Thurston In Tonga

The life of Thurston Hopkins

October 28, 2014 • Company News, Photojournalism

Getty Images Vice President for the Hulton Archive, Matthew Butson, on the life of famed British photojournalist, Thurston Hopkins

 Born in London in April 1913, Godfrey Thurston Hopkins originally trained as a graphic illustrator at Brighton College of Art, but discovering that the camera “paid better than the brush he began working as a freelance press photographer in 1930, later joining Photopress Agency. However, Hopkins soon tired of the cliché-ridden imagery and ruthless tactics employed, even back then, by the more successful press photographers of the day. As a former artist, the work ‘churned out’ by these press agencies didn’t satisfy his creative mind and, disillusioned, he returned to his home town to set up his own business. Ironically he never intended to remain in the photographic profession and would have probably returned to his former area of expertise – magazine illustration – but the outbreak of the war was to be a key turning point in his career.

When the Second World War broke out Thurston joined the RAF Photographic Unit and in Italy he acquired a Leica – “the first camera I can recall handling without a certain feeling of distaste” – as he recalls. Thurston soon developed a taste not only for travel but for reportage   – a far cry from the day-to-day press work he had become accustomed to shooting at home.  The world of photojournalism not only enabled him to indulge in his love for travel, but also allowed him to be far more expressive in his work. As he once remarked, “I loved the absence of the requirement for technical perfection” and capturing raw emotion and mood was a key element of his work – less the technician and more the artist.

After the War he freelanced for a wide variety of newspapers and magazines all over Europe and later, inspired by the ‘new breed’ of photographers such as Kurt Hutton, Felix Mann and Leonard McCombe, he finally achieved his ambition. Working exclusively for Picture Post, first in a freelance capacity and then a ‘staffer’ in 1951, he remained with the magazine until its demise in 1957. Travelling on assignments across the globe he received two British Press Pictures of the Year awards for his work during this period.

Hopkins firmly believed in the importance of a bond between the writer and photographer which was the basis of Picture Post’s success – “I take the rather unpopular view that words and pictures need one another.” However, what marks out Thurston from many of his contemporaries was his uncanny ability to depict the human condition and his photographs are marked by both a great sensitivity and creative approach to his subject.

Following Picture Post, Hopkins set up his own studio in Chiswick where, like several other of his Picture Post contemporaries, most notably Bert Hardy, he embarked on a highly successful career in advertising. Effectively retiring in the late 1960s, he continued to teach and lecture on photography in a number of academic institutions before returning to his first love, painting.

Thurston Hopkins passed away peacefully on 27October, 2014 at the age of 101, after a short illness. He is survived by his wife Grace Robertson – another former Picture Post photographer and daughter of the celebrated journalist, author and broadcaster Fyfe Robertson – whom he had been married to for more than 60 years, their two children, Joanna and Robert, and grand-daughter, Cressida.

– Matthew Butson, Vice President, Getty Images


From Grace Robertson, Thurston’s widow

“It is with great sadness that Grace Robertson has to announce that her husband of 60 years, the Pioneering Photojournalist Thurston Hopkins, died peacefully at the age of 101 early yesterday morning.

His career as a photographer spanned over 70 years from the early plate glass cameras and on into the world of 1950’s photojournalism and beyond.  Many of his most iconic images will be remembered for their seductive elegance and touching humour.”


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