British photographer and filmmaker John Bulmer (b. 1938) is best-known for his pioneering colour photojournalism of the 1960s.
“As a schoolboy I was fascinated by mechanical things like Meccano, toy trains, etc, and then someone gave me a Box Brownie camera. To start with I was fascinated by the mechanics; I developed my pics and built an enlarger out of Meccano and old saucepans. Then I discovered the magic of the image and I was hooked.”
Bulmer went on to study engineering at King’s College Cambridge in 1957, but his passion for photography did not dissipate during this time. Just weeks before he was due to take his final exams, Bulmer was expelled for a series of photographs he took of student climbers scaling King’s College Chapel, his iconic Night Climbers, which were published in The Sunday Times. Leaving for London upon his expulsion, he was offered a position working at the Daily Express, and went on to achieve tremendous acclaim as a photojournalist with a career spanning over 60 years.
Taking inspiration from Henri Cartier-Bresson and W. Eugene Smith, Bulmer found he was always looking to capture people in their most familiar environments. His images are defined by a certain intimacy and a deep feeling for the places he found himself in.
In 1960 Town Magazine commissioned Bulmer and a writer to compare the 1960s boom town of Watford with the economic decline of the Lancashire mill town, Nelson. This was the first of Bulmer’s many trips to the north and, having grown up in the Herefordshire countryside, he remembers it ‘opening my eyes to a new world’. The collapse of the traditional industries of the Industrial Revolution was affecting populations throughout the region - from the Black Country and Potteries, through Greater Manchester up to the coalfields and shipyards of the North East and Glasgow. John Bulmer's photographs convey a palpable empathy with these communities during this tumultuous time, and he later said of this period, ‘It toughened me up’.
Until the mid 1960s, photojournalism was predominately black and white. Bulmer was the first in his peer group to replace his Rolleiflex with a lightweight 35mm SLR camera. He explored the exacting demands of 35mm colour film and this became a defining feature of his photographs. When The Sunday Times Magazine was launched in 1962 Bulmer was hired for his technical skill and his rare ability to think in colour. He famously shared the cover of the very first issue of the 'Colour Section' in the magazine with David Bailey, and went on to shoot around 60 pages per year for the newspaper. He became one of the magazine’s most prolific contributors, travelling extensively in the UK and internationally.
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