Pioneer aerial photographer, Donovan Wilson
While Derek Evans operated from his studio in Broad Street, another photographer was plying his trade just a stone’s throw away in Commercial Street.
But the late Donovan ‘Don’ Wilson wasn’t competing with news-hungry Derek. Don had captured an altogether different market – aerial photography.
In fact he was a pioneer in this fledgling market, quickly taking to the skies after he purchased an old RAF camera shortly after WWII.
In his time, he was ranked among the best aerial photographers in the country. And, like Derek, it started right here in Hereford.
He was the first aerial photographer to gain an Associateship of the Institute of British Photographers.
His son, Graham Wilson, looks after his father’s archive and is keen that the city is aware of its historical importance.
He said: “I don’t think people are aware how important his work is. I want it to be remembered.”
The difficulty for Graham is just where to show such a large archive.
Don worked across the country to take his ‘bird’s eye view’ photographs, from London across to the west and up to the north of the country.
During his heyday he was in huge demand.
Graham said: “It’s commonplace now. But, in its day, his work was the equivalent of Google Earth. Planners, landowners, councils, all used him to take aerial photographs. It was a very important service in its time.
”I remember him once being contracted to take a photo of a caravan holiday park on the south coast. The owner wanted to use the print as a map and guide of the site for visiting holidaymakers.
“Doesn’t sound like much now, but then it was seen as amazing technology.
“It started a trend and soon they were all asking for one.”
But it is his photos capturing the transformation of Hereford over the 1950s and 60s that will be of great interest.
And they are fascinating, even to a relative newcomer like me.
The Ledbury Road laundry, for example, where Rose Bank is today, appears to be in a rural backwater in Don’s photos, surrounded by fields as far as the eye can see. But within 10 to 20 years it would change beyond all recognition.
Another print shows the construction of the second road bridge into Hereford, seemingly propped up by a complicated system of scaffolding.
These prints are on 5inch negatives and when Graham zooms in, the detail is quite incredible.
You can see very clearly what people are wearing, babies in prams, shop names. I doubt if Google Earth could equal this sort of clarity.
When working in the county, Don would hire a plane from Shobdon and, because his camera was cumbersome, would take the door off the light aircraft in order to get the shot.
Graham, who still lives in Hereford, worked alongside his father for many years, also as a photographer.
With the 2,600 negatives of Don’s work catalogued, Graham and his sister would now like a wider audience to see these historic prints. How, when and where is yet to be confirmed. For now, they are in Graham’s safe hands.
Photograph: By Donovan Wilson. High Town in 1954.