A PICTURE POST PHOTOGRAPHER: HAYWOOD MAGEE
Two of Magee’s picture stories describe different aspects of Black experience in the 1940s and 50s.
US Coloured Troops Hold An Evening Service (1942) shows an open-air gathering of Black soldiers in an Army camp, sitting on grass around a patch of concrete, from where an Army chaplain addresses them. Next to him is a soldier on a small upright piano.
Magee’s photos concentrate on the faces of the soldiers: subdued, watchful, contemplative.
Documentary photographer Charlie Phillips discusses "30,000 Colour Problems"
The second, unpromisingly titled 30,000 Colour Problems (1956), states:
West Indian immigrants are now arriving in Britain at the rate of 3,000 a month. This year 30,000 are expected. All seek work and homes. Both are becoming difficult to find. Trouble and distress are brewing.
But while Hilda Marchant’s text talks grimly about possible social unrest and exploitation, the photos tell a different story.
Magee puts together a subtle mixture of photos, some suggesting conflict and confrontation with the authorities, others cooperation and goodwill; some reflecting weariness and disappointment, others optimistic excitement at the life awaiting them.
The young women, in particular, appear elegant, poised, as they glance at the camera. Many of the men, by contrast, look preoccupied, tense: in two photos, men are hiding their faces from the camera, pushed up against barriers, hemmed in by policemen.
Magee creates a complex picture which is clearly sympathetic to his subjects, and astutely balances the mix of optimism and deep anxiety which the new arrivals must have experienced.