These (more often than not) postcard sized photographs generally known as ‘walking pictures’ (or ‘walkies’) were taken in towns and holiday resorts at least as far back as the 1920s and through to the 1970s. The photographers would take snaps of people ‘on spec’ then hand them a receipt. The people could then turn up at the kiosk later on to get a print, and order extra copies if they wanted.
There is rightly a lot of interest in ‘found’ photographs and snapshots, which often offer a more interesting and revealing look at our history than professional or portrait images. Yet even people’s own snaps are posed to some degree. It is only with the walking pictures that we get beyond this awareness of the lens and see people going about their everyday business.
What makes the images fascinating is that the majority are unposed, the photograph having already been taken by the time the subject had time to react to what was going on (as shown in this example, taken on a wintery day in one of our cities). As such they really are a snapshot of the times, as well as giving us a unique glimpse of the fashions and streetscapes of the day.
Although walking pictures were popular across many countries, the material here concentrates on those taken in Great Britain and has grown out of research for a book on the subject. Hopefully the images and information will help other collectors, as well as family history researchers and people wondering about similar images in their family albums.
The book about walking pictures, Go Home On A Postcard, is due out in 2018 and more details can be found on the site. We are always interested in seeing similar images, and can be contacted through the site (please do not send unsolicited scans).
There are several different types of Walking Picture, detailed below.
Many of the operators had their own equipment and techniques. As a result, while walkies are quite easy to recognise, there are a number of differences in the way they were taken and processed. The bulk of all walkies were single images sold on postcard size prints (above), with a regular postcard layout on the back, often including the company name and address (useful if you wanted reprints). The idea was that you could post the card back home to relatives (with one company coining the slogan ‘Go Home On A Postcard’), though in practise only a small proportion of the cards were ever mailed as most which survive are unfranked.
Double images were produced by some companies, with two identical images side by side on a postcard, as on the example below (taken in Torquay in 1936).
Triple images also exist. These have three consecutive images printed on longer strips of photographic card. Few survive as naturally most people cut the strips up to give frames to friends and relatives. The backs often carry the printed words ‘Walking Pictures’, and the paper was sold specially for this trade. Another type also has sequential frames but was printed so the film edges show on the side of the print (the example above was taken in Derby).
Many of these multiple image prints were taken using adapted movie cameras, altered so they only took three images when the handle was cranked. The two frame example above might originally have had three images, with one cut off for a friend. A few strips with four images have been seen.
Almost all walkies have a reference number added to the negative. On early walkie postcards, these were scratched into the glass negatives. Later small numbering devices were built into the camera to show up in the corner of the negative. Other companies wrote the reference number in ink onto the negatives. Some firm went to greater lengths and incorporated logos and even small illustrations at the bottom of the postcard, with the names of the town, and occasionally the year, as seen in the example from Sunny Snaps in Bournemouth taken in 1934 below.