Ernest W. J.Atkins – ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ photographer

By December 21, 2020 Will Carleton

This in from the Ernest’s Grandson:

Hi Will,
My grandfather Ernest W. J.Atkins, born in 1892 just outside of London. In 1908, at the age of 16, he shot photographs at The Sandwich Golf Tournament which got the interest of the Central Press. In 1909, He joined the Central Press as one of Fleet Street’s staff photographers and stayed until the Autumn of 1949.  His domestic duties were sport (golf, Wimbledon, Oxford Rowing, football cup matches, horse racing, cricket, and The Olympics), The Royal Family (George V, the Duke of York, and the Prince of Wales), Parliament, and Churchill during the war years.
In 1915 he was assigned to the newly formed  Air Recon squadron being one of the first aerial photographers. He was sent to the Dardanelles where photography played a major role in warfare for the first time.This squadron flew over 30,000 miles a month, taking photos from a fixed height hanging over the open cockpit of their airplanes, each photograph representing 1,000 square yards of countryside. This was the first aerial surveying and they were left to figure it out on their own. Photos of troop movement were also crucial in the battle of Gallipoli.
In 1918 he returned to his domestic duties where he gained the reputation for catching images in stop motion, such as the photo “The Prince and the Pauper” (see attached image). At the 1936 Olympics he took the iconic shots of Jesse Owens in the long jump, high jump, hurdles, starting block and at the metal podium. During wartime, he documented the bombing of London and London’s fire brigade at work for the evening news. Many of the images of Churchill and/or members of the Royal Family walking through the ruins of London are his images. He was also at the Yalta Conference with Churchill. The pictures of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin in the garden are his and I’m not sure which other pictures of the document sighing are his.
He then went with the first British troops into the concentration camps with the duties of photo-documenting these atrocities. My father remembers going through  this collection with my grandfather before having to send them back to Britain. I don’t know if  the collection of images became classified or not. However, if these images are no longer classified, then this is a collection my father would be very interested in seeing again.
His last set of iconic images would be that of Gussy Moran and her short tennis dress with ruffled lace trimmed knickers at Wimbledon. He then moved to Canada to be with his children, who were refugees of the war and started a photo studio for advertising.
My grandfather, at one point, tried to put together a collection of his own work and was denied. Our Family, on a multitude of occasions, have tried to tribute this mans work, but have run into barriers such as intellectual rights laws, etc.
My interest in my grandfather’s work has arisen again with the passing of some of my family members . Looking on the internet I started seeing his work in the public domain, as well as commercial publications and commercial sites like Getty Images. I’ve wondered how this can be, others profiting from his work, when even the man himself was denied. As far as where his collection is, I’ve been told part was sent back to the English press, part are with various family members, and the rest got thrown out. I’m now actively trying to gather what photographs I can from family members.
• We are waiting on the photos… and hope to match records to these news photos.