Polyfoto began life in the mid 1930s and was a successful and popular brand of national photographic studios. The studios were located throughout the UK, usually in the main city and town centres where most people regularly went to meet friends, do their shopping and be entertained at the cinema or theatre – often all in the same day! These studios were mainly operated as concessions within the large and thriving department stores which dominated the bigger town centres and were like today’s busy shopping malls of their time. In addition to this, they had a number of their own stand-alone studios and these were usually found in prime, city centre High Street locations.
Polyfoto specialised in taking 48 ‘head and shoulder’ poses onto a glass negative plate which were then developed as a single photo positive sheet showing all of these unique portrait pictures of the person.
The famous ‘Polyfoto 48’ was intended to encourage people to pick the best pictures and order enlargements for family and friends. However, reality was often quite different and the 48s’ were usually cut up into individual photos and their owners most flattering poses were readily given away to friends and loved ones. The individual pictures were the ideal size to fit into a boyfriend’s wallet or a girlfriend’s purse as a keepsake.
It wasn’t just the adult market that was big business either. Lots of proud parents had their babies and children photographed at least once a year and the 48s’ and their enlargements were regularly distributed amongst family and friends. Birthdays and Christmas were always busy times of the year!
Wartime and beyond……
With tens of thousands of servicemen and women being sent abroad during and after World War 2, the studios continued to do a roaring trade in providing quick turnaround pictures that were taken all over the world. There were many 48s’ taken of men and women in their service uniform and most families will have a bit of a 48 somewhere in their album of a nearest and dearest relative.
It was an ideal time to expand the business as most people didn’t have a great deal of spare money and good quality personal cameras were still expensive to buy. Buying the camera was only the start, as you then had to buy film and pay for it to be developed and printed. If someone was lucky enough to have their own camera, it was usually the popular Kodak ‘Box Brownie’ which produced great ‘snaps’ as mementoes of people and places visited but nobody knew what the results would look like until the prints came back. By then it was usually too late to do much about it and with little chance of a re-take.
With today’s digital cameras, we forget how easy it is to take a half-decent snapshot and can take as many shots as we like to get a picture good enough for the photo album.
The Polyfoto studios continued well into the late 1960s and possibly even until the early 1970s’.