Lancelot Vining FRPS FIBP

I have mentioned in this blog that a daylight-loading Rondinax was seen as the Rolls-Royce of developing tanks in the 1950s and 60s. A Rondinax was much more expensive than the tanks that had to be loaded in the darkroom. They were, therefore, objects of envy but also of the kind of inverted snobbery that can still be seen in the letters pages of British photographic magazines.

They did though receive endorsement by celebrities in the photographic world. Here is one from Lancelot Vining FRPS FIBP from his near-weekly column, Miniature Camera Gossip, in Amateur Photographer (3 November 1954), then processing his own films after a lifetime as a professional pressman:

On the bench when ready to develop are a minute time clock, pencil and pad, thermometer, Rondinax tank, the two solutions, funnel and filter paper and the cassette of film.

v8Willoughby Lancelot Vining was immensely influential in amateur photography particularly for his advocacy, as a professional photographer, of the 35 mm camera—the ‘miniature’. From 1941 until 1961 he wrote a column for the magazine Amateur Photographer (there is an excellent history of the magazine here). He wrote My Way with the Miniature, a book in which the Rondinax also gets a mention. First published in 1941 it ran to the 14th edition published in 1961. He also wrote All About Daylight Indoors and Your Camera in 1946 and All About Sports and Games and Your Camera in 1948, both for Focal Press. There were various translations of his books for the overseas market.

Lancelot Vining was born on 10 April 1880 in West Derby, a suburb of Liverpool in Lancashire, the son of a civil engineer; he had four brothers and a sister. The family was obviously fairly affluent; two servants are shown in the 1891 Census. By 1901 the family had moved to Brentford, Middlesex; his father is listed as a mechanical engineer and Lancelot was an ‘engineer’s draughtsman’.

He describes his early life in My Way… He bought his first camera in 1897 and by 1902 he was taking pictures of football matches from the public stand on a ¼-plate camera and selling ½-plate enlargements to the Daily Graphic, the Daily Mirror and the News Chronicle by hawking them down Fleet Street on a Sunday morning. In 1904 he was headhunted by a photographic agency at three times his pay as a draughtsman. From there he joined the Daily Graphic and by the 1911 Census he is shown as ‘Journalist. Photographer on staff of Daily Graphic’. From there he joined the Daily Mirror, first as a photographer but then as an assistant to the art editor. It was as ‘Head of Photographic Staff of Daily Mirror and Sunday Pictorial’ that he appears in the records of the Royal Air Force, the successor to the Royal Flying Corps into which he was called up in 1916. He was Wing Photographic Officer at a flying school and then taught aerial photography as an Education Officer (3rd class) 2nd Lieutenant (acting unpaid Lieutenant) at a flying school in Canada.

Demobbed in January 1919, he became art editor of the Sunday Pictorial and then, on a two-year contract from 1921, worked as an art editor in the U.S.A. He returned as a night and then day art editor to the Daily Mirror. He bought a Zeiss Contax I in 1934 and was able, in the evenings, to use it for photographing live theatre with the aid of the free first or second night tickets he received as picture editor on a national daily newspaper. He sold the photographs to weekly magazines and had virtually covered the cost of the Contax by the end of 1935.

In 1936 (by which time he was 56) the editor of the Mirror ‘proposed I should give up Art Editing and devote my time to miniature photography for the paper…The majority of my subjects would be ones requiring to be taken with a miniature camera…’. It seems to me that the editor was putting Vining out to grass but from this sideways or downwards move, Vining launched a new career, as columnist, author and lecturer to amateur photographic societies for Ilford, the photographic materials manufacturer.

He married in 1902 and is shown as having two sons in the 1911 Census. However, records indicate that he was living apart from his wife in later decades and in 1957, after the death of his wife in 1956, he married, at the age of 77, Yvonne M. Baker.

In his weekly column, which had become rather ‘tired’ by the mid-1950s when he was in his mid-70s, he often detailed the vicissitudes of lecturing to camera clubs throughout the country (he was away from home every other working week). He was forthright in his opinions, often decrying the use of cameras other than the ‘first-class’ Contax and Leica (which, because of currency restrictions, put in place to protect the £ Sterling in post-war real austerity, were actually not available new to amateur photographers in U.K). He is described as ‘defending’ the use of 35 mm cameras in his talks to camera clubs (aka photographic societies). I will return to this topic in another post but there was enormous opposition from the old guard in amateur photography who were using large plates as were professionals. Even the three sizes provided by 120 film (9 x 6, 6 x 6 and 6 x 4.5 cm) were regarded and derided as ‘miniature’.


Personalities at the Photo-Fair. AP 15 June 1955

Lancelot Vining devoted a great deal of his columns to advising readers how to photograph attractions in London like circuses and ice shows—both incredibly popular in the 1950s. He spent some time and effort in testing and using flash synchronisers for his Contax and it was frustration with the Contax—a camera system to which he had shown utter devotion and on which he had showered constant praise—that led him to deliver a bombshell to his readers on 26 October 1955. He sold the Contax and bought a Voigtländer Prominent. He did so because his unsynchronised Contax needed a bulky accessory synchroniser in order to use flash and because of the limited flash synchronisation speed of cameras with a focal-plane shutter. Each lens of the Prominent (he bought a 35, 50 and 135 mm—the latter then considered a really long lens) had a Compur leaf shutter then, and still, far more versatile and convenient for flash photography.


From Cabaret and Ice Shows by Lancelot Vining. AP 5 January 1955. Captioned: Ice Capade Margaret Field at Empress Hall. 5 cm. 1/125 sec. HP3. Promicrol


From the same article*. Captioned: Fan Dance. Denise Vane at London Cabaret Club. W.A. Biogon. Burvin gun, PF25 [flashbulb], 1/125 sec at f/4

An internet search shows a few of his excellent photographs that are in national or local collections. It is worth looking at one in the National Portrait Gallery which shows the ‘old guard’ in 1944 in process of choosing prints for the London Salon of Photography.

Lancelot Vining died on 18 January 1968, aged 87; he had given up writing for Amateur Photography at the age of 80.

*Vining wrote:

I remember an occasion at the Cabaret Club when I was about to photograph Denise Vane in the Fan Dance. A Press Club friend sitting at a table on my extreme left—and a lady friend—asked if he was in; I assured him he was not. By the time the exposure was made (using my W.A.) lens I must have altered direction as my friend was in. The picture was hung in the Salon and published in Photograms of the Year. Was my friend angry? He was—but his anger was nothing compared with that of his wife.