Bolton photographer Harold Crompton Robinson - life through a lens

A Bolton photographer is about to get the recognition he deserves for a stunning catalogue of work. Roger Borrell reports

The print version of this article appeared in the January 2012  issue of Lancashire Life 

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There are few photographers whose name you would whisper in the same breath as Henri Cartier-Bresson, but echoes of his work are to be found in the remarkable black and white pictures of a little-known Lancastrian.

Harold Crompton Robinson was born in 1927 and studied at Bolton College of Art. He became a freelance signwriter in Manchester and later worked as a commercial artist in Bury. But his heart was in photography.‘I was always aware of him having his camera with him, his Leica or a Rolleiflex,’ says his son Mark, one of six children. ‘He was constantly taking pictures wherever he went.’

Harold’s images are a valuable record of bygone times in and around Bolton. Some show the starkness of our former industrial landscapes, but he also had the ability to raise spirits and make us smile.

Over the years Harold (he was born on the centenary of the death of spinning industry pioneer Samuel Crompton hence the middle name) had pictures published in a few magazines and in the Bolton Evening News. He won several photographic society awards – he was a Bolton Camera Club winner three years in succession - but his work never received the wider recognition it deserved.

Three years after Harold’s death, Mark is putting that right with a major exhibition of more than 60 of his father’s studies in the main gallery at Bolton Museum. Pictures like the Trench Diggers. It was taken in The Haulgh in Bolton in 1959 but it wasn’t published until 2003 when Harold was 75.

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His description reads: ‘I was riding into town on the top deck of a bus when I spied these workmen digging a trench. Jumping off with my Leica M2 in hand, I managed to get the foreman’s permission to take this photograph. You don’t see this sort of thing anymore. Nowadays, they use mechanical diggers, which aren’t quite as romantic!’

To make ends meet, Harold took portraits and wedding pictures, developed in his own dark room. Mark, who lives in Goodshawfold in Rossendale, adds: ‘He was a great guy, very placid, not someone to push himself forward. He was very discreet but he would have been quite chuffed by the exhibition.’

Mark hopes to be able to publish a book of his father’s work, much of it taken in Bolton, and prints will be for sale at the gallery.

‘It has been my joy and privilege to sift through hundreds of negatives, finding many superb pictures which would have remained undiscovered,’ he says. ‘He was a gentle and unassuming man and would never have dreamt of seeing his pictures in an exhibition.’

Harold’s skills have been passed down the line. Mark, a civil servant, is a keen photographer and another son, Stephen, is a highly-regarded landscape photographer in Zambia. He is flying home for the Bolton exhibition which runs from January 21 until March.

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