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Preston photographer opens fascinating vintage camera and sign exhibition

Posted on - 15th July, 2023 - 1:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Arts, City Centre, People, Preston City Centre, Preston News, Things to Do in and around Preston, What's On in Preston
Bernie Blackburn cutting the 'ribbon' - a roll of film - at the opening of his Photo-Graphica exhibition at SHOP. Pic Bernie Blackburn
Bernie Blackburn cutting the ‘ribbon’ – a roll of film – at the opening of his Photo-Graphica exhibition at SHOP. Pic Bernie Blackburn

A fascinating exhibition featuring a collection of vintage cameras has gone on display on the ground floor of the North West Design Collective’s SHOP, formerly the Rwanda Charity Shop, on Syke Street. Alongside an impressive collection of cameras, Photo-Graphica features the work of prolific Preston photographer Bernie Blackburn. Not photographs though, this time Bernie is exhibiting a collection of vintage-inspired signs he has created from reclaimed wood. We went to find out more.

Bernie Blackburn's Photo-Graphica exhibition is taking place at SHOP on the corner of Syke Street and Main Sprit Weind. Pic Lisa Brown
Bernie Blackburn’s Photo-Graphica exhibition is taking place at SHOP on the corner of Syke Street and Main Sprit Weind. Pic Lisa Brown

When we last met, Bernie was exhibiting close to 200 photographs he had taken at the 2012 Preston Guild at The Larder and selling prints to raise money for the community hub. Over the past two decades, he has taken a huge archive of photographs of Preston and the city’s people. This exhibition focuses on two of his other passions, cameras and signwriting.

Although he claims to not be an expert, Bernie Blackburn certainly knows a lot about cameras. When I arrive, he is enthusing about a Kodak Brownie 8mm Movie Camera to BBC Radio Lancashire’s John Gillmore. Bernie’s collection spans the decades, he shows us a 1933 Voigtlander Dual Lens camera he picked up in a charity shop and a beautiful Box Brownie camera complete with a postmarked, addressed box stamped 1932.

BBC Radio Lancashire's John Gillmore trys out a Kodak Brownie 8mm Movie Camera with Bernie Blackburn. Pic Lisa Brown
BBC Radio Lancashire’s John Gillmore tries out a Kodak Brownie 8mm Movie Camera with Bernie Blackburn. Pic Lisa Brown

Bernie takes a camera from the window display, it is an Ihagee camera dating back almost 100 years.

“It was a long process to take a photo then,” said Bernie. “People would go to places like Grand Imperial Studios on Church Street to have their photos taken. They would have to stand completely still, maybe resting their head back in a brace so they wouldn’t move.”

He opens the back of the camera, “The photographer would eye his subject up through here, slide the plate in, and then pull it out to expose the photosensitive plate. If the person moved the photograph would blur.”

Bernie takes another, smaller, camera from the window, “This is the Kodak Breast Pocket Autographic camera. It was made to fit into the breast pocket. And it has this…”

Bernie opens a compartment in the camera and pulls out a stylus, “Have you seen old photographs with handwriting at the bottom? They were probably created with something like this. It’s rare to find a camera like this still with its stylus as many were lost.”

Bernie opens a little door on the camera, “There would be a strip of carbon paper, the photographer would write where the photograph was taken and any other notes like the year. Leave the door open for a couple of seconds to expose it and the information would be printed in the margin of the photograph.”

Curious photographers at Bernie Blackburn's Photo-Graphica exhibition. Pic Bernie Blackburn
Curious photographers at Bernie Blackburn’s Photo-Graphica exhibition. Pic Bernie Blackburn

He points at the replica Grand Imperial Studios sign he has beautifully created, which is on display as part of the exhibition.

“Before their sons went to war, families would go to Grand Imperial Studios to have their photographs taken. Many of the sons didn’t come back but some took cameras like these Kodak Breast Pocket Autographic cameras. These cameras would have saved some men’s lives, taking the bullet as they sat in the breast pocket. Other men took photographs of what they saw around them, the horrors of war, and sent them home. The government didn’t like it.”

As we talk, Jill Cowgill, Director of North West Design Collective joins us. North West Design Collective is based on the first floor of SHOP and after talking to Jill it seems fitting that Bernie, a keen historian, has held his exhibition within the space. Jill tells me that the building that houses SHOP was originally built as the offices of John Whitehead & Co. who ran Albert Works on the next block. The forge made brick and tile-making machinery and they were lucky enough to discover all the administration files and documents from the company and factory in the attic of the building. Also discovered were printing plates depicting the machinery, which were used to create the company’s brochures. A selection of the documentation, some of it dating back to the mid-19th century, be on display at SHOP’s open day in September.

Bernie Blackburn working on a sign created from reclaimed wood. Pic Lisa Brown
Bernie Blackburn working on a sign created from reclaimed wood. Pic Lisa Brown

On a desk in the middle of the exhibition is a sign Bernie is currently working on, a replica of the Bates Motel sign from Hitchcock’s famous 1960 film Psycho. Bernie has created all the replica signs from reclaimed wood, recreating vintage Kodak and Agfa signs amongst others. He has also created all the wooden display cabinets that the cameras sit on from reclaimed wood.

Bernie has also created all the displays in the exhibition from reclaimed wood. Pic Lisa Brown
Bernie has also created all the displays in the exhibition from reclaimed wood. Pic Lisa Brown

“I found this wood in a skip near UCLan,” Bernie tells me, pointing to a display of three cameras. “The one at the bottom is a German Voitlander, then you have a British Ilford Sportsman and then at the top there is a Comet S, made in Italy, probably after the war. Look at the beautiful bulb on it. None of the cameras work, but I stripped them down, cleaned them, and then I screwed them into the boards using their tripod mounts, creating a beautiful piece of artwork, from items that would’ve gone to landfill.”

Bernie Blackburn’s Photo-Graphica exhibition is at SHOP, 3 Syke Street, Preston, PR1 3XA until 25 August 2023.

It’s open 11am to 3pm on Friday 21 July or by appointment, email bernieblac@netscape.net.

You can follow Bernie Blackburn on Twitter and SHOP on Instagram.

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