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Hugo van Wadenoyen (1892-1959)

Wayside Snapshots, 1947 by Hugo van WadenoyenYears ago, I came across a tattered little book entitled 'Wayside Snapshots' in a second-hand bookshop. Looking through it, I was quite taken by the style and approach of some of the photographs. It was by a photographer I'd never heard of - Hugo van Wadenoyen. It was published in 1947, I shelved it with my other photobook curiosities and forgot about it for a while.

Some years later, whilst researching Raymond Moore for this website, I discovered that one of the people that he cited as an influence on his photography was none other than the very same Hugo van Wadenoyen. This prompted me to look at his book afresh and to try and discover something about the man behind it. Well, there was precious little on the web that I could find, and certainly no in-depth appraisal of his work and contribution to British photography.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 1918 at the age of 26; he was to become a Founder Fellow of the Institute of British Photographers and lived most of his life in Cheltenham. He listed his interests as photography, making gadgets and house decorating....

 Hugo van Wadenoyen (1892–1959), Photographer, by Rhoda ElliottHere's the Wikipedia entry:

Hugo van Wadenoyen (b.1892 - d. 1 Mar 1959 (Cheltenham) was a British photographer, of Dutch origins. He lived in Cheltenham England, and was an influential figure in the long drawn-out genesis of British fine art photography, especially in the 1945-1965 years when photography was not considered to be an art form.

van Wadenoyen led the "Combined Societies"; a progressive group of local photographic societies (Hereford, Wolverhampton, and Bristol) that, in 1945, broke away from the moribund Royal Photographic Society.

He undertook a series of instructional books on photography, published by the Focal Press.

van Wadenoyen's book Wayside Snapshots (Focal Press, 1947) marked a decisive British break with Pictorialism in photography, was a brave early attempt to use the book format as a means of showing a photographer's personal pictures. Some of the book's fresh approaches to landscape strongly influenced Raymond Moore. van Wadenoyen was also a mentor to Roger Mayne, involving Mayne in the Combined Societies group exhibitions between 1951 and 1955.

This is interesting stuff; Roger Mayne - a great photographer, Raymond Moore likewise. He was also a close friend of the artist John Piper, who often used to visit him in Cheltenham. It seems that van Wadenoyen was considered to have played a key role in the development of British 'fine art' photography, but if he was such an 'influential figure' then why was there so little information about him? I guess the answer is that he was mostly associated with the much-maligned 'Camera Club' fraternity during his lifetime (and yes, a fraternity they mostly were, the majority male). He also wrote books that catered for the 'hobbyist' photographer - but then in his lifetime there was very little scope to do much else if you wanted to earn a crust from your photographic interests.

van Wadenoyen's studio in Duke Street, Cardiff.I discovered that he had been a founder of The Cardiff Rotary Club in 1917 (see link below) and had a commercial studio in Duke Street Cardiff at one point.

Cheltenham swimming pool, 1940sFor a photographer, there are surprisingly few of his photographs floating around the internet. I found one, from Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum, shown on the right.

Well it may not be an example of his most innovative and 'influential' work, but at least it proves he made photographs! Cheltenham Local and Family History Library also lists a collection of '1930s views by Hugo Van Wadenoyen'.

An interesting link to follow up is an article written by Colin Osman (of Creative Camera fame) for the Royal Photographic Society Historical Group journal Photohistorian. It's entitled: "Hugo van Wadenoyen — Landscape Revolutionary." So Colin Osman - a man who certainly knew a thing or two about photography - reckoned that Hugo was worthy of an article eh? 'Landscape Revolutionary' is a pretty flamboyant title!

Another intriguing link is that he actually features on the cover of Edwin Smith's famous hobbyist 'masterwork' - All the Photo Tricks. Not the baby, but the shadowyfigure with cigarette in mouth and medium format camera in hand.

All the Photo Tricks, by Edwin Smith 1947, 3rd EditionNow Edwin Smith was doing a lot of work with Focal Press around the time that van Wadenoyen was also publishing his raft of books with them. It's quite possible the two knew each other. On the other hand, it may have been Focal Press's editorial team who decided on the cover design and there may be no direct connection - although Smith uses several photographs by Van Wadenoyen in his book.

The University of Texas, Harry Ransom Center, has one picture by van Wadenoyen in its collection. A portrait of the important photographer E O Hoppé.

When you Google Hugo van Wadenoyen there aren't that many hits, most are related to the many books he wrote, or that his photographs appeared in.
As far as I can ascertain, these included:

  • Thumbnail imageAll About Against the Sun Effects and Your Camera
  • All About Children Indoors and Your Camera
  • All About Daylight Indoors and Your Camera
  • All About Landscapes and Your Camera
  • All About Pictures in Town and Your Camera
  • All About Portraits and Your Camera
  • All About Against The Sun
  • Making an Enlarger From Functional Plans
  • One Lamp Only and Your Camera
  • The Second Lamp and Your Camera
  • Photographing People: Ways to New Portraiture
  • All About Composition and Your Camera
  • Daylight Indoors and Your Camera
  • The Art and Technique of Taking Portraits
  • Wayside Snapshots

These are all fairly standard fare of the kind being produced for the burgeoning amateur photography market of the time. Edwin Smith also contributed to the 'All About...' series; so there seems to be a good chance that he must have had contact with van Wadenoyen at some point.

Here are a few of the photographs from Wayside Snapshots that caught my eye. The similarity to much of the work Raymond Moore went on to produce is evident:

van Wadenoyen's plaque in CheltenhamAdditional links have appeared online since this article was first written:

The sound of one hand clapping - Francis Hogson
Open Plaques - a blue plaque on van Wadenoyen's old residence in Cheltenham
February 2012 Bulletin of the Cardiff Rotary Club (Flash site)
British Photohistory - mention of van Wadenoyen and the Combined Societies

Here are few other random images that I've found on the web. The formal portraits published in Amateur Photographer in 1918, presumably from his Cardiff studio, show that he was quite an accomplished studio portraitist even then.

Obituary published in 1959.But there is surprisingly little information in the public domain about the man. Judging by his obituary in the Cheltenham local paper (see left) he died, in 1959, alone and almost forgotten.

I will add to this page as I discover more about the enigmatic Mr Van Wadenoyen.