05 October 2010

Alfred Gregory: 1950s and 1960s photography

Alfred Gregory was born in 1913. His father, a Lancashire grocer, was killed in the 1914-18 War when Alfred was just a toddler. His mother moved to Blackpool where she struggled to support her family during the post-war era and during the Great Depression, and he attended the local grammar school. At first young Alfred became a printer.

As soon as he was demobilised after WW2,  Gregory created a travel agency called Alfred Gregory Holidays, personally leading clients each year on treks through Nepal and other challenging mountain-climbing sites. Always Blackpool-based, it was only later that Alfred Gregory became a professional photographer.

Alfred Gregory, Photography from Everest to Africa, Penguin, 2007

Already an enthusiastic mountaineer and photographer, Gregory went with Sir Edmund Hillary to climb Mr Everest. Gregory’s pictures had some trouble in getting off the mountain, so he packed his undeveloped rolls of film into a canvas bag, sealed the bag and gave it to a runner. Talking about his famous image of Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing on their way to the summit, Gregory hoped the photos would reach Kathmandu and then London. They did! In only seven days! News of the British-led conquest of Mt Everest broke in London on the very day of Queen Elizabeth's Coronation on June 1953 and the heroic images were soon syndicated around the world.

Gregory assembled a fine collection of photographs used to illustrate the many books that would eventually be published about the Everest expedition. They appeared in a commemorative volume of their own, Alfred Gregory's Everest, 40 years later.

from Blackpool: A Celebration of the Sixties, Constable, 1993

In Blackpool in the early 1960s, Gregory used his photographic talents and sharp eye to create hundreds of images of the resort – beehive hairdos on the girls and brylcreemed hair on the boys. “The printing was impeccable, the composition classically balanced, and the observation as sharp and kindly as that of any of the great photographic masters”. But what matters most to me personally is that this was MY ERA! Fortunately his pictures eventually appeared in book form as Alfred Gregory's Blackpool 1993, a companion volume to Alfred Gregory's Everest.

Gregory took photographs in many countries of the world but his publications and his exhibitions seem to focus on Mt Everest and Blackpool. For Mr Everest his selection as team photographer was a last-minute surprise. But for Blackpool, Gregory did all the selecting himself.  So I wonder if he focused on these two places as the opposite extremes of human endeavour: the eternally pristine wilderness and romantic danger of impossibly high mountains Vs the sweaty crowds of a 1960s beach resort.

Alf Gregory and his Australian (second) wife emigrated to Australia in 1996 and settled in Melbourne. Gregory must have understood that time was running out for him because in 2007 a stunning book containing more than one hundred remarkable images from his career was published. It was called Alfred Gregory: Photography From Everest to Africa. Although to some extent the images explain themselves, I would prefer more than brief captions - I want wads of explanatory text.

Gregory died in February 2010. “From Everest to Blackpool”, which is running throughout October 2010, is “an exhibition that captures those short-lived moments when ordinary people, objects and places become extraordinary”. Source Photographica Brighton is hosting the exhibition in Melbourne.


Karena said...

Hels, I would love to see more of the photographs, as I am sure they tell the tale.

Art by Karena

Billback said...

I heard Gregory on the ABC a few years ago. He sounded better at 90 than I did at 50.

Hels said...

Karena and Bill,

Alfred Gregory was at the right place in the right time. Some of it was sheer, dumb luck eg Sir Edmund Hillary asked his men who could use a camera and someone volunteered Gregory. But the rest of it was having a great eye for composition and for story telling.

Hermes said...

I had ony heard of him in passig so to speak - a man worth knowing more about. Thanks again.

Hels said...


I only knew of Gregory's work because I have a passion for late Victorian and Edwardian social history, including Blackpool.

A post-WW2 (too modern) photographer (wrong art medium) of snowy mountain scenes (wrong subject matter) would have slipped right under my radar, normally.

badloi said...

wow..nice pictures you have...and a very great post..keep it up..

love it..



Hels said...

thanks for popping in :)

You have missed the exhibition which ended two months ago and you probably couldn't have travelled to Melbourne in any case, but I hope you love the book.