Rifling through the attic of his parents’ new home, Richard Hughes sighed with relief.
For the Walthamstow resident had discovered what he had long been searching for; box after box of negatives, pictures and photographic glass plates – all of which were created by his grandfather, ‘gentleman photographer’ C R Hughes.
As a result of the find, CR Hughes, a member of the Royal Photographic Society and the Birmingham Photographic Society, is set to have his very own exhibition: Grit and Glamour 1930s Photography of CR Hughes at the Penny Fielding Gallery and Interiors in Walthamstow.
“We always had a few pictures taken by my grandfather at home. I remember as a small child coming across photos of my grandmother Ruth, his wife, in the nude. That was a bit of an eye opener, but they were a really modern family, none of it was considered risqué, they were rather liberal, avant garde and modern – they thought nothing about being nude and having a photo taken.
“But I had heard these rumours that there were more, that there were negatives hidden away somewhere,“ says Richard, excitement rising in his voice.
“My parents decided to move house and threw away everything in the attic, which was a big mistake, we thought they’d gotten rid of all his stuff.
“But lo and behold, when I started looking around the attic of their new home, I found these boxes and inside was a mixture of his pictures, glass plates and negatives. I can’t tell you how I felt, it was just indescribable.“ Born in 1903, Charles Richard Hughes was a Birmingham factory owner who became interested in photography in the 1930s.
Like his contemporary, the French photographer Henri Lartigue, his subject matter ranged from the whimsical to the industrial, and from intimate portraits of family to that of well-known names of the day including entertainer Josephine Baker, The Black Pearl of Paris, and racing driver Malcolm Campbell.
The photographs of Josephine Baker are particularly rare as cameras were forbidden in the Folies Bergère and Charles took these surreptitiously using his favoured Zeiss Contax 3A camera.
“My grandfather really was a man ahead of the times. He worked in industry, loved to get his hands dirty, yet he loved to travel, he loved gadgets and he loved his hobbies,“ says Richard, 42.
“Among the negatives I discovered in the attic, and there were more than 200 of them, were photos of a Trinidadian Spitfire pilot during the war, who became a family friend.
“Apparently, when my grandparents had a farm, he used to fly his plane over the fields and wave down to my grandfather. One day he visited them at home to say he was being sent to a bombing raid and wouldn’t be coming back from it, so gave my grandmother his leather pilot jacket. He never did return from the raid.
“Digging into the past has been really emotional for the family, my dad, Richard, has been moved to tears by it all.
“I never got to meet my grandfather, but I’ve been told he would have been chuffed by this exhibition, we’re not sure if he ever exhibited his work publicly before.
“I also feel as if I’ve got to know him through the pictures he has taken.
“Walthamstow is all about William Morris, where everything has to have practicality and form. But these photos say something about fun and beauty; they say something about society in a time of contradictions – a time of grit and glamour.“ Grit and Glamour 1930s Photography of CR Hughes will be exhibited at Penny Fielding Gallery and Interiors, Orford Road, Walthamstow, from Thursday, February 7.