Collection of the week: The Photo Union Collection

In 1946, photographer Jean Straker formed a short-lived photographic firm known as Photo Union at 12, Soho Square in London. It specialised in the photo-essay, a form of pictorial journalism undertaken mainly with miniature cameras. Four years later, in 1951, the agency went into receivership when Straker sank capital into colour photography, which was to prove costly. The archive that remains consequently documents a brief period of time, but in many way, is all the more fascinating for it.

Straker himself found fame - or perhaps infamy - in the 1950s when he abandoned commercial photography to pursue personally satisfying projects, notably nude photography sessions for members of the Visual Arts Club. He was prosecuted in 1962 under the Obscene Publications Act but refused to curtail his activities or compromise his artistic integrity leading to a continuous cycle of prosecutions and appeals.

Some of the images in Straker's Photo Union collective, though necessarily more conservative, seem to hint at his background and personal interests. There are backstage shots of showgirls and candid pictures of jobbing musicians, evocative images of Soho streets and long-gone West End restaurants, while guileful London girls are pictured on dates with American GIs. They hint of freedom and a certain type of seedy glamour in an age of rationing and austerity. Alongside these are pictures that project a more innocent nostalgia - apprentice carpenters, Kentish apple-pickers and the 1947 royal wedding. Occasionally, the odd, artistic nude reveals the agency founder's true, fleshy metier.

The Photo Union collection is an eclectic and evocative picture of post-war Britain, and particularly London. Click here to see a selection.
Mary Evans Picture Library Ltd.  59 Tranquil Vale  Blackheath  London  SE3 0BS. United Kingdom.
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