Bulmer, John. (3 of 3). Oral History of British Photography.
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2010-02-03, 2010-02-04, 2010-02-05
Interviewee's home, Monnington near Hereford
Bulmer, John, 1938- (speaker, male)
Read, Shirley (speaker, female)
Part 3: Comment on using the [then] new term photo-journalist rather than press photographer. 00.01.30 Description of covering the conflict in Cyprus in 1964, working with Don McCullin, the battle around a Turkish village near Nicosia and their different responses, JB’s thoughts on why he wasn’t a war photographer. 00.08.30 Comments on whether photographs can cause change. 00.10.39 Description of the London photographic scene in the 1960s, meeting occasionally with Philip Jones Griffiths, David Hurn and Tony Ray Jones, the paucity of outlets for photography until the colour supplements started; JB’s admiration for Tony Ray Jones pictures and ability to work for himself whereas JB wanted an assignment. 00.13.28 A comment on deadlines and an example of JB exploring an unknown part of Ethiopia because his colleagues had had a lot more time to cover the country. 00.16.30 A story about covering Churchill’s funeral then going directly to cover the Queens visit to Ethiopia and running alongside her carriage until he got a picture of her with Haile Selassie which made the cover 00.18.55 About covering Churchill’s funeral 00.20.02 A story about photographing a dance in East Berlin 00.21.34 On being in gaol, feeling safe, access, difficulty of access in Japan 00.26.31 A story about flying in small planes in Ethiopia 00.29.42 Comments about how stories were commissioned and page rates 00.34.02 On doing small bits of advertising work like stories in Philippines, New Zealand, Australia and Thailand for Shell and work for an American cigarette company but deciding it didn’t suit him 00.35.45 Brief remarks about Willie Landels, Mark Boxer, Godfrey Smith, Michael Rand, David King, Colin Jones and Bill Jay. 00.40.11 Occasional portraits included William Burroughs, Sihanouk, Chiang Kai-shek, Jomo Kenyatta, Haile Selassi President Tubman and Tito. 00. 43.36 Comments about newspaper design, picture size and covers. 00.47.4 JB’s decision to move into film, changes at the Sunday Times, feeling he was repeating himself, wanting to work on longer projects 00. 49.45 Going to film in Burma [00.50.52] JB’s involvement with Mai Zetterling’s film on Van Gogh Visually duplicating Van Gogh, learning to use a film camera, winning a prize from BAFTA, union membership, working methods. 00. 58.32 JB’s early films, mostly documentary, on Van Gogh, Burma, The Black Beach on sea coalers, on the north, A Voyage Round Britain for the South Bank Show, The Artist’s Horse, on Jim Thompson, on Chatsworth. 01.00.43 Comments on JB’s attitude to using a film camera, buying and adapting his own equipment which was known as ‘bulmerising’ - making a heated eyepiece, a tripod switch, building a light meter and adapting stills lenses for film cameras, making a film/sound synch system. 01.07.40 The problems of working with a union closed shop which changed under John Birt, working in Arabia and then in Ethiopia with stills photographers, Carol Beckworth & Angela Fisher, a detailed account of this film project based round an isolated tribe which wore lip plates and practiced stick fighting, employing an ex Stasi translator, JB’s methods, the importance of story telling rather than anthropological investigation, the change in approach of today’s ethnographic films, issues around bare breasts in films, working with sound recordist Alistair Kinneal and a very small crew, the significance of primitive peoples to today’s world and the difficult balance involved in keeping their way of life in the face of tourism and change, being in a think-tank in Ethiopia. 01.39.14 Working on an island off Sumatra, the role of the spirits, using antibiotics. 01.40.44 Comments on when not to film. 01.42.50 Comments on John Birt and a comparison of the different ways the BBC, the unions and JB approached documentary, an example from Dafur. 01.48.00 JB’s attitude to his role in recording rather than intervening, examples from Biafra and China. 01.53.05 Comments on the problems of heat and film emulsion. 01.56.29 Description of smuggling film out of Ethiopia and China. 02.00.50 Description of JB’s eye problem, having to change his dominant eye, starting to use video, working for the Discovery Channel, a comparison between film and video using a funeral in Ethiopia as an example, comment on wanting to show tribes before they changed. 02.09.30 Comment on the similarity between JB’s films and photographs and that their usage shifts over time. 02.11.55 Brief discussion of the ‘one-eyed’ nature of film and photography. 02.13.26 Comment on not taking stills while filming and description of the growth of an exhibiting practice including The Photographers Gallery, Front Cover for the Sunday Times, The Myth of the North at the Lowry, then being seriously ill and deciding to concentrate on his archive rather than film-making, buying a scanner. JB’s awareness of exhibition practice and lack of interest till recently, comments on printing for exhibition, how the exhibitions have happened, his favourite pictures in England and New Guinea, his continuing interest in and work on his photographic archive and pleasure in meeting old colleagues again.
Life story interview with photographer John Bulmer (1938-)