24 May 2013

Author Joan Burnett

One of the great perks of working at FACT is meeting an extraordinary range of people everyday. At the moment I have a group of visitors who are even more fascinating than most, residing in Stephen King and the Veterans In Practice group’s portraits of the Battle of the Atlantic Veterans. You can’t miss the gentlemen gracing our front window, but please do visit the first floor to see the rest of these unforgettable men.

Standing in front of these photographs, it is impossible not to think of their lives: how young they were when they served in that hellish cauldron of war, and of how they have lived full lives since, shaping the outlook of our city. Before they were even 20, these men had travelled the world bringing back an international way of thinking that gives Liverpool that feeling of being one of the great cities of the seas: a world centre not a regional hub.

The portrait form of these pictures harks directly back to the style of E Chambré Hardman’s commercial portraiture and with a jolt, I realised that I have a whole box of family portraits in that style. The names of those commercial photographers bring back an era long gone: Dodds of Tuebrook, William Cull of Hamilton Square, Narvic Studios of Wallasey, Dorondo Mills of Lime Street & Lord Street, Van Ralty, Watson Brothers, Gale’s, McMorris, Mowat…the rather grand Photographic Services (North West) of Liscard…the very names themselves sing a monochrome era of precious portraits on the mantelpiece of every home with a man away at sea.

We take images of our friends and family with hardly a thought these days: our iPhones or iPads have a sophistication beyond the imagination of those hardworking photographers of the 1940’s. We don’t even print them now – they live in a virtual cloud for us to call up at any moment.  Somehow though, and maybe it’s just nostalgia on my part, these digital files in their multiplicity don’t have the allure of these priceless images on FACT’s wall.

I extend heartfelt thanks to the subjects of the portraits themselves and to Stephen and the Veterans In Practice artists for the pause for thought they bring on the anniversary of these men’s great endeavour.

These portraits are part of FACT's Star Gazing programme, commissioned by Liverpool City Council for the Battle of the Atlantic 70th Anniversary commemmorations. Click here to read about the other events and activities taking place.