Of Cut And Paste and Odsal Crowds

As Bradford sporting enthusiasts will remind you, a then world record crowd attended the Rugby League Challenge Cup Replay at Odsal Stadium in May of 1954.

Many people have a copy of C.H. Wood’s aerial image which recorded the event. The official attendance for this match between Warrington and Halifax was 102,569. This beat the previous 1939 Odsal record of 66,308 who saw the semi-final between Halifax and Leeds. C.H., as his friends knew him, was around to capture that fixture from above as well.

May 1939 – Over 66,000 at Odsal Stadium

Everyone marvelled at the scene conveyed by these images; tens of thousands of heads forming a single cloud of humanity surrounding all four sides of the pitch. However, while many businesses were happy to buy the images as they were for use in marketing and advertising, some were not entirely satisfied and asked for amendments to be made.

These mainly centred around making the crowd appear even bigger than it actually was; filling in some of the gaps created by odd patches where the ground had been too steep for anyone to stand. Others wanted the text on the stand roofs to be made more prominent or even changed altogether.

An aerial view of Odsal Stadium from 1947. The process of highlighting or changing small elements (such as the writing on the stand roofs) of a photograph was (and is) known as ‘retouching‘. This highly skilled task usually entailed drawing or painting directly onto a print before re-photographing it.

Many people assume that the idea of altering or amending photographs only came with the arrival of computers, digital photography and editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. This is simply not so. There have been examples of photographs being doctored since the beginning of photography itself in the nineteenth century. The often quoted principle that photographs don’t lie has never been entirely true.

May 1954 – the world record crowd

While the technology of amending digital images is new, the principle behind the process is remarkably similar to what went before and even some of the language has survived the change. For example, one of the first things we learn about working with a computer in word processing is the idea of cut & paste: the ability to move whole paragraphs of text from one place in a document, put it somewhere else and do it in seconds.

It’s the same with photo editing. Parts of a digital photograph are selected, sampled or copied from one part of an image and then ‘pasted’ or placed elsewhere in order to cover a part which, for a variety of reasons, is not needed. Software now has ways of altering the patched element so it blends more seamlessly into the surrounding scene.

A postcard showing the record crowd – with a few more added!

In 1954 the cutting and pasting was literal. The method would be to print two copies of a photograph, carefully cut out parts of one – in this case appropriately shaped patches of crowd – and glue them onto parts of the second copy that needed to be hidden. This amended image would then be photographed in order to produce a new version.

As part of the C. H. Wood Collection in the Bradford Museums Photo Archive, we have the very print with the patches stuck to it. Now almost seventy years old, some of the glued areas are beginning come away from the original so the pasting has become even more obvious. 

So the next time you see a copy of this famous image. Have a look more carefully to see whether it’s the original or the one with the ‘added’ crowd!

Explore ‘Up & Away!’ CH WOOD aerial photography