London: P.A.-Reuter, 28 August 1954. Photograph. This original press photo captures Winston S. Churchill at 10 Downing Street smiling in front of a battery of photographers on 27 August 1954. The gelatin silver print on heavy matte photo paper measures 10 x 8 in (25.4 x 20.3 cm). The paper is clean, crisp, and free of scratches with only some light edgewear and a crease to the lower left corner all confined to the margins, and some light cockling along the right edge. This is a beautiful photograph with sharp focus and high contrast featuring original hand-applied retouching to Churchill’s clothing that has the effect of markedly sharpening his image against the photographers in the background.
This press photo was once a part of the working archive of The Daily Telegraph and the hand-applied retouching was executed by their Art Department. The verso of the photograph bears the copyright stamp of “P.A.-Reuters”, a published stamp of The Daily Telegraph dated 28 August 1954, handwritten printing notations, and a clipping of the caption as it was published reading, “SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL smiling to the crowds which gathered in Downing Street when he arrived from Chartwell for yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, the first for a month.”
Churchill, having done so much to win the war, faced frustration of his postwar plans when his wartime government fell to Labour in the General Election on 26 July 1945. While history best remembers the war years, Churchill spent an additional decade at the apex of leadership. The events encompassed by these years are in many ways no less dramatic than those of the war years - the unraveling of the British Empire, the post-war recovery, the onset of the Cold War, Soviet acquisition of the atomic bomb, development of the hydrogen bomb, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and the beginning of the space age (to name a few). Churchill served as Leader of the Opposition for more than six years until the October 1951 General Election, when his Conservatives outpolled Labour, returning Churchill to 10 Downing Street for his second and final premiership (1951-1955).
When this image was taken, Churchill was increasingly beset by age, infirmities, and the long-delayed ambitions of his successor, Anthony Eden. Churchill faced mounting pressure to relinquish the premiership. “In May he had proposed June, in June he had intimated July, and in July he had settled for September.” (Gilbert, VIII, p.1042) On 24 August, Churchill wrote to Eden a lengthy letter, the crux of which “I have no intention of abandoning my post…” On the day this image was taken, Eden and Churchill met specifically “to discuss their exchange of letters” which had revealed the increasing strain on the bonds of their long partnership. “Two days later, in Cabinet, Churchill announced his intention not to resign.” (Gilbert, VIII, pp.1052-53) Churchill would finally resign on 5 April 1955. In his last remaining decade, Churchill became “a living national memorial" of the time he had lived and the Nation, Empire, and free world he had served. A decade later, in January 1965, the Queen personally directed that Churchill lie in State in Westminster Hall and attended his elaborate service in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
During the first half of the twentieth century, photojournalism grew as a practice, fundamentally changing the way the public interacted with current events. Newspapers assembled expansive archives, including physical copies of all photographs published or deemed useful for potential future use, their versos typically marked with ink stamps and notes providing provenance and captions. Photo departments would often take brush, paint, pencil, and marker to the surface of photographs themselves to edit them before publication. Today these photographs exist as repositories of historical memory, technological artifacts, and often striking pieces of vernacular art. Item #005629