Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

My Father the Photographer; Harry Jacobs's Striking Portraits Document the Changing Face of Brixton's Black Community over Four Decades

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

My Father the Photographer; Harry Jacobs's Striking Portraits Document the Changing Face of Brixton's Black Community over Four Decades

Article excerpt

Byline: GERALD JACOBS

WERE you ever photographed by Harry Jacobs?" Thus ran the legend across the huge placard bearing a picture of Brixton's best-known photographer, arms folded in the manner of a man whose reputation goes before him. It was midsummer and my family and I were in Brockwell Park, in south London, trailing through the Lambeth Country Show, an annual extravaganza of craft and commerce, politics and pop, swings and slides.

The stall we were heading for had been set up by the Photographers' Gallery, an outfit one associates more with the cocktail interiors of the art world than the blast and sprawl of the streets of Brixton.

Nevertheless, there it was, surrounded by a small, absorbed group, several of whom were leafing through a giant photo-album.

"I've been photographed by Harry Jacobs," I told the young woman standing behind the stall, "hundreds of times." She looked at me doubtfully. "I'm his son," I told her. "Really?" she asked, not completely convinced.

Oh yes, I have been photographed by Harry Jacobs.

His excruciating insistence on arranging each individual in a group shot into a particular pose - to be held until he was absolutely ready - is Jacobs family folk lore. But that is not how his paying customers felt. For them, going to his studio to stand or sit in front of his trademark Tahitian backdrop with its equally inevitable bowl of artificial flowers was more ceremony than ordeal. An individual or family portrait in that same pose against that same background, with the "Harry Jacobs" stamp showing the Landor Road address, was from around 1959 to 1999 a badge of belonging to Brixton's black community.

The man from the Photographers' Gallery unravelled himself from the knot of people around the Brockwell Park stall to explain its purpose. Next month, the gallery is to hold what its director describes as a "major" exhibition of Harry Jacobs's work, constituting as it does a striking piece of social history.

And, apart from good local publicity, permission is required from the subjects of photographs taken before the 1988 Copyright Act to enable them to be exhibited. …

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