Edward Chambre Hardman took the Birth of the Ark Royal in 1950. This is an article about the photograph written by The Hardmans' House Custodian, Sarah-Jane Langley.
|The Birth of the Ark Royal - taken in 1950|
Edward Chambré Hardman made Liverpool his adopted home in 1924, setting up his portrait studio at 51a Bold Street. At the height of his business he was able to move his home and studio to the more prestigious address of 59 Rodney Street, with a second studio at 27 St Werbugh Street, Chester. Hardman would work three days a week at each of these studios, commuting from his Rodney Street home. It was during these regular journeys to Chester that he was able to view the ‘birth’ of one of the most famous aircraft carriers, The HMS Ark Royal. Replacing her predecessor (which had been torpedoed in 1941), the ship had been built over the course of five years at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Tranmere, Birkenhead. By 1950, the time when Hardman was a regular commuter past this historic shipyard, the ship was completed and painted with a white undercoat that made it stand out amidst the gloom of its surroundings. As Hardman himself remembered, ‘it stood out from the smoke and muck of Merseyside, in fact it was the smoke and muck of Merseyside that attracted me to it’
Having settled on taking a photograph of the newly completed ship, Hardman then had to find a good vantage point from which to capture this image. As a pictorialist photographer, Hardman saw his work as pieces of art rather than documentary records and as such was looking for a suitably artistic composition in his finished photograph. He scoured the areas nearby, taking photographs from different viewpoints, until he settled on a location at the top of Holt Hill. From here he could capture the Ark Royal in all its glory, seemingly floating above the rooftops of Tranmere. Again, in his search for a perfect composition, he decided to wait for a suitable subject to fill the otherwise empty expanse of foreground – by chance, a small boy delivering papers began to walk down the hill away from Hardman. Again, a number of photographs were taken, each showing the boy at different stages on his journey with Hardman choosing the most suitable one to be worked upon in his darkroom.
As he saw his landscapes as pieces of art, Hardman would often work extensively on the negatives to create the perfect image. In retrospect Hardman stated ‘I was trying to recreate what I had seen, to produce an effect, and anything that goes against the effect I want, I rule out’. The Ark Royal was no different, with thorough alterations being made to details within the composition: the gable end of the house was whitewashed as it clashed with the Ark Royal’s undercoat - using a red dye on the negative, he darkened it to ensure the focus was the ship in the background; while walking down the hill, one of the boy’s socks had fallen down around his ankle, again using a dye Hardman effectively ‘painted in’ the sock up to the boy’s knee; Hardman also used dyes to carry out minor ‘touch ups’, deleting litter from the floor and darkening any details that appeared too bright.
Once this work was carried out, Hardman printed the finished photograph in his personal darkroom at 59 Rodney Street, exhibiting it under the title ‘Where Great Ships Are Built’. It was under this title that it appeared in the British Journal of Photography, 1959. At a later date it assumed the more familiar title ‘Birth of the Ark Royal’, the name by which it is still known today, and has come to be considered as one of Hardman’s most iconic photographs.