Words & Photography Kirk Truman
There is probably very little of my life and your own that you will not relate here, Fitzrovia too. Those distant country lanes of the suburbs and the chaos filled stories told to us of the war, of the musicians that have come and gone. Life and the very humanity of our own existence is captured through a seemingly infinite array of imagery, telling stories, often horrors, and unveiling the beauty of all we know and see. I look behind the scenes through their archives and into the past of Fitzrovia, the home of Getty Images Gallery in the heart of our neighbourhood.
Getty Images houses some of the greatest photographic collections in the world, with their gallery offering a unique insight and access to their collection. The archives themselves hold millions of negatives, prints and transparencies from the 1850s through to the modern day. A vast contemporary library features some of the most creative photographers of the past and present. Their aim is to make their incomparable collection accessible to all. Getty Images Gallery right here in Fitzrovia was set up to in order to offer accessibility to the general public to an array of high-end/bespoke photographic prints.
Getty Images supplies stock images to businesses and consumers from its archive of over 80 million still images and illustrations, as well as more than 50,000 hours of stock film footage. The archive itself being made up of more than 15 miles of racking holding over 1500 individual collections. In 2004, Getty Images Gallery made the decision to move from the somewhat artistic area of Chelsea to Fitzrovia, Eastcastle Street. At this time, although there were many galleries in the area, Eastcastle Street was far from the art-gallery-laden street we know it today. The gallery begun to influence gallery owners to arrive in the area with more and more galleries popping up over the past decade.
With just one percent of their existing archive available online, Getty Images mass catalogue of archived imagery is rich in the lives of us all. From catastrophe to love and hope, to celebrity and war, the Getty Hulton Archive hosts many elements of recent history. Behind the doors of a seemingly ordinary warehouse by Westbourne Grove Station (roughly 5 minutes on foot) lies the Getty Hulton Archive. A David Bowie portrait sits in the distance, the corridors themselves stretch on and on through the archive with all image negatives miraculously ordered shelf-by-shelf by a somewhat patient Getty Images team.
What sets Getty Images Gallery aside from other photography galleries is helping clients by going beyond the gallery walls with extensive research able to be carried out by the Getty Hulton Archive team should a client seek an alternate to their current exhibitions. Their various collections can be looked through and a lightbox of images created and tailored to the client’s needs. When a selection of images has been chosen, Getty Image’s experienced darkroom technicians will study the negatives of the images in a ‘neg-check’ determining the quality and size of the final print.
All prints are produced from the original negative in one of Britain’s last remaining wet darkrooms. Prints are often patiently coaxed from damaged negatives or poorly exposed plates – the skill and patience of which is exceptional, though viewed as an essential part of the process. The outcome is an extremely high end photographic print, many of which being unique to the client as so much of the existing archive is yet to have been printed since its first publication.
From annual events to sudden catastrophes, from celebrity deaths to economic disaster, the Getty Images team are often called into action to scour their extensive archive for the usage of the world’s press, hosting images relating to just about every single topic and category imaginable. I am told of how, in the case of the untimely death of Amy Winehouse, the team were rushed into action to uncover and bring images of her career to light and deliver it to the press.
Amongst these shelves, as I wander guided by the Getty team, we uncover photographs of Salvador Dali along with a signed letter written by the late artist and images which tell a story of the history of photography itself (dating as far back as the 1850s). Wartime images present themselves to us from all over Britain, through to some original photographic portraits of unknown people – some of the images being the first ever taken of their kind.
We begin to uncover photography of our very own Fitzrovia neighbourhood, the backdrop for the Eastcastle Street Getty Images Gallery. First we uncover mid-20th century photography of the area, including Newman Passage and Charlotte Street. When searching further we discover photographs of Tottenham Court Road’s Centre Point, later there’s eerie imagery of the BT Tower shortly after being bombed by the IRA in October 1971.
Searching further, the Getty Images team and I discover a series of remarkable photographs taken along Warren Street as well as in and around Fitzroy Square of the once thriving used-car trade in full swing. Cars can be seen parked up and down Warren Street, their owners talking with potential buyers: the backdrop of the area appears almost entirely unchanged even those these images were all taken during the 1950s. We next uncover the original contact strips of the photographer who’d taken the shots with a particular image highlighted for usage in an article about the used car scene in the area at the time.
Getty Images gallery keeps up a regular programme exhibitions in order to showcase their collections, all covering an array of topics and themes with each exhibition carefully curated from their collections. Exhibitions have included an exploration of the career of The Beatles in 2009, and a series in 2012 capturing the Olympics through the ages. Most recently an exhibition of the works of Michael Putland was displayed featuring a star studded array of photography including David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and other iconic artists such as T-Rex and The Who. Currently on display is an exhibition capturing the year of 2014 with all images taken by a variety of artists throughout the world. (The exhibition is actually celebrating 2014 in ‘Getty Image’s photographers’ only.)
What Getty Images Gallery offer is truly unique in the photographic world. Their gallery and achieve incorporate the very history of photography and still today continue the tradition of darkroom photo-processing. With their archive consistently expanding as the years pass by and the history of the lives of others continuing only to grow, it would appear that Getty Image’s goal is to take moments from life respectfully, and go on to allow them to be enjoyed and accessed by future generations. There is no doubt about it; you will find much of your own life captured in their archives. Everything you think you know about yourself is just a shot away.