Our 75th Anniversary
Donald Innes started Innes photographers, as it is now known 75 years ago this year.
Standing just 5ft 5in with a huge camera and flash slung round his neck and his trademark trilby pulled low, Donald Innes’s face was often obscured. Yet everyone in Hull knew who he was and so did every picture editor in Fleet Street. Donald looked like he’d stepped from the pages of a Raymond Chandler novel and the author couldn’t have written a more colourful character.
A renowned freelance Press photographer, he often remarked that his pictures weren’t the best but his nose for news and his ability to sell were legendary. From the 1940s to the 1960s he had East Yorkshire covered. From ships sinking in the Humber to the Beatles playing the ABC, he captured it on film and sent the pictures to the world via his own photo wire, one of the first in the North.
“He was a tremendous personality,” says his son Ivor, also a photographer and head of Innes, the company his father founded.
“He looked like a sherpa thanks to all his equipment and he always wore an overcoat, trilby and camera. He was small, energetic and he smelled of cigarettes and whisky. He was your archetypal Press photographer of that era.”
He was also a good businessman and would only take a picture if he knew he could make money from it.“A typical example was a ship sinking in the Humber, as they often did. He’d get a boat to take him out, then he’d get back and call all the papers saying: ‘It’s Donald from Hessle here. I’ve got a picture of a ship sinking and the boat hire cost me £20’. They all told him to put it on expenses and he’d charge all 10 papers the full amount. “He got away with it and that was helped by an infectious wit.”
His sense of humour carried him through a difficult time when in 1947, at the age of 39, he shocked his wealthy family by resigning as company secretary of their shipping business Stonehouse and Cory to pursue his passion for taking pictures. His decision to turn his hobby into a career caused a five year rift with his father.
“It was a difficult situation. Not only did he leave the family firm, he married my mother who was an actress at the Hull Rep and that fuelled the dispute because marrying an actress wasn’t the done thing,” says Ivor. “Even before that he was ducking and diving, sneaking out of work to his dark room. But even after they had fallen out my grandfather cared enough to quietly buy the building that my father leased for his studio. He wanted to make sure his son was all right.”
The building in Hessle is still home to Innes, which specialises in commercial work and is best known for its food photography. It also has a contemporary homeware showroom.
“I loved taking pictures and that’s why we’re still here but I didn’t have the stomach for news like my dad did,” says Ivor, who has put a selection of his father’s photos online for sale as frameable prints or canvases.
The Heritage collection sits alongside Ivor’s own images, including a best-selling print of the Humber Bridge, which opened in 1981, 11 years after Donald’s death. “He would’ve loved it. Before then you had to get the ferry or travel 80 miles to get round.”
Many shots show supporters looking towards the camera thanks to one of his tricks. He would fire off a flash, even though it was a waste of an expensive bulb, so when the fans looked round at it he could take the picture for real.
Donald often covered the news and sport agenda alongside Yorkshire Post photographer Wilbur Wright.
“They were both wily. One Royal visit dad found a spot and all the other photographers followed him. Then he’d move at the last minute to where he really wanted to be and have the space to himself. When I was helping dad out Wilbur would say: ‘what exposure are you giving son?’ I’d look down and then he’d creep in front of me and get the shot,” says Ivor.
He was one of the first to have a wire and photographers came from all over north of England in the 1950s to use it. He also managed to get a 5x4 Speed Graphic camera from America, which he smuggled into the country in bits via a friend who regularly travelled there.
It was all part of an impressive photographic legacy left when he died in 1971 at the age of 63. “He was quite young when he died but it’s not surprising given his lifestyle,” says Ivor, whose children all work in the family business. “None of them are photographers but some of my grandchildren are showing an interest. My dad would be pleased about that.”
Ivor took the company in a different direction and into the studio. Taking on any work possible quite often saying "yes, I have photographed that before" even when he hadn't. Buying equipment especially for jobs that helped pay for it. For instance buying a 10 x 8 Sinar camera when he had never used one before because a client specifically asked for 10 x 8 transparencies.
Ivor remembers one day someone ringing and asking if he had photographed frozen chickens before and of course Ivor said "yes". The next day two brothers with the surname of Brake arrived at the studio with their frozen chickens, the shoot went well and Innes still work for that rather larger company some 35 years later.
Ivor's will to shoot anything helped him to build a successful business in the 1980's employing nearly 50 staff becoming the biggest studio in the North, undertaking not only commercial studio work but portraits, weddings and just about anything photographical. Ivor would almost certainly be found working every weekend, shooting weddings on Saturdays and bar mitzvah's and christenings on Sundays. This size of company needed a bigger studio and Innes rented a huge custom studio in nearby Anlaby. The commercial side of the business moved there leaving the social photography and admin sides of the company at Hessle. This helped to take on bigger projects for companies like Ideal Standard and Stelrad where huge room sets could be constructed. Also the studio had a massive infinity cove so Honda cars could be shot with flawless perfection.
Ivor's work ethic was unrivalled and would always be working, this instilled a fantastic legacy with many photography assistants working the way up the ranks through the company. The current creative director Paul was one such person, initially only visiting the studio for a brief 3 day freelance assisting job he is still there some 23 years later. Paul says " Ivor's work ethic would put every other photographers to shame, he insisted everything was done to the best level possible and his tireless attitude certainly wore off, he wouldn't rest until the job was done to his satisfaction, never cutting corners, no matter the time of day, you stayed until it was done right. "It was different to all the other places, the studios had everything we needed to complete a top class job even its own E6 and C41 processors which was unheard of at the time".
Ivor embraced digital photography when it arrived and made sure Innes were one of the first studios in the UK to buy a digital camera. This was before clients even knew about them. Times changed and as digital grew more popular and cheaper the Studio needed to downsize as much of the Hessle studio was still taken up by darkrooms. The commercial team moved back home to the Hessle studios.
Since then Innes have been at the forefront of photography. Skilfully shooting anything that is thrown in their way, with a vast collection of props and backgrounds for shoots, supported by top of the range lighting and photographic equipment and investment in in-house printers capable of producing large scale imagery for backgrounds. Most importantly though, is the team of creative and highly motivated individuals that make them tick and still stay at the forefront of the industry.
Innes Love Food photography, and this is their real niche, they have real experience in this area and have worked for both huge brands and small independent manufacturers. Creating imagery for the side of HGV lorries to small labels, Innes have the skill to produce the very best results for you.
Thank you for reading and helping us celebrate our 75th Anniversary.
To mark the celebrations Innes have commissioned two special commemorative pieces, a wooden elephant to help you remember us and a beautiful leather mat, both debossed with our Anniversary logo. Both pieces are available to purchase at innes.co.uk
Thanks to Yorkshire post for extracts.
Meet The Team
The slightly smaller cheese. Keeps the office ticking.
With over 25 years service, Phil is our repro and exhibition genius.
Steve also has over 20 years experience and is our colour and lab wizard.
Our resident food stylist and makes a mean bacon sandwich.
If it's anything social Sam
keeps us connected.
Likes to chat hence why she loves to talk to new clients.
Also a chatterbox, So why not
give us a call.