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Collection of the week: John Gay

As the sun beats down on us, it seems like a good time to choose a collection that particularly evokes the perfect summer idyll of mid-century England, as captured through the camera of John Gay (1909-1999).

Like many photographers beginning to work in the 1930s and '40s, John Gay was part of a creative German diaspora who chose to move to, and forge careers in, Britain following Hitler's rise to power. He was born Hans Ludwig Gohler in the town of Karlsruhe, Germany but came here in 1933, settling in Halifax, Yorkshire and taking his new name from a character in 'The Beggars' Opera'. He had become interested in photography after leaving school, studied art in Paris and, after the war, in which he served in the Pioneer Corps, began to contribute photographs to the Strand and Country Fair magazines.

Gay's extensive photography collection comes to us via our representation of the Historic England archive, where his vision of this country through its architecture, towns, villages and people feels truly at home. Wherever he pointed his camera, Gay was adept at capturing the very essence of England; from still, sleepy villages to cathedral-like railway stations; Cornish fishing boats to Chelsea Flower Show; a bustling Blackpool beach to the window of a village cake shop, with the noses of children pressed upon it. In some ways it is the bucolic 1950s England from the pen of H.E. Bates, yet Gay's skilful use of light and shadow, and his crisp execution prevents his images descending into sentimentality, plus there are many other images documenting multi-faceted London and modern architectural developments of the period. His prolific output ensures that the collection's scope is wide-ranging taking in ancient cottages, industrial vistas, brutalist structures, cemeteries (Highgate was a particular favourite), cobbled lanes, motorway flyovers, country crafts, rugged coastlines, manicured parks, playgrounds, factory lines, stately homes and seaside resorts. Summer and winter, rain or shine, rural and urban, north and south; John Gay's elegant photographs are a moving love letter to Britain's social and architectural past.

Click here for an edited selection from the 5000 John Gay images we have online.

This is our weekly reminder to you that the library continues to remain fully operational during lockdown with staff working remotely. Whether you need a quote, a picture search or have any questions, do get in touch by emailing pictures@maryevans.com or calling 020 8318 0034 and we'll be delighted to assist.

Mary Evans Picture Library Ltd.  59 Tranquil Vale  Blackheath  London  SE3 0BS. United Kingdom.
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