This photograph, showing the Ark Royal being constructed in Liverpool, is one of the best known works of Chambré-Hardman (1898- 1988). The story goes that he had planned to take this view for quite a while and then, one day, he realised that they were painting the ship and it was going to stand out so beautifully in the morning light. Setting up, he had a great stroke of luck; a school boy walked past and down the centre of the road, the perfect visual path into a great composition, touché.
Back at his studio in Rodney Street he developed the negative but must have known all along that there was one flaw to his masterpiece; the end of the house on the left was also a light colour and was going to ruin the shot by competing with the aircraft carrier for attention. No problem; he made a mask so that the house got more exposure under the enlarger and turned dark grey. Hey presto, a miniature masterpiece was born!
Chambré-Hardman made his living from studio portraiture – a good earner in those days, but he loved to get out into the city and countryside, sometimes by bicycle, and take picture for himself, his own artistic satisfaction.
Great pictures they were too. Perhaps my favourite, for its atmosphere and perfection of composition was one taken in France. It perfectly illustrates my favourite composition lines, what I like to call the “Painter’s Armature” – Ian McNab, in his talk to us, illustrated it as something which Henri Cartier Bresson was taught in his painting lessons and intuitively used in his photography.
Chambré-Hardman’s studio in Rodney Street is now a National Trust property and is set out to show how he worked. When some of us visited it shortly after the NT opened it I was a bit disappointed to find that there were relatively few of his photographs on display – nothing like the wonderful exhibition I saw in Bradford a few years before – but no doubt it was a temporary omission.