HOME PAGE 1900 to 1913 1914 to 1918 1919 to 1929 1930 to 1938 1939 to 1945 1946 to 1950 Other sections Never again

1939-45 War • The Polyfoto

• Introduced in 1933 the heyday of the Polyfoto was the war years• The business finished in about 1969•

Takes Forty seconds and then returns

Polyfoto had studios equipped with special Polyfoto cameras, in most major cities. In 1939 London alone had twenty.  Click here for a list of polyfoto Studios

The 48 exposures were photographed on a glass plate using a single lens Polyfoto camera. The resulting print sheet resembles stills from a movie film.
The customer was sent a proof sheet of 48 poses. From this sheet the sitter could order enlargements of the best pose or booklets and cards of the smaller proof copy size.

The sitter was asked to look this way and that. Sometimes the session was stopped, to remove a hat or coat. The photographer would chat to the sitter to put them at ease and often induced a genuine smile. Children were often given a ball or balloon to play with.
I have never seen a polyfoto other than the 'head and shoulders' of a single sitter.

Wartime Polyfotos were given as parting gifts and often have poignant notes on the back. These simple photographs were carried in purses, wallets and paybooks in every theatre of war. Polyfotos often catch the personality of the sitter in a way that a formal portrait can sometimes miss. They survive in family photo collections all over Britain either as single portraits or irregular shaped groups of "rejects".
We often only see the photos that were not given away.
The business was killed-off primarily by coin operated photobooths.

• Original Photographs processed by Polyfoto of Borehamwood

From what I can gather Polyfotos were photographed on a single glass plate which measured 5 inches (130 mm) by 7 inches (180mm). Each exposure negative measured ½ an inch (13mm) square.. The glass plate was moved inside the single lens camera body using a crank handle. From the glass plate an enlarged a proof sheet of 48 x 1¼inch square positives was sent to the customer. A whole 11½" x 8¾" proof sheet was covered by a transluscent paper sheet printed with 48 numbers. The 48 pictures on the proof sheets I have seen consisted of 8 rows of 6. (although one book says the glass plate consisted of 4 rows of 12 ?)

• " The best ones are always missing, they were given away"