Only 200 or so snaps from the collection are included in this wonderful book but they are well chosen and accompanied by plenty of insightful commentary.
Alongside revelatory introductory essays, the authors have provided useful captions for every image. We learn all about the evolution of photographic technology and the thematic pulse of the volume sustains the reader’s interest: it is one of those books you will be reluctant to put down.
The first half, dealing naturally enough with the earlier part of the story, is particularly impressive. We move from the early pioneers to the emergence of hobbyists, and learn how mass tourism transformed the use of cameras. The book also reminds us that social historians of the 19th and 20th centuries are very fortunate as there is a stunning back catalogue of images at their disposal. Enter the pictures of cramped London streets, seaside recreation, blast furnaces, vanished crafts, family portraits, and random glimpses of workaday life.
Similarly, if you are in the business of understanding and protecting the English landscape (built and otherwise) then such a record is invaluable. A tolerance for poignancy is also required in such a job and many of the volume’s most memorable images reveal how much has changed, albeit not always for the better. It is to be hoped that Historic England produces more books based on its extraordinary photographic archive.
PICTURING ENGLAND: The Photographic Collections of Historic England by Mike Evans, Gary Winter and Anne Woodward; Historic England; £45 (hardback)
This review was published in the August 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine