The Manplan project, which was to become one of the highlights of my career as a photographer, came to me in 1969 from a most unusual source. I was already known by then for photographing people in action, but not for recording buildings at rest. Yet here was an offer of an assignment by Architectural Review. The notion did not immediately capture me.
However, when I met the magazine’s new guest editor, Tim Rock, he informed me that he was planning six editions of the magazine that would look at the state of Britain as we neared the end of what would later become known as the Swinging Sixties. He then asked me if I would like to spend a month photographing the opening essay, which would take an overview of the problems of living, working and playing in Britain back then. This seemed much more up my street, and I agreed to accept the assignment.
The title Manplan evolved during planning discussions for the magazine series, when it was agreed that human needs and aspirations should be considered of greater importance than town planning and architecture.
There followed perhaps the most hectic month, which became six weeks, of my working life as I criss-crossed the country shooting one event after another to fulfil the constantly evolving brief and themes.
The result, published in September that year, was a 70-page essay in gritty and grainy black and white. It is fair to say that it stunned the magazine’s subscribers and shocked its advertisers. The issue was aptly titled “Frustration”, and was certainly not the publication the magazine’s subscribers were used to seeing each month. There was not a single architectural gem in sight, but instead there was page after page of hard-hitting human dramas, often set in grim surroundings.
The Manplan project
Ironically, the Manplan project has gained status as the years have passed and RIBA, the Royal Institute of British Architects, is staging an exhibition of the project this month, September 2023. For me, thumbing through the magazine fifty years later, I have mixed feelings.
It seems rather sad and in, some ways, shameful that many of the issues we touched upon all those years ago in health, education, labour relations, religion and leisure, are in as bad a state now, and in some cases actually worse, than they were then.
Having said all that, I still count myself lucky to be living in the more diverse, tolerant and kindly society we have also evolved into over this same period.
I was 32 years old when I shot this assignment and had been freelancing for the previous eight years. As an eighteen-year-old, I had been among the last teenagers to have been called up for National Service. But I think the Royal Artillery, having witnessed my skills with firearms, were quietly relieved when they released me early so that I could study photography at the Regent Street Polytechnic.
Two years on a course that offered little encouragement for a budding photojournalist was followed by two much more productive years assisting the ex-Picture Post photographer John Chillingworth. I was extremely lucky because my then going freelance coincided with the start of the golden age of the newly created colour magazines, from The Sunday Times, The Observer and The Sunday Telegraph.
Patrick Ward is one of a small band of photographers including David Hurn, John Bulmer, Don McCullin, Bryn Campbell and Ian Berry who came to prominence in the early 1960s. His working life began as an assistant to Picture Post photographer John Chillingworth. One of his early jobs was as a special assignment photographer on Stanley Kubrick’s film Lolita. He was a regular contributor to the newly launched Sunday Times Magazine, the Observer and later, the Telegraph Magazine, as well as working with the Smithsonian and National Geographic Traveler magazines in America and various European publications. In 1981, he was awarded a Bicentenary Grant to photograph the Americans at play. Patrick is still active in photography.
New market for photographers
These magazines created a whole new market for photographers of my generation, which we embraced wholeheartedly. Strange, therefore, that it should be the Architectural Review Magazine that would offer me the one assignment in my working career that perhaps made best use of my skills. I hope those skills were also exercised in my later personal projects too, but that’s another story….
The Manplan project was photographed with two Leica film cameras, an M2 and an M3, fitted with 28mm and 50mm lenses. A few additional pictures were shot with a Nikon Fi camera and 180mm Zeiss lens.
The Manplan book
Please support Patrick Ward’s Manplan book project. You can find the Kickstarter page here. Or scan the above QR code.
This article first appeared in The Leica Society magazine, Autumn 2023. Click here if you would like to join the society.
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