Gordon. Youíve had some film people at your house today.
Why was that?
My house has a vintage interior, so two TV programmes
have been filmed here in the past. First, the BBC and then a
called Ration Book Britain. Which, apparently went to top of
Digger: Was it one of those extra BBC3 or 4 channels?
Gordon: Yes, something like that.
Digger: I like the stuff they show on those channels.
Thereís always something fascinating on there.
Gordon: Yes, I thought the second programme was done very
well. The first one was about food, eating and dietary
fashions through different periods of history. There was a
Digger: Yes, I remember that one and I couldnít watch
because Iím a vegetarian and they were doing all sorts of
disgusting things with meat.
Gordon: Right. The couple were quite amusing. The TV people
wanted my house to be a fifties interior. It was actually
built just after the war, because there was a major Blitz
incident here. But although the house is very modest, with
very plain lines, it actually echoed the thirties modernist
look. The exteriors are very plain council but the insides
are good design. I was surprised when I brought my furniture
in how well it sat. Because I have a lot of thirties, very
low-key furniture. Thereís no point in me going high-end
Art Deco. It would look irrelevant. But it sits very well here
and I can dress it up and dress it down.
Digger: And word has got around. What was this latest
Gordon: Well, they wanted to interview an original Eastender
who had been an evacuee, and who had experienced life during
the war. This in a vintage setting. Although heíd been a young lad rather than a grown adult
because so many of them are passing away now.
Digger: They should have spoken to my mate Jim. He is 81 now
and has so many stories to tell about living around there.
He grew up on the Isle of Dogs and got up to all sorts of
mischief. As a grown up, he worked on the docks when they
were still the biggest in the world. He spends hours telling
people hilarious stories about what they all got up to. A
lovely guy. He can remember Mudchute when thatís what it
was and not just a station. He knew all the characters.
Gordon: Gosh. Well, this man was a Bethnal Green resident
and he just, by seconds, missed being in the Bethnal Green
Digger: That was so tragic. The people there were running
for shelter, ironically from our own anti-aircraft guns
rather than a German raid, and they all got trampled and
crushed, didnít they?
Gordon: Yes. Very sad. But he was really nice and we chatted
between takes. They took him through his reminiscences. The
programmes will be on BBC3 or 4.
Digger: Iíll look out for it.
Gordon: They also interveiwed somebody associated with The
Queen Mother. But this year thereís a lot of interest in
the war years.
Digger: Itís the anniversary of The Battle of Britain, of
Gordon: And I donít have a telly. Itís broken, but
actually I donít care because Iím doing rather well
Digger: Iíve heard of people coping without a TV. I
couldnít manage, not because Iím a TV addict, but I find
so much there to interest and entertain me... So, to the reason for my call... What was and is
your inspiration for the vintage photography that you do?
Firstly, Iíve always been inspired by the vintage movies.
Really, it started when I was a youngster. Something clicked
inside me when I first started seeing the vintage movies
being re-scheduled on TV.
Digger: You were a youngster where and when?
Gordon: I was born in the 1950s, and in New Zealand where I
come from, television didnít start broadcasting until the
sixties. So, in my earlier childhood, going to the cinema was
something I remember with great affection. Every Saturday, I
took my brother and sister and we went to see the cinema
matinee. Our local theatre was the Mecca for all the kids in
town. I can still see it now and, to me, it was like going
to an Aladdin's cave and it just sparked something inside me
in my imagination.
Digger: Can you name a couple of movies that stand out from
Gordon: I recall the weekly cliff-hanging serials mainly -
Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Jungle Jim, Dick Tracey,
Zorro, Mandrake the Magician... which had all the kids at
the cinema jumping up and down with excitement only to end
at a thrilling dangerous moment to entice us back next week.
Of course, the cartoons - Disney - Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse,
Goofy etc. Tom and Jerry, Woody Woodpecker had the entire
theatre howling with fun. The main features tended to be
when mum took us to the Grand Cinemas in the city - the big
1920s and 30s picture palaces, to see the latest Disney
release. Or an old re-release like The Wizard of Oz or The
Thief of Baghdad, new films like Swiss Family Robinson or
High Wind in Jamaica. Westerns were a big attraction to
little boys - Shane with Alan Ladd, I recall, and The
Searchers - two classic movies I saw as a kid. Pirate movies
as well - Tyrone Power in The Black Swan, Errol Flynn as
Robin Hood. We all gathered to re-enact the tales every
weekend, inspired by the big screen, chatting about the
dramas and action on our way home to our New Zealand bungalows
on sunny Saturday afternoons. Our imaginations all keyed up
for the rest of the week, bragging about which actor we were
and how many pirates/Indians we were going to slaughter
recall the newsreels as well. But as kids, we were less
interested in the news. Fox, Movietone, Pathe... I can't
recall much except a flurry of images of politics, war,
fashion... until I do distinctly recall the planes lined-up
for confrontation with the U.S.S.R. over Cuba in the early
1960s on the big screen.
Digger: Did America seem like a different planet to you?
Gordon: I never gave it a thought as a kid. Possibly New Zealand
looked like the US in some points due to its still
developing economy and the farmlands and wilderness, which still perhaps
had slightly the look of the frontier.
Digger: I think you said that when you went to California
that you felt at home because of the
Gordon: Yes, everywhere there were bungalows with verandahs and
big gardens. It looked like the town my mother was born in.
New Zealand had a curious blend of English tradition -
looking back to the Motherland of Britain and at the
same time the American way of life was arriving. Typical in
these post colonial nations not long after the Second World
Digger: Maybe you were a bit in advance of the Mother
country in terms of consumerism there, because I can
remember here up until the early seventies it wasn't the
norm for people to have cars. Many didnít have phones. A
lot of the gadgets were only just becoming the norm. What we
saw on American TV programmes Ė the big fridges and big
cars for kids who were only sixteen and so on were mainly
beyond our reach until then. It just didnít happen here.
Gordon: Youíre absolutely right. In fact, in our small
town which was on the edge of the main city Auckland, I can
remember there was a woman who was a war widow not far up
the street from us and she had four sons. They were always
working on their big American car out at the front near our
house, wearing jeans. And it was probably the classic American
Digger: The greased back hair?
Gordon: Yes. Kind of James Dean. And there was a young lady
who looked the spitting image of Elizabeth Taylor who would
go past on her way to work in neat little suits each
day. I recall my mother and the other ladies
remarking. I seem to have snapshot recall for some
Digger: Thatís good, isn't it?
Gordon: It might be to do with the way memory registers. I
used to draw a great deal as a child... that might explain a
Digger: When did you get into photography?
Gordon: That came much later, but I was given a camera at a
very young age. Later I bought one in the 1960s. I began to
notice the changes in society, technology, people,
fashion... as you do, I suppose, if you are visually
alert... through a camera lens. Looking at books, as I often
did - I saw the sudden passing of a world that I had been
privileged to witness.
century life still had people who had been alive in the reign
of Queen Victoria, King Edward, the First World War. I moved
among them. I was fascinated by all of it...
Television had commenced broadcasting - and began to open up
knowledge and discovery for me - especially vintage movies
and documentaries as well. But I was saddened to see the old
world being ruthlessly destroyed as our cities were being
demolished over the following decades.
Our little art deco cinema closed and was demolished,
followed by the post office, the 19th century school buildings,
the old shops and library. All to be replaced by a giant
shopping mall surrounded by areas of asphalt for car
parking. It looked characterless to me. Now it itself is semi boarded up, by-passed by bigger and
uglier places. The grand theatres and cinemas of the 20s,
30s in the city of Auckland went under the demolition
hammer, accompanied by the old department stores and little
businesses which gave character to a city. Most of Victorian,
Edwardian, Art Deco Auckland exists only in books now. Everywhere
looks 'identikit' shopping parades now. I left in 1981 -
frustrated and angry.
century automobile lifestyle
century chatting on the train
Digger: What a waste. It sounds exactly the same as happened here.
It seems to have accelerated in several generations.
Gordon: I have an impression that I caught the swansong of the
first half of the 20th century (as a little boy - but I
still seem to have strong fleeting impressions that remain
with me.) Born in the early 1950s, I can recall daily life
having the threads of what mid-20th century life contained
in a fragmenting way, I suppose - albeit through the
viewfinder of a little boy. Things like the sound of a steam
train charging past the junction; the flick of a cinder into
an eye from the train smoke; forgotten sensations - the
clickety clack of the Singer sewing machine; the hum and
crackle of the valve radio tuning in to the Palmolive Radio
Show; the smell of leather car seats on a warm day... the sound
of an old airliner as I travelled on a Dakota in 1960 as a
Digger: What is that is so special about the look and
fashions of the thirties, forties and fifties?
Gordon: The chic and elegance of those eras is terrific.
Generally it had great style. The deconstructing of fashion
away from the rules of the past was possibly liberating -
but it has led to chaos with people today looking a mess. A
very good looking person can wear a 'sack' and look 'cool'.
Fashion in the past led people with rules about tailoring, colour
etc... they looked chic and simple, charming... the
tailoring and cut covered people's lack of perfection
brilliantly. It applied to the not wealthy as well. My
parents look great in their snapshots taken in the austerity
years of rationing and shortages after the war and even as a
young family my mother made all her suits and dresses herself
and looked chic. They were confident and proud in themselves
and liked to pose for a snapshot as well. I love the family
by auto thirties
Digger: Can you tell us about your passion for film noir and
what is film noir? A look, a type of script, a type of
lighting or direction? Is it all of those things?
Gordon: It was a movie genre which emerged in the 1940s with
a perceptibly different set of tones to it. The war and its
aftermath left a broken world with people less ready to
accept the bright tinseltown view presented by Hollywood.
People had seen too much. Noir showed the darker side of
human nature in a set of moods expressed by lighting. This
lighting was already in use for portraiture- Clarence
Sinclair, Laszlo Willinger and other of Hollywood's studio
photographers used a lot of shadow and pools of light to
good effect in the 30s. Horst, Hoyninguen-Huene, Steichen at
Vogue were doing photography fashion in a magnificent way -
creating deep mysterious atmospheres for their fashion
settings. The stories of noir are like 1940s Greek Tragedy
Dramas in a modern language - people almost mask-like - but
I love them... ill-fated love affairs and betrayals -
secrets and tales of the human condition that are still rattling
Digger: With titles like Touch of Evil, Act of Violence, The
Killer, Out of the Past, This Gun for Hire, Farewell My
Lovely and Gilda.
Gordon: Yes. The first influences apparently emerged from Germany
and France. Directors and cameramen who had fled the Nazis
taking ideas from the continent to Hollywood. Some of it was
simply economy - like myself. No space or money to play with
- to rent grand studio spaces. Thus disguising smalls spaces
with lighting or sets used previously. It created a mood of
sombre elegance and brooding... a series of directing styles
by different men but it created the genre. Fritz Lang, Hitchcock,
Tourneur, Billy Wilder, Edward Demetryk etc.
first recall seeing Double Indemnity starring Barbara
Stanwyck when I was about 15 and being struck by its presence
without knowing why. But I always enjoyed a good comedy,
musical, melodrama from these times.
shot in the rain
Digger: Did England inspire you or did you mature into it?
Gordon: Yes it did. The history everywhere is an inspiration
to me, especially for my photography. I think of movies like
The Third Man, It Always rains On Sunday, The Fallen Idol,
Night And The City - great post-war classic films. The
Ealing comedies... The architecture makes grand
possibilities, even low-key work in alleys and areas of
terraced housing. But Hitchcock's Shadow Of A Doubt reminds
me of my small town in New Zealand in a way. It's true that
in New Zealand there was no parallel culture that could
have explained this passion of mine. I felt like a closet
freak even liking old movies and 30s dance band music. When
I came to England in 1984, I discovered a post-punk
rockabilly scene in Camden - that was beginning to mutate
into real vintage wearing. That accelerated in the mid 80s
and matured into a classic vintage underworld through the
90s. Suddenly, I was seeing people not just in jeans and
T-shirts but Robert Mitchum suits on guys circa 1951. With
dames who looked like Gloria Grahame circa 1949 in Hollywood-cut outfits head to toe! The Rock and Roll and R 'n B scene
of the UK was so authentic.
initially took snaps, thinking it might be a passing fad,
but as it grew and matured. I took more and more care how I
framed the shots. Later, I tried a few studio shots ad hoc in
my flat with friends with a few nice results. I kept trying
to capture the classic shots of those eras.
Digger: Is it a bit like the Mother country drawing a lot of
people from the entertainment business from Australia and
New Zealand who came here to widen their opportunities and
horizons and ended up staying here? Clive James, Barry
Humphries, Rolf Harris and so on?
Gordon: Yes, I think itís true of any smaller place. There
is creative talent in New Zealand and Australia but it
reaches a ceiling if the subject is too niche-based. The
artist etc. is forced to look elsewhere. I had not left to
become a photographer - I actually work as a social worker.
I am most likely too niche-related to earn a living in the UK,
but the vintage scene appears to have grown more than I had
realised actually today.
Digger: Typically, how long will a photo shoot last and how
much will it cost?
Gordon: It varies to time; films used; subject and
what they require. I have individuals wanting Portrait,
Hollywood Glamour, Musician photos - full length then
backdrops need changing and costumes need draping and
arranging re: lighting.
Digger: How long did this shoot the other day take?
Gordon: Six hours.
Digger: What sort of cost was it for that amount of time and
Gordon: The costs are best discussed by telephone as I
cannot set a figure due to continually rising costs of
films/printing and development. But for an average, lets says
£120 for one film of 36 shots plus cost of printing and
development and extras. So that would be circa £150 in
total. I can negotiate for a discount if somebody wants an
extra film. The usual length of a session is between 3 to 6
hours, depending on costume, hair etc.
Digger: How do you prepare somebody for a photo session and
what, apart from themselves, should they bring along?
Gordon: Most people have a good idea from the website of the
styles I create - they will bring their own outfits. I can
provide some clothing, subject to fitting and so on.
Gordon: Most women prefer to do their own makeup I have
Digger: I wasn't sure if modern makeup would look different
in vintage-style photos?
Gordon: That can depend on the person. Some who wish that
tend to already know how to do it... otherwise they should
seek a stylist. I can recommend several. I have techniques
of photography in a simple but stylish way that resembles
early Vogue photographs. Hats are great to cover modern
hairstyles and I have a big 30s, 40s and 50s collection of
very elegant ladies hats. Often a very simple hairstyle
looks very classic. Some styles require very little really -
clips work wonders and lighting does the trick!
Do you do glamour?
Of course, but Classic Vintage Elegant Glamour in the
Hollywood Glamour style. Actresses like Carol Lombard, Jane
Russell, Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth. I can do pin-up
but classic vintage style.
Digger: Why does vintage remain so popular?
Gordon: I'm not sure. It seems to have an evergreen quality
about it in fashion, furniture, architectural references,
music, dance, art; and to photograph it in as relevant and
connected a way as possible is my aim.
wish I could get some more custom as times are pretty hard
these days. It's as if my website has vanished in the loop somehow.
I must admit, since I have had a computer - one year ago now,
and since I have experienced YouTube, I can see an absolutely massive
world out there interested in this field. It is what I do.
Look at my website.
Digger: Itís a huge market. Believe me, it is huge. And
there's a lot of people making a living out of all areas of
vintage, retro and nostalgia.
Gordon: Recently I was made aware by a very happy customer
that she had come across the website by accident. She said
"Where have you been hiding?"
Digger: Thatís the thing. You can have a fantastic
offering but people need to know about it and thatís what
marketing is all about.
Gordon: Iím quite open to fresh ideas. But people need to understand
what I offer. It is a VINTAGE APPROACH, which can be open to
all sorts of interpretations as, indeed, that is what
creativity is all about. From High Glamour to Pin-up to street style.
I have even photographed various modern Techno bands who
wanted a vintage image for publicity - even a RAP
Digger: The cameras and equipment you use are traditional
Gordon: Yes. The cameras, mainly old lenses. The
lights are more recent as any vintage lights studio lights
disintegrated finally a few years ago. I needed lights that
wouldn't break up mid-shoot.
Digger: You have created a niche there.
Gordon: There are a few other photographers who are doing
this with the interest in vintage.
Digger: If you were able to travel and effectively take your
studio, your setup with you to Aberdeen or Cardiff or
wherever that might open it up even more.
Gordon: It has so far proven untested territory. I can't
drive due to an accident injury so I can't transport equipment
very far without a vehicle. I travel to the Rhythm Riot each
November to run a studio there.
Digger: Vintage Goodwood would be a great Ďgigí for you
Past experiences of events leave me cautious. To produce
quality portraits involves a lot of work and attention to
detail. At events like these, one is apt to get people
expecting a £10 seaside picture and all the work and effort
is not appreciated. I haven't experienced Goodwood, but it
sounds interesting nonetheless.
Digger: Are there any other problems?
Gordon: Weather can really set you back. Rain and mud or a
scorcher of a heatwave. Not very easy in daytime. There can
be nowhere to erect any sort of studio!
Digger: You need to know your market and target the
right people who appreciate what it is youíd doing and the
value of the product. And you need to be positioned right on
Gordon: Presently - it can be a pleasant day at my house
being made to feel like Rita Hayworth , or Tyrone Power,
having your portrait done. Just about every lady who has had
he portrait done with me has found it relaxing and felt
truly glamorous for the day. Time to dress up in elegant
outfits and accessories and pampering herself. They enjoy
the dressing up - perhaps it's almost like being a little
girl again or imagining that they are a star for the
afternoon. Though it's under lights and having to hold
positions etc. I seem to have a gentle and civilised way to coax
the best from them making them seem poised and elegant in
the way the Paris models used to stand or sit. Or Ava
Gardner or Norma Shearer used to pose for their portrait or publicity
stills all those years ago. Surprisingly after 5, 6 or 7
hours they don't seem exhausted and say how much they have
enjoyed it. Usually they love their photos - "Exquisite"
was the last quote I received after a set done by a young
lady. It can be a lot simpler for a gut - a classic studio
Digger: Do the youngsters get what you're doing?
Gordon: Many young people are discovering vintage music,
clothing, dance as fresh and exciting and ignoring the
magazines and trends.
Digger: And theyíre going for the authentic?
Gordon: Yes. They are younger and younger and seem to be
opting out of mainstream. And it could almost be a good look
for the future if weíre talking about the environment.
Itís actually a stylish way to recycle. I have been wearing
vintage clothes for thirty years. They look great and are
really well made and long-lasting. And environmentally
Vintage scores on all fronts. Itís cheaper than buying
modern, itís greener plus you get something that's probably
a lot better made.
Gordon: Iím sending you some photos of an event I went to
in Switzerland. I went to a hotel party up in the alps and I
got some very elegant photos there.
Digger: Well, Gordon, many thanks for letting us know about
your Vintage photography and I hope it goes from strength to
Hollywood Glamour, Vogue, Musician, Burlesque,
Film Noir, Vintage, World War II, Travel in the 30s
and 40s, English Country House
Gordon Ayres has been photographing the British and
Continental 1930s, 40s, 50s retro scene for over 20
years, following the people who have created a unique
look and sound - from the bands and dancers, to the
fans who populate this stylish, secretive underworld
Using techniques culled from the classic Hollywood
period, Ayres finds inspiration in both the studio
glamour photographers of the time, and the grainy
reportage style of the dime newspaper reporters.
Film Noir is an inspiration for scene set shots, and
similar lighting suits the exotic allure of Burlesque
,and smoky night-club musician photographs.
By contrast the elegance of Vogue-magazine-style
portraits of ladies with hats and gloves at a Paris
cafe, or snaps of people in evening clothes at a Swiss
hotel in the thirties-give an impression of a bygone
Use of quality vintage lens and studio lamps create
the exact feel of the look of the 20s to the 50s- for
whatever the occasion.