Talking with Laurie Stead and Trevor Charnock, two people who had known Brian Lawton well for many years, helped to shed light on the history of the photographic collection over the past decade. Brian’s delight in taking photographs resulted in a vast unsorted collection at the time of his death. There were albums, boxes of slides and Kodak wallets brimming with photographs in every room, on the stairs and even in the basement of his home. The latter were too damaged by damp so they had to be discarded. Others were more fortunate and some months later, a small determined group of friends undertook the initial task of saving, sorting and naming where they could. The collection was offered to different repositories around the region but failed to secure a proper home. For some years, Brian’s photographs remained in their original cardboard boxes in private storage in a cold front porch. A fresh round of discussions began as their significance as a record of the region’s musical heritage gained fresh attention, and they journeyed through successive homes across West Yorkshire until the current project began.
Perhaps inevitably there have been some losses on the way. Deterioration has not been a major problem, after the major loss from damp storage during the later years of Brian’s life. Colour fade has affected some images, a reflection of analogue colour film qualities. Images are being scanned without colour adjustment so the fade of blues, greens and reds are obvious. These colour changes are now so characteristic of amateur photographs from the 1970s and 1980s that they offer a sense of period as readily as the wallpaper interiors, the parked cars, stages crisscrossed by trailing wires, and the haircuts, flares and tank tops. The monochrome photographs retain their crisp quality and are a particular delight of Brian’s informal snapshot approach.
Other losses have occurred. Brian Lawton gained autographs wherever he could, standing at stage doors, in the wings and anywhere else where he could snap a shot and greet a musician in his cheery, affable way. The resultant collection of signed photographs, programmes, posters and album covers told their own story of his encounters with musicians on their northern tours. ‘To Brian with best wishes’ with one or more accompanying names was what they shared in common. A bunch were auctioned at Sotheby’s, but who and what is no longer known (unless anyone wishes to do some detective work). Another collection eventually turned up in Surrey, again associated with an auction house, probably the result of a house clearance. These items included a mix of jazz artists visiting the north mainly before 1960, other musicians from the 1970s and printed folk materials from the 1960s, and the project team are delighted to report that some of this material has now been scanned and added to Brian’s original collection.