Dean O'Brien's Blog

What makes a classic image? The death of photographer Martin Elliott makes me think…..

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Photography is a constantly evolving subject which does contain certain mysteries within it.  I recently read about the death of Midlands photographer Martin Elliott.  I have to admit that of all the photographers which I have studied and researched over the past few years I had never actually came across him.  I did however recognise the image for which he is most famous.  The tennis girl scratching her bum.  I remember always going to a shop in Coventry called ‘Poster Place’ .  This was where you could buy button badges of all your favourite mod, skinhead or punk bands.  They also (as the name implies) sold posters.  This was the poster that as a young had me mesmerised.  Yeah I know what you are thinking….we all probably see more flesh in our local town centre on a Saturday night.  But back in the late seventies this was about as good as posters got.  The poster was considered very ‘risque’ back then.  How times change eh?

So what made this such a classic image?  A Google search does not pull up much info on Martin Elliott and as far as I know he never reached the top of the tree as far as photography goes.  Did he even take his photography any further than his image taken of his then 18 year old girlfriend?  According to the paper report, he went on to work in advertising.  Hardly the kind of step we would expect someone to make who took such an iconic image.  He did however aspire to do something which as photographers all yearn for.  He created a classic image.  An iconic image of the seventies.  An image recognisable by many people  around the globe.  That to me is an immense achievement in itself.

As the newspaper reported,  Britain was coming to the end of one of its hottest summers and in the same year Virginia Wade won the ladies single title.  So was this the key to its success?  The connection with summer and tennis was something that we could all relate to.  The hot blonde scratching her bum just seemed to be the icing on the cake.  Was it to do with timing?  Providing what the public wanted to see at that exact moment of the year?   We may never know and peoples opinions may vary.  It does however make me smile and it takes me back years….

And for those of you that would like a copy of the £2 original poster……you might have to start searching the car boots.  There are none on ebay and at present its only available brand new as a canvas for £300.  Thats officially of course.  However, many like me will acquire the image from Google Images and print off a nice little 6×4 print for the kitchen notice board.


Written by Dean O'Brien

April 3, 2010 at 5:37 pm

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