Now and Then – AP Films and Century 21 Retrospective

Century 21 movie premiere retrospective

Photographer James Fielding has recently produced a stunning video and still set combining archive images from the days of AP Films and Century 21 with present day shots of the same locations. What has resulted is an absolutely marvellous nostalgic insight into those pioneering days. James explains…

Over the years when I have researched/contributed to various articles and projects about Gerry’s work, I have seen various photographs of the crew and studios at Ipswich Road (AP Films) and Stirling Road (Century 21). Recently, I have been fascinated by the process where photographers have superimposed vintage photos to their modern surroundings. This can be done by different methods. The simplest is to hold an old photograph up in front of the camera, with the modern background behind the photo. Another is by using photoshop and editing the two images together and so on.

One evening back in March, I was on the way home from a gig that I photographed. I wanted to stop off at Piccadilly Circus, as that was where the first Thunderbirds feature film had its premiere at the London Pavilion in 1966 (now the home to Ripleys Believe it or Not and a ticket booking office). I have a great Black & White press photo of the premiere with the giant billboard display. I wanted to have a go at making a ‘then and now’ juxtaposition image of the building. I worked out what angle the original was taken and took a few shots. When I got home, I edited the two images together and it turned out better than I expected. I then thought I could do the same thing with some of the vintage crew photographs of the AP Films & Century 21 studios. Having amassed quite a few vintage images from various sources (thanks to Jamie Anderson, Alan Shubrook and Stephen La Riviere), I cherry picked the ones which would work best for what I had in mind and printed them out.

AP Films photo retrospective

For the photo shoot, instead of my DSLR, I thought it would be more convenient to use my compact camera, as it was easier to hold when matching the background when I held a photo up in front of the lens. Plus it would be smaller to carry when I’m walking about trying to match a handful of photos.

I went down to Ipswich Road first, early on a Saturday morning. I decided to do the shoot on a weekend morning, to avoid any busy traffic. Unfortunately, Protyres is open on Saturdays, so I had to be discreet. As they were open, I went to ask the managers permission to take photos and as it turned out, they were very interested in what I was doing and let me take any pictures that I needed. Very helpful! So with photos in hand, I walked up and down outside of the building (whilst getting funny looks from the mechanics) holding each photo up, trying to match the brick work and area where each original image was shot. Some photos were straight forward. Others proved a little difficult to match the exact angle. Plus some masonry had been replaced or completely removed over the years. I tried the best I could, to get it right in camera, but knew it would require some photoshop work to get the final image right.

After Ipswich Road, I went to Stirling Road where the Century 21 studios were. I knew where the main office used to be and managed to take the photos where the Captain Scarlet press shoot was. The trouble was, next to Sovrin Plastics is a car parts dealer which was also open on Saturday mornings. So I had to wait for any parked cars to drive away when trying to get the shots I wanted. Here too, I received funny looks, people thinking why am I trying to take photos of their cars (when it’s the building I’m interested in). Eventually, a man in a blue overall outfit came out and asked what I was doing. Thinking I was going to get in trouble and prepared my public photography rights in mind, I told him that the building used to be Century 21 Studios. He was quite interested to see the vintage crew photos, and then asked if I wanted to see inside the warehouse where the studio used to be. What an opportunity! To my knowledge, no one (with historical interest to the studios) has managed to get inside the buildings at Stirling Road, and here I was being invited in! Obviously with time, the interior has been updated over the years and there wasn’t much to see. The guy who showed me around pointed out where the old door and wall partitions used to be in the warehouse and was actually quite knowledgeable about the building. Sadly, the buildings along Stirling Road are soon due to be demolished. The Century 21 buildings will be completely gone. But that’s a story for another time.

For the Secret Service photos, I made a mistake by shooting at the wrong building. I hadn’t realised that the shots with the Model T Ford were actually taken at the far end of the street. All the buildings look the same along Stirling Road, so it was pretty easy to make the mistake. I only figured that out when looking in detail at the last group photo of the crew. There is a path on the far right and two large buildings behind the crew, which didn’t match outside the main office. So I ended up shooting those all over again. After that, I was done and returned home.

Over April and May, I slowly worked on each photo. I knew in my minds eye how I wanted to edit them as a set, but also wanted to experiment with different styles, until I found what looked best for each image. Plus as I was quite busy, I didn’t have time to work on all of them in one go. In fact, making a video slide show of them all didn’t occur to me until last week. I knew I wanted to do something special with the images, but I didn’t know what. So I waited for a while until I had a good idea.

For the slide show, I wanted to present them in a slow but medium paced manner. I chose what order I wanted them in and laid them down in a timeline. I then started to merge each image at an even pace to see how well they faded in and out of each other. I then decided that it would be nice to have the original image blend into the edited photo, which then dissolved into the clean background that I had shot. It was trial and error with each image, but I could see how well it would look as a presentation. In regards to music, I wanted to use sections that didn’t sound too sentimental, or slow. The first piece of music comes from Supercar, which has a nice grand opening, then a nice paced atmosphere which compliments the images nicely. I then went upbeat for the Captain Scarlet section and a brilliant piece with the Mike Sammes singers for The Secret Service. Then of course, ending with the Thunderbirds march.

Watching the first rough cut, I could see it required more tweaking for certain images. So it took me a while to get right, as it was quite fiddly to get the picture movements match perfectly to the still images. I was considering adding captions to explain the location of each shot, but it would look too distracting. I want the viewer to enjoy the visual flow of each image blending in and out of each other.

I am pleased in the way it turned out. For over two minutes, I hope the viewer enjoys taking a step back in time and feels a warm nostalgic sense of history to the studios.



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