in those volumes was a female nude by a Cecil J Blay. I will not reproduce it here because it doesn’t warrant being given more air than it got at the time. I was trying to find out who Cecil J Blay was when I remembered I has seen the name somewhere before. A Google search reminded me. He was a frequent photographic contributor to model railway magazines. He lived in Reading in a house backing onto the Great Western line from Paddington. He was elected a Fellow of the Photographic Society of America in 1950 and was the link in UK for photographic competitions in the USA.

Blay appears in Google searches mainly for his religious tracts which still seem popular with Americans of the christian persuasion. The author of those would appear to be the same Cecil J Blay since his dates (1916-1976) shown on one website are nearly the same as those for the registration of his death in the Reading and Wokingham Registration District (1906-1976) if one accepts the 1 in 16 is a typographic error.

Other than that I do not know if Blay was other than an amateur photographer, if he was a man of the cloth (many railway enthusiasts were) or how, other than as a member of a charmed circle, he got his female nude into the BJ Almanac.