Friday 24 January 2020

Review: Postcards: Vintage Postcards of Ireland by John Hinde

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'Wish you were here' might be an apt epitaph for the creative legacy of John Hinde -- the photographer who branded 1960s Ireland with flame-haired colleens, sleepy donkeys and stunning scenery.

Drenched in a trademark technicolour glow, the images projected an isle where rain was a rarity, traffic was virtually non-existent and sunsets had a glory to rival the Caribbean.

From the russet battlements of Ross Castle to an autumnal glow upon a Connemara lough, Hinde's knack for what he described as "visualising heaven" conceived a fantasy Emerald Isle that so enchanted American and English tourists it shifted millions of postcards throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

Viewed from the cultural and chronological distance of 2012, this Hinde-sight vision is the Ireland where your granny went on honeymoon to a sun-drenched Bray Esplanade or the family went on a package holiday to Butlin's complete with grass-skirted waitresses and afternoon waltzing competitions.

The photographs were always posed, a carefully contrived view of scenery and people unlike anything else on the market at the time.

At the Hindesight exhibition of his work at the Museum of Modern Art, Kilmainham, in July 1993, Hinde explained the process: "Many of the pictures which appear to be instantaneous snap shots often took hours to arrange. We had to contrive the foregrounds to introduce little spots of colour, to off-set the very beautiful but often monotonous tones of the Irish landscape."

When the company went into examinership last September, it seemed as if yet another icon of old Ireland would be crushed on the ever-turning wheel of the Celtic Tiger fallout -- another relic of the past thrown out with the modern bathwater of gold-plated taps and cedar patio decking.

"We received letters and emails from hundreds of people, both from within the tourist industry and the general public, expressing their support," said commercial director Cormac Leonard. The company has since found new investors, dedicated to maintaining the Hinde trademark into the future.

The first John Hinde postcards were a series of six featuring the opening of Shannon Airport in 1956. The iconic series of turf cutters in a Connemara bog followed shortly after.

Some of the original postcards appear for sale on eBay occasionally, and a new book, Vintage Postcards of Ireland by John Hinde, goes on sale shortly, in time for St Patrick's Day.

The book is a retrospective of Hinde's work from the 1950s onwards, charting how Ireland has changed over the decades through its portrayal on the postcards. In addition to his well-known images, it also features a number of rare and previously unpublished Hinde images.

The most popular John Hinde postcard was the iconic Aran Island fisherman mending his nets, wearing the obligatory Aran jumper.

Close inspection of the picture, however, shows tailoring of a distinctly modern type with the jumper hugging tightly to its owner's muscles.

It turns out that a search of the entire island for an Aran jumper turned up only one -- owned by a young girl, which the fisherman duly struggled into for the shot.

Another Hinde sleight of hand was evident in one of the shots of Shannon Airport featuring fashionable air hostesses decked out in their distinctive green livery, with a bough of blossom in the top left-hand corner.

The wider frame exhibited at the Hindesight exhibition revealed the hand of the person holding the blossom to give the effect Hinde was looking for.

Similar floral juxtapositions to enhance pictures of sheltered coves, ancient castles and dreamy sunsets were further evidence of his magic at work.

Hinde sold the business in 1972 to Waterford Glass, and retired to France to pursue a different creative path of painting landscapes.

He returned to Ireland regularly -- his trips included the Hindesight retrospective at Kilmainham in 1993. He died in France on December 26, 1997, aged 81.

More than 50 million postcards were produced at the John Hinde studios in Cabinteely, Dublin, for Ireland, Britain, the Channel Islands, America, The Bahamas, The Canaries, Nigeria and Ethiopia.

Today the John Hinde Group has offices in Ireland, the UK and the US where postcards and calendars remain a significant proportion of its international business.

Can the postcard survive in the age of instant communication? In a recent survey by travel website, only a quarter of European holidaymakers now send postcards.

A survey of 10,000 people across nine countries revealed the majority of travellers prefer to tell their holiday stories over the phone, via email or social media instead. But 24pc of Irish people admitted to still sending cards.

A great-grandson of James Clark, the founder of Clark's Shoes in Britain, John Hinde studied colour photographic printing at the Reimann School in London and set up his own studio in 1939, introducing new reproduction naturalism through an intensification of colour he described as "adding that extra oomph".

His exhibitions in the late 1940s -- Citizens in War & After and Exmoor Village -- underlined his pioneering style in creating the perfect picture.

At a time when there were no laboratories, his three-colour carbro process took up to two days to print -- a process as important as the picture itself, he believed.

While the postcard vision John Hinde portrayed may have been the result of a vivid imagination combined with a technical process that was groundbreaking in its day, the welcome he encountered on the boreens and lanes of 1960s Ireland was one that rarely needed enhancement.

"In the 1960s people were happy to while away their time posing for some crazy guy who disappeared under a canopy while they gladly pointed towards a far distance of nothing," Hinde recalled years later.

"Money was just a five-letter word, never once was cash accepted. Quite the contrary, kind people would offer tea and biscuits, plus the time to chat with you."

He remembered one particular occasion. While perched on the roof of his Land Rover framing a picture two old ladies appeared enquiring what he was doing with such a strange contraption and cloth sheet under which he disappeared from time to time.

"I explained, well, I tried to explain, what I was doing," he said. "And, as happened on so many occasions in Ireland, things dragged on and off the subject and pretty soon the obligatory tea and chocolate biscuits followed in the surroundings of one of the most beautiful private country houses I have ever visited -- sort of Agatha Christie stuff and totally over the top. On parting, the lovely ladies handed me a little red book of Irish poetry as a gift."

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