BURRELL & HARDMAN (England f. 1923-1965 / act: Liverpool)

Burrell & Hardman Edward Chambré Hardman (1888-1988) was born into a moneyed Anglo-Irish family at Foxrock, south of Dublin . He took an early interest in photography and his father encouraged this.

The Hardmans were army stock and the young Edward duly served in India, which is where he met another young officer called Kenneth Burrell, the scion of a Lancaster shipping dynasty. For whatever reason, Burrell was determined to open a photography business in Liverpool, but wished to concentrate on the commercial side. Upon their return to Liverpool, it was not easy to establishing a photographic studio, and for insurance Hardman sold and repaired wireless apparatuses as a means of subsidising the studio in its early years. Burrell's father put up the money for 'Burrell & Hardman Ltd'. As time went on the firm became phenomenally successful as the fashionable choice for portrait photography. Liverpool was a proud, rich city, and its captains of industry loved to have their portrait made, so they queued to Burrell & Hardman. So did visiting showbiz figures. Robert Donat, Margot Fonteyn, John Moores, Ivor Novello, Michael Redgrave, and Patricia Routledge are just a few names that feature in the business records. Aside of the 'famous' portraits there are thousands of portrait negatives and proofs now held by The National Trust and Liverpool Record Office. They feature men, women and children, brides and grooms, soldiers and officers, judges and mayors, dancers and actors, clergy and academics. The business ledgers in the collection show that the clients were not just from Merseyside, that in fact 'Burrell & Hardman' was so highly regarded that people travelled widely to be photographed by Hardman.

There were great rumours about their work: "Portraits of men by Burrell and Hardman are natural yet virile." They made at least one leading city architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, look like a close associate of Al Capone. The most admirable Hardmans are his pictures of a hard-nosed, gutsy Liverpool , taken when the North-west still had real industry and Scousers were sure they had a role to play in the world. Hardman's masterpiece is his stunning Birth of the Ark Royal (1950), an almost surreal vision of a great ship rising spectre-like from the Birkenhead dockyards. Hardman took a breathtaking cityscape from the steps of Liverpool Museum (1946), which still suggests a place of vigour and potential. His shot of Chester Station (1947) transports us back to a time when people did things, went places and retained a vague notion of society, all but absent from this punch-drunk, benighted nation now. Had Hardman been able to afford it, he would have loved to concentrate on landscape. He and his wife and fellow photo-grapher, Margaret Mills, would put their bicycles on the train and take pictures all over Merseyside, Cheshire and North Wales . Their bikes are still at the Hardman house.

Viv Tyler and Roger Prideaux run the Edward Chambre Hardman Trust, which is dedicated to publicising and celebrating the life and work of a man who was arguably one of our best photographers. Hardman's old house is both a time capsule and an artistic and sociological goldmine. Hardman's house contains his studios, darkrooms, equipment - and his and Margaret's living quarters. Included are his vast Indian cooking pot, his sad old fiddle, now down to two strings; and even Margaret's fearsome rubber contraceptive device (small wonder the marriage was childless!).

Liverpool 's Walker Art Gallery staged a major Hardman exhibition in 1994 but while the attendance figures were excellent, Hardman paid the price for sticking solidly to his northern patch and national coverage was meagre. Edward Chambré Hardman was an artistic genius and his legacy has benefitted English photography. He died a sad, lonely man in Sefton General Hospital in 1988.

[Megakles Rogakos 08/2006]