The story behind the pictures

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25 February 2021
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Jonas Sjoberg has a remarkable collection of photographs, depicting people in Britain in the years immediately after the Second World War. How did he come by this treasure-trove, and what stories can the pictures tell?

 

Family Tree chats to Jonas Sjoberg. Jonas has a remarkable collection of post-WW2 UK photos and he is seeking the stories and identities behind them. Can you help put names to these precious pictures from the past? Please share

Family Tree: Jonas, you have a unique collection of vintage photographs – please can you tell us a little about how you acquired about them?

Jonas: When the photographer KG Kristoffersson decided to have his long overdue retirement, he turned to me and offered his archive of photographs to me as he knew that I would care for them and have the means to make them available to future generations. The archive is massive, beginning with the first pictures he took in 1939 on glass plate negatives.

Family Tree: How were the photos organised or filed?

Jonas: After years of going through his original photos, I found one particular collection of photos that proved to have been taken in England and Wales in the autumn of 1945. When scanning the negative originals, the breadth of the material was surprising. I had never seen such a complete and comprehensive collection taken during this very historical interesting time, just after the World War II had ended. 

Family Tree: Can you tell us a little more about Kristoffersson?

Jonas: Photographer Kristoffersson was active during the golden era of photojournalism at the end of the 1930s and 1940s. As photojournalism grew popular and magazines of the kind were plentiful around the world, he had the fortune of having a number of photographic magazines as his clients. Among them the iconic American magazine Life where his picture was published on its cover. On my blog you can read more about him: https://familytr.ee/krist

Family Tree: What do you particularly enjoy about these old photographs?

Jonas: I think the most interesting thing is that England at this time is seen from a Swedish photographer’s view – one who had a fascination and interest in topics, people and events from this time, which an English photographer might have thought would be too ‘everyday life’ to be of interest

This phenomenon is something that occurs even today, when you notice your friends or visitors from other parts of the country or from abroad, finding new and interesting angles to what you would consider to be something rather uninteresting.

I like his pictures of ordinary people captured going about their lives at this time. If the pictures would have been taken a few years later, the big change from war to peacetime would not have come through when looking at the photographs.

Kristoffersson’s photographs captures people in places struck by German bombings, such as London and Coventry. One of the pictures clearly explains why the collection has an aura: it is  a picture of a little girl in front of a sign with the text "The time of destruction is ended...the era of reconstruction begins". Signed H.H. The King.

Family Tree: Do you have a favourite photo from your collection?

Jonas: There are many fantastic pictures to choose from. He visited the Old Vic theatre to take pictures of theatre actor Laurence Olivier. He met Nobel prize winner Alexander Fleming. There are so many great photographs of ordinary people both working and at home. Perhaps the picture of the three young girls balancing books is one my favourites. It's just so charming and innocent with the girls trying their best at it, practising as they did to walk gracefully. Knowing that the girls would grow up leaving the horrors of the war behind them with hopefully a bright future, makes me feel good seeing it.

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Family Tree: What tips can you share for digitising old photos?

Jonas: I have worked with photography for many years and handled most types of photographic originals. The degeneration of photographs is something that is a slow but continuing process. My tip is to scan or take a picture of the photos that are beginning to show signs of such damage. Especially family photos since they tell your story, and you can help to keep it alive if you salvage the photos this way. After a while some originals might be too badly damaged so that the subject can't be seen.

Once you have a digitised version of your old photograph, you can keep it digital or in my opinion, make a new photographic copy of it. If the newly made print is of good quality, it will last a very long time. And honestly, how much fun is it to sit by a computer or a telephone to look at family photos? Sooner or later your storage space of the files will be unavailable, either broken or in a cloud saving space that you no longer can access. Adding information on the back of the prints are just as important for future generations. If you choose to store only the digital image files, there are ways to enter the information you want into the files, then making them searchable on your computer.

Family Tree: Where can people find your pictures online?

Jonas: I would love to tell the story behind the photos. I will be posting interesting photos from the 1945 collection on social media like www.facebook.com/GreatBritain1945 and www.instagram.com/greatbritain1945 and I hope to get comments and perhaps both personal memories from this time, and maybe someone might even recognize the people in the pictures. The 1940s is a time from where people still have memories. This is the time to get the little grey cells working and share your memories from this time before it's too late. Either your own memories from when you were a little girl or boy. Or something you heard from your parents that they did in the 1940s.

Family Tree: What are your plans next, with regard to your photographic collection?

Jonas: Once I have scanned the entire collection from 1945 and I have them in my online archive, I will edit and add the text information based on the feedback I get from people’s comments on the photos I post on social media. Even if the pictures are nice to look at they will be even better once they have more information.

Since the pictures have been stored in the archive since they were taken and have not been seen or published anywhere, I believe the collection could make a great conversation piece as a coffee table book showing pictures never seen before. The interest in historic photography is high and a publisher of books within this area could create a unique book product. In my profession as a picture editor I also see a growth in using vintage and nostalgic photographs both in films and in television. To have such a held together collection as this to work with, the visual result can also reach new audiences in an online storytelling experience regardless of where they live in the world. In my experience, never published historical photographs are highly sought after by publishers. The joy of having a nice historic photograph on the wall in your home is something many people like to do. I will make the pictures available for private usage so whoever wants, can acquire the high-res file to have their own enlargements made.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THESE PHOTOS...

Family Tree: Where can people go to view your historic photo collection?

Jonas: I will be posting interesting photos from the 1945 collection on social media, for instance: www.facebook.com/GreatBritain1945 and www.instagram.com/greatbritain1945, I would love to tell the story behind the photos and hope that other people may be able to identify family and friends and tell me more. The entire collection will be online searchable on my website: www.sjobergbildbyra.se.

 

The story behind our April issue cover picture:

The photo of the children on the cover of this issue of Family Tree had just been asked by their teacher whether it was alright to take food from the cupboard without asking. In a post-war world, where rationing was still very much in force, I think we all know the answer. It is remarkable insights and glimpses to ordinary lives that Jonas Sjoberg is working to preserve and publicise with his historic photographic project.

Photos copyright Jonas Sjoberg from the Classic Picture Library collection. Find out more at http://classicpicturelibrary.blogspot.com/

To order the April issue, print or digital issue, please click here