Words - 20th Century Greats -  John Short


20th Century Greats series (1999)

John Short (1901 – 1987)

Born in 1901, dapper, charming and dedicated, photographer John Short was the youngest of four children.

Although his Victorian father was a professional photographer, he was the only one to show an interest in the fragrance of developer, the taste of Sodium Hyposulphate and the romance of the artist photographer.

Soon, the sign over the door of a Nottingham shop-front was E. P. Short & Son, Portrait Photographers.

With a genuine love of the profession, he had joined the Professional Photographers’ Association in 1922, but as a dutiful son, Short worked with his father until the late 1920’s.

Eventually he knew he had to break away from the parental yoke. He moved to Edinburgh to pursue his own career and it was in Scotland that he fulfilled his ambition to be an advertising photographer.

By the early 1930’s he had married and moved South to join the staff of A. H. Leach of Brighouse, already noted for its commercial photographic printing and studio facilities.

Short stayed with Leach’s highly successful company, until the lure of London and the ‘big-time’ attracted him, despite the rumours of war.

With financial backing from Eric Leach, he established Photowork Studios in London’s West End.

Numbered amongst his pre-war friends were Peter Clarke, Norman Parkinson and Cecil Beaton, with whom he often exchanged ideas.

He had experimented with studio lighting. Using Mole Richardson 500watt spotlights, his approach was akin to that of lighting cameramen in the film industry. Never a ‘showman’, Short rapidly made a name for himself in advertising and fashion photography.

When the horrors of the Second World War broke upon the nation, despite his venerable age (39) Short joined the RAF. One of the many unsung heroes of the war, he lived a charmed life, flying on many missions with Bomber Command, 3 Group’s daring Pathfinder squadrons working, as one would expect, on photo-reconnaissance.

Back in post-war London, photographing fashion for Norman Hartnell and other famed couturiers John Short was the ‘blue-eyed boy’ of Kodak. Working exclusively with Kodak materials, regularly testing their film, he was the first to use the company’s new sheet film after the many decades when the glass negative was ‘king’.

His wife had died when his children were young. He never remarried and unlike his illustrious contemporaries, the gloss and prestige of a London based studio was strangely low in his priorities. In 1949 Kodak’s legendary Leslie Beck introduced him to Frank Logan, owner of a large, industrial and advertising studio in Birmingham. After two years of careful consideration, Short finally accepted an invitation to become a director.

His dynamic affect on the fortunes of the business was impressive. He was already recognised as a pioneer in the colour-processing field, and was to be first, also, to present a TV programme for the BBC from his studio. Major national advertising and commercial clients flocked to Birmingham to commission work by the stylish professional.

Throughout his working life, John Short was dedicated to the idea of photographic education for young people coming into the business. His professionalism, straight dealing and personal charm were recognised particularly as an assessor and an advisor on staff appointments to Art Colleges. He was also a dedicated member of the Institute of British Photographers, the successor organisation to the PPA that he had joined at the age of twenty-one.

By the time his talented son Anthony joined the company, John Short had made an indelible mark on British professional photography. Scaling down his activities in 1961 due to ill health, his example is still recalled with warmth and affection by the many surviving professionals whom he influenced.

We may not see his like again.

© Copyright John Chillingworth