I think I'd have no problems telling McCullin landscape from St Ansel. But that's because of style. McCullin's work - at least the little landscape of his that I've come across - is a gritty, dark extension of his look at war and hunger. A desperation heaves through it all; there's absolutely no attempt at concepts of traditional beauty. And we all know what AA looks like. There was a time in the 60s when I could spot a Bailey just by flicking open Vogue without trying to read the tiny captions. I could do the same with Barry Lategan, too. Sarah Moon impressed me so much that I sometimes felt that I was she - not that I felt that I could do what she did, just that I felt it emotionally, so deeply.
Hans Feurer was another man - still is - so distinctively capable with long lenses and open-air photography of exquiste girls in highly exotic clothes. His fashion photography still is, and his Pentax calendars were, beautiful.
Their identity (of those photographers) was a mixture of photographic style mannerisms, partly a product of themselves but also of the fashion editors who picked them because of the way they shot. In other words, I suggest that these icons became trapped in their own look and couldn't leave it because with it might have gone the bread, too. Of course, that assumes that they, or anyone else so distinctly gifted, can break out into something different. I suspect it becomes self-perpetuating.
But the problem is time-related, and, inevitably, exposure-related.
Time related, because whilst it was easy for me to guess who was who at the time, there have since been so many imitators that the originals have been swamped and their presence diluted. David Hamilton bust upon us as a master of fine-but-crisp grain, breathed-upon lenses and gentle girls making fantastical pastoral/rustic dreamscapes. Within a short time, he was aped in such concentrated manner as to lose his original individuality – he even had a go at shooting Venetian landscape (?) and still life in what I think might have been attempts to escape the rip offs. Of course, he might just have enjoyed the change, now and again.
So there it is: at one time, when the competition wasn’t there, these people shone like stars and were instantly identifiable to someone who was interested in the work. But now, it would be a guessing game.
Regarding HC-B, specifically. The more I see of the work of others of the era, the more I feel that they were a movement rather than a set of individualists. Ronis? Doisneau? HC-B? Sabine Weiss? Brassaï? If you see their work in collections together, unless you are capable of cancelling memory and, thus, identification of known pictures, it’s a hard call – a guessing game.
Perhaps it takes someone in the same genre – as myself in my fashion days – to really get to grips with what makes each of these persons an individual within that genre. For a while, the identification was instantly achievable by the look of the models: they all seemed to hang with specific guys, most of the time, and gave them a particular look that didn’t come over when they worked with different snappers.
But things can be perverse: at one period in my life when I was at the top of my fashion game, I did a lot of work for House of Fraser. I was asked up to a ‘do’ at their in-house advertising agency that used to be in Drury Street in Glasgow. I saw some, to me, amazing prints of my favourite muse pinned up on the wall. Anxious that somebody else was moving in, I asked the AD who the photographer was. He looked at me shocked, and remarked ‘what a cheap way of looking for compliments.’ It was my own bloody work, and I didn’t even remember or recognize it – so much for being busy! I don’t believe the guy ever believed my innocence.
What chance really, really knowing somebody else’s work?