The Birth of the 'Ark Royal'
Edward Chambré Hardman (Dublin 1898 - Liverpool 1988)
29.2 x 36.5 x 0.01 cm
Place of origin
BirkenheadOrder this image
59 Rodney Street, Merseyside
This atmospheric image of the monumental dockyards at Birkenhead, featuring the construction of the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, was taken in 1950 by the photographer Edward Chambré Hardman (1898–1988). The ship took around five years to build, and the photograph captures her near completion but still surrounded by cranes. The image was published with the title ‘Where Great Ships are Built’. Chambré Hardman set up a photographic studio in Liverpool in the early 1920s. With the help of his wife Margaret it went on to become a thriving business, specialising in both studio and street photography. He was a master at manipulating images in the darkroom, and this image has been reworked to remove debris, retone the colour and fill in the young boy’s sock, which had slipped down. These measures helped to reduce distractions and increase the sense of scale, drama and majesty of the ship itself. The photograph is part of a large and outstanding collection, and Chambré Hardman’s studio and home at 59 Rodney Street in the centre of Liverpool are owned and run by the National Trust.
Photograph of the HMS Ark Royal, taken from the top of Holt Hill in Birkenhead. The ship had just been painted white, as part of preparations for its launch from the Cammell Laird shipyard by the Queen Mother. The photograph was taken using a 3½ x 4¼ " revolving back Auto Graflex with a Teleros 13" focal length lens on Kodak XX film. (Rob Powell, Photographers Gallery Exhibition 'Photographs in Context' 1983).
Edward Chambré Hardman settled in Liverpool in 1924, opening a photography studio that he would run with his wife Margaret for over four decades. The Hardmans enjoyed such success that, in 1938, they opened a second studio space in Chester to manage growing demand. It was Hardman's commute to their Chester site that led him past the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead and prompted this iconic photograph of the HMS Ark Royal. The ship was an aircraft carrier, nearing launch after five years of construction. Attended to by a swarm of cranes, her white undercoat of paint permeated the hazy, smoke-filled sky; and drew Hardman's attention to this monumental scene. Hardman maintained an active personal practice in photography beyond the studio. He favoured Pictorialist-style approaches advocating photography as an art form and took great care to achieve his desired aesthetic. There are numerous variants of this image, demonstrating Hardman's rigour in researching and securing the ideal place from which to photograph the ship; decided upon as the peak of Holt Hill. From this vantage point, the immensity of the ship interrupts the expected sense of perspective. She appears to hover over the urban landscape, simultaneously flattening and intensifying the depth of register. In the foreground, a boy doing his paper round reintroduces a sense of scale, providing an important point of reference that emphasises the photograph's scope. This is one of Hardman's most famous photographs, which was retouched in order to create such an impressive picture. Accustomed to complex darkroom processes required of studio photography, Hardman carried manual manipulation into his personal work. Here, he used a red dye (coccine nouvelle) to darken the whitewashed gable end in the centre of the image, preventing distraction from the brilliant white of the ship. He also filled in one of the boy's socks, which had fallen down, removed debris and adjusted tonal graduations. "I was trying to recreate what I had seen, to produce an effect, and anything that goes against the effect I want, I rule out," E. Chambré Hardman explained in 1983. After the print was finalised it was exhibited and published with the title 'Where the Great Ships are Built'. Its renown as 'The Birth of the Ark Royal' occurred later, as it became established as one of the best-known images of the Hardmans' illustrious oeuvre.
Part of the Hardmans' Collection kept at their former house at 59 Rodney Street, it was bequeathed to the E. Chambré Hardman Trust in 1988; the house and collection were acquired by the National Trust in 2003.
Makers and roles
Edward Chambré Hardman (Dublin 1898 - Liverpool 1988), photographer