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John Bulmer Portrait
Philippe Vermès

John Bulmer was a pioneer of colour photography in the early 1960’s working for the Sunday Times Magazine from the very first issue till the 1970’s

He was brought up in Herefordshire, became a passionate photographer, and when he went to study  engineering at Cambridge continued taking photographs- first for the University newspaper Varsity and then for Image, a picture magazine that he co-founded.  He also started shooting stories on Cambridge for Queen Magazine, the Daily Express newspaper, and finally a story on the Night Climbers of Cambridge which sold to Life Magazine.

This ended his career at Cambridge, and he went up to London where he was offered a job as photographer on the Daily Express.  At the time the Express was the foremost paper in Britain for photography, and did many assignments in association with Paris Match.

He soon started shooting stories for Town Magazine, a new fashion magazine that became well known for good photography, using others such as Terrence Donovan, David Bailey and Don McCullin.  John Bulmer did many groundbreaking stories for them including; The Black Country, Nelson, The North, as well as overseas stories in South America, Africa, New Guinea and Indonesia.

The Sunday Times then produced the first of the Colour Supplements, later copied by all the newspapers. John Bulmer shared the cover of the first issue with David Bailey- a picture of a footballer he took surrounded by pictures of Jean Shrimpton’s armpit!  This was a small start but John soon had a contract to shoot sixty pages a year, and travelled to nearly 100 countries on their behalf.

The writer Martin Harrison, in his book about photography in the 60’s “The Young Meteors” describes the start of the Colour Magazines:-

“The switch to colour was, therefore, quite sudden and few photographers were prepared for it.

John Bulmer was recognised immediately for having made the necessary adjustment and thinking specifically in terms of colour became one of the most prolific contributors of colour reportage to the Sunday Times Colour Section.

Many of Bulmer’s most important assignments were abroad, but he was also acknowledged as an adroit recorder of provincial Britain. His reputation as a recorder of the industrial cityscape was probably gained at Town, where he was responsible for stories on Nelson, Lancashire, The Black Country, and The North is dead”

His work was several times singled out for awards by the Design and Art Directors Club and he has had pictures shown at the Gallery of Modern Art in New York, the Photographers' Gallery in London, and the National Museum of Photography in Bradford

By the early seventies the Sunday Times changed course, looking for stories on “Crime, Middle class living and Fashion” as described to Bulmer by the new editor.

It was time for a change and John Bulmer moved sideways into making documentary films. He filmed a programme on the life of Van Gogh in the South of France, directed by Mai Zetterling, and went on to direct many films on travel and untouched tribes in the most inaccessible parts of the world. These were primarily shown on BBC, Nat Geo and Discovery Channel.

He has now returned to Herefordshire to catalogue and show his huge collection of still photographs, many of which have never been seen.