The Picture Post magazine ran in the UK from the 1930s to the 1950s and, as the title suggests, was predominantly a magazine of picture-led stories.

I have a small collection of magazines from the 1930s and they include stories of world affairs, such as the Spanish Civil War, with pictures captured by Robert Capa of the Magnum photo agency, through to the day in the life of a Saville Row tailor.

The format is fairly consistent; each story is about 20 pictures accompanied by about 1,000 words of text. The dominant feature of every page are images, mainly of people attending events.

I’ve also been reading a thesis written about the Picture Post magazine by Amy Shulman.

In it the author states:

The function of the photographic essay is indeed to narrate a story through a series of photographic images; yet, each photograph is accompanied by a short written caption and main text.

And in referencing the French sociologist and author of several essays on photography, Roland Barthes, the author writes: It cannot, and will not be denied in this study that the written text aims to direct the photographic message

The author quotes several sources who acknowledge that Picture Post’s new documentary stye of photo-journalism, directly or indirectly, speeded up social reform in Britain. For the first time readers could see labour and living conditions not just in one picture that might have been published in a newspaper but in multiple pictures. The Picture Post really did shine a light on aspects of society, places and issues that limitations in travel would have otherwise prevented. Through publications like Picture Post the world became a little smaller and people felt a little more connected.

One of my favourite stories was so simple and yet so powerful. It was a sequence of five photos, all taken from a second floor apartment in Paris, looking down at a street scene.

The first image showed a man lying on the pavement next to the road. The second showed the man lying on the floor with two people stood over him. The third showed a bigger crowd of people stood around the man on the floor. The fourth showed a black van now parked on the side of the road next to the man on the floor. The fifth showed the empty street. Beneath each picture was a sentence which, under the first image, suggested that the man on the floor was ‘perhaps dead’. The sequence as a whole seemed to convey the fragility and constant progression of life. Five images, all framed the same, from the same angle but with different content, with a small amount of text that directed the photographic image.