Spice Photos – Fleet Street

By April 28, 2016 Will Carleton

This in from Jeff Wright’s letter in The Journalist

Dear Will. I hope the following may be of interest:

I was an architectural journalist in the 1950s and 1960s, sometimes commissioning photographers still using 5 x 4 cameras, glass plates and a lens cap in lieu of a shutter. We took photos in the newly-built Royal Festival Hall, for example. I walked around the hall, waiting for the photographer’s signals, as he took off the lens cap and I fired a massive throw-away flash bulb. We used about six bulbs in six different positions around the hall for each pic. Given how little he charged, he couldn’t have made much profit on that assignment.

When I freelanced, I sometimes took my own pictures with a 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 in plate camera, with a 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 in. roll-film adapter. News photographers mostly used 4 x 3in Speed Graphics and throwaway flash bulbs, their pockets filled with ones fired or waiting to be fired. Later, I bought a Microcord (a copy of the more-famous Rollicord.) (?sp), It was made, I think, in the UK under free licence, as part of German reparations after WW2.. Full-time press photographers looked with scorn at anyone using such a small camera. Anyone using 35mm was beyond the pale. Two photographers I used a lot worked for a firm in Fleet St called Spice Photos. They were paid a pittance. When I suggested they should set up on their own, they explained that they couldn’t afford to buy a professional camera!

My son studied press photography at a college of FE in Birmingham in the 1960s. He would come home every weekend, shocked by the fact that the only newspapers they were expected to look at were the tabloids. He used to show me two sets of pix and ask my opinion as to which was the better. The ones I chose were never the ones that his teachers had chosen. It’s no surprise that he later chose a different profession.

Sincerely, Maurice Jay, Life Member, NUJ

• Related: Jeff Wright – my time as a press photographer – 1960’s / 70’s