Archive for November, 2014

Save the NHS

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Marchers at the rally before the final stage – Craig Farlow in cap centre

The fight to save the NHS continues, though many parts of it have now been taken over by private companies. It is very big business, and one in which many of our leading politicians have a financial interest. And although the Conservatives are the worst offenders, Labour and Lib-Dems are not far behind. And of course UKIP – or at lest Nigel Farage –   would be even worse. But one of the things I find it hard to forgive Labour for was the introduction of PFI, the scheme under which they got large capital projects – like new hospitals – built but shackled the NHS to huge repayments – and at interest rates which now seem ridiculously high.

I’m fortunate to have lived almost all of my life while we had the NHS. When I’ve needed it, free health care has been there – and without it I probably would not be here. It’s not a perfect system, and has particular problems from a governments that keep making unhelpful changes, but generally delivers a high standard of service at a much lower cost than – for example – the US system which has so attracted Conservative health ministers.  It’s had to see any reason for this attraction other than the huge profits that healthcare companies make from it.

There are good clinical reasons for wanting to concentrate specialised clinical care in fewer well equipped and staffed centres, but it isn’t this that lies below most hospital closures. It isn’t even the need to make economies because of the financial situation – even if one accepts that.  The main driver is the huge repayments of PFI loans, that has led to the pressure to close solvent and clinically successful hospitals such as Lewisham.

The People’s March for the NHS began in Jarrow, up in the North East, and was based on the Jarrow March (Jarrow Crusade)  of 1936, when over 200 unemployed men marched to London, petitioning parliament for help for their town. All they got was a pound for their fare home. And that same amount, though in this case a pound coin, was included in the medals awarded to this year’s marchers who had gone the whole distance when they arrived in London on September 6th 2014.

The 2014 Jarrow March, the People’s March for the NHS NHS, came about from a suggestion by Craig Farlow, one of those who marched the whole distance – the ‘300 milers‘. I think they took the same route, and like the original marchers were supported by local people along the route, staying in churches and other buildings. One big difference was the presence of the ‘Darlo Mums‘ rather than the all-male event of the 30’s.

The march leaves on its final stage led by Rehana Azam, GMB National Organiser for the NHS and the 300 milers

The march appeared to receive relatively little support from the left establishment, though unlike in 1936 the Labour Party and the TUC didn’t actually oppose it. There were indeed many trade unions and union branches who supported it, and the main organiser, Rehana Azam is the GMB National Organiser for the NHS. On the platform during the final rally in Trafalgar Square there were at one point the Shadow Minister of Health and half a dozen other Labour MPs holding the large poster listing the marchers demands, and during his speech Andy Burnham pledged that the Labour Party would repeal the Health and Social Care Act which has opened up all of the NHS to privatisation.  But it is the same Labour Party that is backing the TTIP treaty which will have the same or greater effect.

The main problem I had taking pictures was simply the crowds and space to work. Crowds of supporters and marchers at the rally in Red Lion Square before the final short march, and crowds of photographers in the relatively small press area in front of the stage at Trafalgar Square. Space there was restricted with part of the area in which press usually work being fenced off up for the official video crew and roughly half as seating for the disabled, most of which was unoccupied while I was there. It was difficult and at times impossible to get a good enough view of what was happening on stage, not helped by the sun shining directly towards us.


Prize Portraits

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the London National Portrait Gallery has often proved controversial, and this year is no exception. The show opens today, Thursday 13 November 2014 and is at the gallery until 22 February 2015, and entry is free. I’ve not seen the actual images, and don’t feel a great compulsion to rush to the gallery, but doubtless I’ll find myself with a free half hour in the Trafalgar Square area in the next couple of months and will pop in to have a look.

From some reproductions on-line, the winning entry, by David Tatlow, described as an “intimate portrait of his baby son being introduced to a dog” is certainly rather disappointing, the kind of picture that if I’d taken it I would have kicked myself for not having done it rather better. As the photographer comments “Everyone was a bit hazy from the previous day’s excess’ after a midsummer party”, and on-line at Taylor Wessing it does seem to me to be more a portrait of a photographer’s hangover than of his baby son. Reactions I’ve heard from other photographers have been largely unprintable. But then the reproduction of it on the Taylor Wessing page is a shocking travesty – and I hope they will quickly replace it. Seen in the Evening Standard – as I did last night reading it on the top deck of a bus in a London gridlock – it is actually a far better picture!

The contest this year attracted 4,193 pictures from 1,793 photographers. At £26 per picture, that brings in a considerable sum of money, my calculator makes it £109,018.  The prizes add up to £19,000, and either my maths is wrong or this seems a pretty poor bet to me. Far better take your £26 to a roulette wheel.

You can see more of the 60 selected images on-line at the NPG, along with some technical details, and also, thanks to Portrait Salon, a slightly larger selection from the 4,133 rejected images made by Christiane Monarchi (Photomonitor), Martin Usbourne (Hoxton Mini Press) and Emma Taylor (Creative Advice Network). Overall their choices seem a little more interesting from what I’s so far been able to see. And I am sure that there would be work from many of the other over 1,600 photographers who entered that was at least as worthy of showing as that in either of the shows. It really is a lottery.

Portrait Salon was at Four Corners Galley in Bethnal Green from 6th-11th Nov and has future showings at Fuse in Bradford (Dec 4-27), Oriel in Colwyn Bay (Jan 9 –  Feb 9), Napier University Edinburgh (19Feb – 16 Apr) and Parkside Gallery Birmingham (6-31 July) and also in Bristol.

It’s a competition I’ve never thought seriously of entering, in part because although I take very many pictures of people I’ve never considered myself a portrait photographer. More importantly I’ve never been a great believer in photographic competitions, and after a few in my early years (some of which I even won) have generally avoided them. I reject the idea of treating photographs like the Eurovision Song Contest or Miss World or prize pigs. Though of course there are some bad photographs, some incompetent photographs and a great many more that have little or no interest for me.

And it’s that last phrase that is important. Judging such competitions will always be a very personal matter and any different group of judges would have picked a different set of images. It’s a shame that two of the five judges for the Taylor Wessing prize were ‘in-house’ from the NPG and a third came from the sponsoring law firm; the prize would certainly have greater credibility from a more independent panel.

In some past years, the NPG prize has been criticised as a competition for who can produce the best Rineke Dijkstra rip-off. Some years so much so that it rather seemed misleading if not even fraudulent not to have added this as one of the contest rules. At least this year’s winner, whatever one thinks of it, has broken that mould.

It’s certainly always been a contest dictated by whatever was the current fashion, and run in an organisation that really seems to have little understanding of photography. They do have some great photographs in their collection, but every time I visit I find myself appalled by some of the other work I see on the walls, tired, vapid and often highly fashionable.

But I also feel the whole idea of the photographic portrait questionable, though I can think of some great examples – such as Stieglitz’s portrait of Georgia O’Keefe, though of course here I’m not referring to a single image. But relatively few photographic portraits seem to me to have much more significance that the small rectangles we have on our passports or ID cards, and it is only when they are subsumed into some greater project – such as August Sander‘s – that they gain depth and greater meaning.

Remembering the Dead

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

A few months ago, late on Sunday evenings, I lay in my hot bath listening to BBC Radio 4’s weekly omnibus editions of a series of programmes about the events that led to the start of the Great War in 1914. It was a remarkable series which illuminated how the pride, stupidity and greed of a few rich and powerful men can lead to catastrophe for millions, and made evident the strength of anti-war feelings prevalent in Britain in the months leading up to the war, something which seems to have been largely overlooked in our national myth.

It was a war both my parents lived through, though my mother was only just finishing her school years when it finished. My father worked in a munitions factory, then joined up and went to both France and after the war ended to Germany, but was rather more at danger from the British authorities than the Germans, not being good at keeping his mouth shut and obeying obviously nonsensical orders.

By 1918 there were many Germans who were also getting fed up with nonsensical orders, and the Great War ended not because of a military victory,but because German sailors mutinied, setting out from Kiel and Wilhelmshaven to Germany’s industrial centres where they gained the support of the workers and then on to the capital, with the Kaiser being forced to abdicate on 9th November 1918 when the streets of Berlin were taken over.

Like many workers in the UK, German workers had actually been opposed to the war at its start, with hundreds of thousands of socialists going out on the streets in August 1914 against it. As Paul Mason writes in his Channel4 blog post, How did the first world war actually end?

‘We know now, thanks to the publication of records and memoirs, that it was entirely possible to have stopped the first world war. Key members of the British cabinet were against it; large parts of the social elite in most countries, including Germany, were stunned and appalled by the unstoppable process of mobilisation.’

The ‘War to end all wars‘ sadly didn’t, despite the experiences of those who survived and the work of war artists and poets which vividly depicted its horrors. Perhaps nothing in history is inevitable, but the settlement at the end of that war certainly created the conditions for the next great war twenty years later.

So while we remember and celebrate the bravery of those who fought and the sacrifice of those who were killed, perhaps we should do so with a sense of mourning and of the futility and horror and one that includes those on both sides.

I’ve already published some pictures and thoughts about the field of poppies around the Tower of London, a spectacle that has caught the public imagination and dominates the front pages of many papers. I didn’t file my own pictures,  as I did not want my work to be used to glorify war. On my own sites I have control over how my work is used.

On Friday, another memorial sculpture was unveiled in Trafalgar Square, Mark Humphrey‘s brass ‘Every Man Remembered‘, a brass figure of an ‘unknown soldier’ standing on a block of Somme limestone, caged in a perspex enclosure and cradling a huge agglomeration of poppies in his arms, with hands resting on his rifle butt, another pile of poppies fixed around his feet. As I watched it and the tourists photographing it for around half and hour, every five minutes I saw a cloud of poppies being blown into the air around the figure.

There are I think far better figures of men who fought on war memorials around the country – at which many as I write (on Sunday morning on the 9th Nov) will be marking the occasion with services and military parades. The perspex canopy looks cheap and temporary (which I assume it is, but that isn’t a reason why it should so obviously look so), while the plinth lacks character. I rather like the poppies ‘blowing in the wind’, if only for the possibly unintended reference to Bob Dylan.

Almost all of those present around these memorials will be wearing red poppies, though a few may also wear a white poppy. In the past I’ve bought a red poppy and worn it, the ‘Poppy Fund’ providing income to support injured ex-services personnel, a good cause – if one that should perhaps be met by government rather than charity. There is a red poppy, with its rather strange green leaf, on our living room table as I write, where it will stay so far as I am concerned until recycled after November 11th.


Internet Down & UP!

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

It’s a few days since my previous post here – and here’s the reason why:

Sunday Morning

Friday night my broadband connection went down. I dialled up the service number and reached a repeated message telling me “There is a fault”, which I knew already, but at least confirmed that my service provider knew as well.

A couple of hours later the red light on my hub changed back to blue and I breathed a sigh of relief, and sent off two of the five stories I had been working on from earlier in the day. By the time I’d finished the next the WAN light had changed to orange and the connection was dead again. It was half past one in the morning, so I went to bed, hoping to be able to send it and the other two almost ready stories off before I went out on Saturday morning.

But when I rolled out of bed the light was still orange. I had breakfast and tried the service line, which now had a much longer message about faults, but my exchange wasn’t among those listed. All other areas, according to the recorded message had no problems. I listened a second time to be sure I hadn’t missed my area, then leafed through my User Guide and dialled the service number, which was carefully hidden at the bottom of page 14.

After around half an hour in a queue (if they really thought my call was important they would have more staff) I was then connected to ‘Elizabeth’ who appeared to be in India, but did her best to help me, with further long periods on hold while she had tests run on my line and a call back when the line dropped.  Most of the things she asked me I’d already tried, but there was a rather odd few minutes when she had be running for a screwdriver to undo the two screws on the white box fixed on the wall, but then had to tell me just to screw them back in again. But after around another 45 minutes or so told she had gotto the end of her script, and told me she would have to ‘escalate’ my problem.  And that if I had to actually have an engineer come round to fix the problem it would cost me £129.99 if it turned out to be a problem of my equipment etc.

Unfortunately all escalation meant was that I could expect a telephone call from someone who actually had some technical knowledge thirty hours later, for which I’m now waiting. It didn’t improve my temper to be got out of bed at 8.02 am this morning (it is a Sunday and I wasn’t intending to do very much this morning) for a reminder call that I could expect a phone call between 13.30 and 15.30.

If the line – as the checks made by during my call with Elizabeth suggested – is OK, I suspect the problem will be with my VDSL modem, which I’ve had for a few years. But I hope it won’t be too long before I’m back on-line.

Even though I’m not completely cut off from the internet –  I can still access my e-mail and read Facebook, Twitter and view web sites on my smartphone – the loss of broadband has come as a great shock, and brought home the extent to which I rely on it now.  I could I suppose find a free Wi-Fi connection with my notebook computer and continue to work that way, but it just would not be the same.

None of the stories that I haven’t been able to upload yet – including another from Saturday – are actually particularly time-sensitive, though the agency I send them too likes to think otherwise. I’ve long told it that it would be better off forgetting the instant news market – the big agencies will always do it better – and concentrate on features, magazines and books.

There is perhaps a financial disincentive for me to file promptly. If I do so my work will almost always be sent out on a service to subscribers who benefit from free usage for the next 48 hours. Photographers get paid according to the number of pictures that are sent out, not related to usage, and the monthly amounts are pitiful. Sending in pictures more than 24 hours after an event means they will not go to subscribers.

What I’m not sure is how this might effect later sales. Back in the old days, newspapers used to have picture editors who would have looked at the work coming in and night have mentally or electronically saved images they thought might be useful later. Now I suspect this doesn’t happen, and pictures – except for the breaking news feed – will largely be found through Google images, and what matters are keywords.

But what I’m truly missing is not the thought of income, but not being able to share the pictures I’ve taken with friends and with the people who I’ve photographed. Of course eventually I will, and you will get to see the pictures I took, some here and more on My London Diary. A few days without broadband are not too important here, where I’m already a little over a month behind in posting. Though on >Re:PHOTO I do sometimes like to be a little more topical, and perhaps today might have been sharing with you my pictures and thoughts on the memorials to the First World War at the Tower of London and in Trafalgar Square.  I’m now hoping that my normal service can be resumed in time to do so on Armistice Day – Tuesday – though my gloomier side remembers those confident assertions from 1914 that it will all be over by Christmas.

Later on Sunday

Well, the call I should have had between 13.30 and 15.30 finally happened – with profuse excuses – at  17.30.  I told the guy all I could and suggested that there was probably a problem with my VDSL modem as all the line tests they could do remotely seemed OK. After he had exhausted all the tests he could do I finally got an appointment for an engineer to call – on Tuesday between 1pm and 6pm.


Although I’d not had broadband since the early hours of Saturday I hadn’t been entirely without internet connectivity. I’d been able to connect on my  phone and reply to a few urgent messages on e-mail and Facebook.  But I had still felt really cut off from things – on-line contact has really become such an important part of my working life – and to some extent of my social life too. Not being able to easily update my web sites or upload photographs from home was a real problem. And there were just so many little things that I would have looked up on the web, but it was mostly too much hassle to do on my phone.

I’d logged in a few times on my notebook – much easier to read e-mail etc than on a phone- but had not managed to find a good connection. I’d start sending an image and the line would drop halfway through. I’d copied the files I needed to upload onto a memory stick  and was thinking of going out to a coffee shop that offers free internet access when I had a better idea, and simply moved right to the front of my house.

There I was able to get a much better signal, and one that was stable, not dropping off after a couple of minutes. It was a pretty obvious thing to do and I kicked myself or not trying it sooner. it too perhaps two or thre times as long as usual to upload my stories, but eventually the work I’d wanted to put on-line on Friday and Saturday was now there.


Today the engineer came, surprisingly at the start of the five hour time period I’d been given. And he seemed to really know what he was doing. I now have a new – and upgraded – hub, with a built-in modem, and also some dodgy outside wiring replaced, and have also almost cleared the backlog of less urgent replies to the 649 e-mails waiting on my mail server since last Friday. Fortunately most of them don’t need an answer.

And I’m hoping my life is now going to get back to normal. The outage has made me miss a few things I would otherwise have done – today rather than waiting because the engineer was coming later I would probably have been photographing events concerned with the anniversary of the 1918 armistice, and on Saturday and Sunday for various reasons I missed events I would otherwise have covered. I’m able to write this now because  I had to cancel going to a meal with old friends because I didn’t know what time the work would finish.

It hasn’t been entirely negative either. I have got through quite a lot more image editing on the computer than I would have done with the distractions of the web available. And I should have a better connection with the improvements in the new hub, both for the internet and also on connecting between the different computers on my home network. The renewed cabling should also make the whole system less likely to fail in the future, though at the moment I’m still typing with fingers crossed.

Normal service should be resumed shortly!

September 2014 My London Diary

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Most of the last three days I’ve spent catching up with my work from September, sorting out and editing the pictures I took in the last half of the month and putting them with stories and captions onto My London Diary.

As you can see from the roughly 30 entries below, it has been a busy month for me yet again

September 2014

Sainsbury’s told Stop Selling Illegal Goods
By the Royal London
HP told Stop Supporting Israeli Military

City Wall, High Walk
Don’t bomb Iraq
CETA Trade Deal Threat to Democracy

Class War Occupy Rich Door
Gambia anti-Gay Bill

Druids on Primrose Hill

Focus E15 Open House Day
Peoples Climate March
EDL London March & Rally
Music at Class War Poor Doors

Sea of Poppies
Vintage Cinelli in poor state
Freedom for Alfon – Anarchists protest
Stop the Human Zoo petition to Barbican
Shian Tenants protest Huge Fuel Bills

Close UK Immigration Prisons
Colnbrook and Heathrow
IWGB Cleaners protest at Deloittes
CETA (TTIP) Trade Deal
Balfron Tower
Poor Door Broken, Rich Door Protest

People’s March from Jarrow for NHS
Mourning Mothers of Iran
Rolling Picket against Israeli violence
Stolen Children of the UK
Class War ‘Poor Doors’ picket Week 6


New York Chinatown

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

If you’ve not already seen them, do take a look at Bud Glick‘s pictures of New York City’s Chinatown in the 1980s which were featured in an article byDL Cade on Petapixel yesterday. There is a generous selection with the feature but more on the photographer’s own site.

Like many of us, Glick is finding that scanning his old negatives gives them a new life, enabling him to print those that were previously unprintable and finding others than at the time were neglected. Things that may have seen rather ordinary or insignificant at the time can gain a new perspective thirty years on when so much of what was photographed has disappeared or drastically changed.

As Cade writes “Images he overlooked in the past now jump out at him as culturally significant, and Photoshop allows him to salvage some he would otherwise not be able to use.” The feature also has some comments by Glick, but having read it it is worth going to his web site to see more pictures.

The other work on Glick’s web site is more recent, and I particularly enjoyed seeing his set of images of Paris, a city I’ve often visited at this time of year for the tremendous amount of photography that is shown there in the Mois de la Photo and Mois de la Photo – Off every other year, and of course what is probably the world’s most important fair for photography dealers, Paris Photo. There are links to the shows I’ll be missing on LensCulture, although of course its meeting the photographers and so many others with with an consuming interest in our medium – like Jim Casper at LensCulture – that really make Paris in November so rewarding. You can read a series of articles starting at these links  about some of my earlier visits in 2012 and 2010, and on The Eye of Photography (L’Oeil de la Photographie) can read the list of openings you are missing tonight – and there will be further similar posts.

This year, for the first time for quite a while, I didn’t feel up to it, not least because I’ve been so busy with events in London.  Perhaps – if things quieten down here, which seems unlikely at the moment – I’ll pay a visit to Paris just to enjoy the city in the spring instead.

Paris 2006 Peter Marshall (taken in November on my way to Paris Photo)

Like Glick, I’ve also found that scanning my old negatives gives them a new life, and I’ve put many of them on the web, as well as into collections self-published on Blurb. As well as the books on the Lea Valley, Hull and London, the series on London’s Docklands now has four volumes and I’m working on the fifth. And there are already a couple on Paris, one in black and white and another in colour, from the 1980s. All the books are still available from Blurb (and most more cheaply to UK customers direct from me) and although none is likely to become a best-seller, I continue to get occasional sales. Much of the work in the books can also be seen on the web.

Thurston Hopkins (1913-2014)

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Godfrey Thurston Hopkins, graphic artist, photographer and painter who was born 16 April 1913 died earlier this week on 26 October 2014, aged 101. You can read his obituary in The Guardian and others elsewhere, and see pictures in the Getty Image Gallery, Corbis etc.

In 2006 I tidied up my notes, added a few biographical details and published the following essay on Thurston Hopkins, which circulated widely to those with an interest in photography around the world, getting several hundred thousand views. Outside of the UK his work – and British photography in general, including the Picture Post were not very well known. Other than removing a couple of links that no longer work, updating some others and correcting a couple of trivial spelling errors, I have made no corrections to the piece.


Early Years

Always known as Thurston Hopkins, few realise that Thurston is actually part of his family name. He stopped using his first name at an early age (there is now even some confusion as to whether it was Godfrey or the unusually spelt Geofrey.) He is always know to friends, family and the many admirers of his work as Thurston.Geofrey Thurston Hopkins has perhaps a more English-sounding ring, one that would have fitted neatly into the ranks of gentlemen (not players) in the county cricket teams of the 1930s. It was normal at the time (and remains the practice at more elite schools) to call boys by their surnames. This was universal among masters and also generally adopted by the boys among themselves unless some more suitable and usually derogatory nickname suggested itself. Perhaps he became used to being called ‘Thurston Hopkins’ during his schooldays and simply carried it on into later life.

Robert Thurston Hopkins

His father, Robert Thurston Hopkins, (1884-1958), was a prolific author, writing topographical works, ghost stories and much more, including biographical works on such great British figures as Oscar Wilde, H G Wells and Rudyard Kipling. His 1935 book ‘Life and Death at The Old Bailey’ is often quoted in discussions of the identity of the infamous London serial killer ‘Jack The Ripper’. Much of his work was related to the English countryside, with books on Sussex, where the family lived, and Cornwall, as well as several on London. He also wrote some of the early classics of industrial archaeology, on windmills and watermills, as well as the ‘Moated Houses of England’, published by Country Life in 1935. One of his other works was the ‘Every Boy’s Open Air Book’ of 1925.

Early Work

The young Hopkins liked to draw, and after studying at Brighton College of Art, in Sussex, began work as a graphic artist. In his younger years he apparently helped with some of his father’s books. There is one rare volume (I’ve not seen a copy), ‘Literary Originals of Sussex’, published by Alex J Philip in Gravesend in 1936, that gives as joint authors G & R Thurston Hopkins. He also started to take pictures, largely teaching himself photography. Apparently he took some of the photographs for his father’s books. There is a single rather ordinary example of a windmill picture in a very large page slow loading page with many other windmill pictures and texts with the credit ‘Thurston Hopkins’.


It took the abdication of the British King to finally push Hopkins completely into photography. He had been working for a publisher adding decorative frames to portraits of Edward VIII when the king announced his decision to give up the throne on December 10, 1936. It was a decision that doubtless made Wallis Warfield Simpson happy but Thurston Hopkins redundant. His employer told him he would find it easier to earn a living from photography, and he took the advice, joining the PhotoPress Agency


First Camera

His first camera was a Goerz Anschutz. The Goerz company was founded in Berlin, Germany where it began making cameras in 1887. By 1911 they also had a factory in London, and also branches in Paris, Riga, Bratislava, Vienna and the USA. In 1926 the German company joined with Contessa Nettel, Heinrich Ernemann AG and Ica to form Zeiss Ikon, but the overseas companies – such as C.P.Goerz American Optical Co continued to trade independently. Goerz were probably best known for their Dagor lenses, produced in the US in the 1950s.

Ottomar Anschutz

The Goerz Anschutz camera was commonly used by press photographers in the early years of the 20th century, and was a folding strut device, usually taking ‘half-plate’ images. It took its name from Ottomar Anschutz (1846-1907), inventor of the focal plane shutter. Anschutz was also one of the pioneers of the photography of movement, producing images similar to those of Edward Muybridge. He also made an early movie projector, the Electrical Tachyscope, which used a Geissler flash tube.

Focal Plane Shutter

The camera was of course fitted with Anschutz’s patent focal plane shutter. Rather than being marked with shutter speeds like a modern camera, this had a piece of string to adjust the distance between the two travelling blinds that started and finished the exposure and a ten position knob which was used to alter the tension of the spring that powered them. Its adjustment was a matter of experience and rule of thumb rather than science. Focus for rapid press use was by scale, with the photographers making their own markings on the camera for the distances they used. The image could be examined on a ground glass screen in place of the plate when time allowed precise focus. These relatively primitive cameras demanded skill and experience from the operator to get good negatives, especially without the aid of an exposure meter. Many of the plate negatives from the era are extremely overexposed by modern standards.

Miniature Cameras

There were far more convenient cameras available, including the ‘medium format’ Rollei twin lens reflex and 35mm cameras such as the Leica and Contax. However the ‘miniature’ negatives produced by these relatively expensive cameras were not generally considered useful for reproduction. [p} An exception to this in the 1930s was in photojournalism and newspaper work in the hands of pioneers such as Humphrey Spender and Bert Hardy. In the USA, the young W Eugene Smith was sacked by Newsweek in 1937 for using a miniature camera.


A few years later, when Hopkins was serving in the RAF Photographic Unit during the Second World War in Italy he acquired a Leica. It was the first camera he ever felt at home using, and apart from a few pictures with a Rollei, he seldom used anything else for the rest of his career.

Post War


After being demobbed, Thurston Hopkins hitchhiked around Europe for a while taking photographs, and then worked for Camera Press, the agency founded in London in 1947 by Tom Blau and still going strong.

Picture Post

Like many other photographers of the era, his ambition was to work for the magazine ‘Picture Post‘, founded in 1938 with Hungarian émigré Stephan Lorant (1901-97) as editor. Assisting him was Tom Hopkinson (1905-90), who took over as editor when Lorant went to the USA in 1940. The magazine was funded by publisher Edward Hulton, and was a more or less instant success – within a few issues it had a circulation of over a million. Hopkinson and Picture Post played a major part in creating a sense of national identity during the war, and played an important role in the developments leading to the setting up of the welfare state, not least through the many features that illustrated social inequalities.

Post Photographers

Photographers working for Picture Post included many of the leading names of the day – Bert Hardy, Kurt Hutton, Humphrey Spender, and, occasionally, Bill Brandt. Thurston Hopkins apparently persuaded Picture Post that he was a suitable photographer for them by making up a dummy of an entire issue from his own pictures and text. He started work for them in 1950, and continued until the magazine finally collapsed, following a gradual decline in readership and competition for advertising with commercial television, in 1957.

Grace Robertson

Another photographer who submitted pictures to Picture Post and was offered work at more or less the same time went under the name of Dick Muir. Women photographers were almost unheard of at the time and to get her work considered Grace Robertson had to use a male pseudonym. Born in 1930, she taught herself photography at the age of 17, joined Simon Guttman‘s ‘Report‘ agency a couple of years later and worked frequently for Picture Post. Guttman was a legendary figure in the development of photojournalism, discovering and promoting many of the best photographers; while running ‘Dephot’ in Berlin he lent his young darkroom assistant Andre Friedmann a Leica, beginning the career of the great Robert Capa.

Love and Marriage

Robertson and Hopkins were married, and still live together in a picturesque cottage in the pleasant and rather sleepy small Sussex seaside town of Seaford. This area is sometimes known as England’s Costa Geriatrica; my own father retired to spend his last fifteen years in Seaford. Robertson’s book ‘A sympathetic Eye‘, published in 2002, has done much to bring her work back to public attention. It includes both a picture of her daughter Joanna in 1965 and her granddaughter Cressida in 1998, along with several memorable picture stories used by Picture Post, including one of women from a Bermondsey pub making their annual day trip to the seaside in 1954.  Life magazine liked the story so much they got her to make a repeat feature of a similar group two years later.

Later Life

When his job at Picture Post came to an end, Thurston Hopkins set up a studio in Chiswick, and for ten years was one of London’s more successful advertising photographers. He then changed track and turned to education, teaching on the photography course at the Guildford School of Art, which had become one of the major British centres for the teaching of photography under Ifor Thomas. Now long retired, Hopkins spends much of his time painting, although Robertson continues to photograph.

Hopkins & Picture Post

More than a Magazine

Picture Post was more than a magazine, it had become a part of the British way of life during the Second World War and the immediate post-war years. It was read by many more than the respectable circulation figures indicate, with copies passed around family and friends, including many who could not afford their own copies. It represented and mirrored the feelings of the people living together under the blitz and fighting to defeat fascism. Its editorial stance was very much on the liberal left, humanist, populist and campaigning, and many stories dealt with issues that were close to the heart of ordinary working people, illustrating them with images of people like them who they could feel close to.It was a stance that was most clearly echoed in the work of its chief photographer, Bert Hardy. It was also part of a culture we see clearly in the classic British films of the era, such as ‘Passport to Pimlico'(1949). Picture Post would surely have been the house journal of that plucky independent state of ‘Pimlico-Burgundy’.

Thurston Hopkins perhaps provided a slightly more thoughtful and reserved approach to issues than his colleagues on the magazine, although like the other photographers, he was very dependent on the stories assigned to him as well as his own suggestions.

Cats of London

One of the first essays by Hopkins published in Picture Post was his ‘Cats of London (24 Feb 1951 edition), almost certainly suggested by the many cats he met while walking around the streets of London on other assignments. The blitz had made many cats homeless, and these strays had often established themselves in the bombsites, living and breeding more or less wild on the scraps the could find and that friendly neighbours put out from them.Even cats who still enjoyed good homes would spend much of their time on the streets; the cat flap was as yet unknown and every cat owner still ‘put the cat out’ as part of the ritual of retiring for the night. City cats were still street cats first and home cats when it pleased them. Hopkins started to collect pictures of these cats on the street, attracting them with a little food, and it made an interesting if not profound story.

La Dolce Vita

His best known picture however stars not a cat but a poodle. He had noticed the dog in a limousine belonging to a hire car firm, and went to talk to the driver. It turned out that the driver was both the owner of the hire car company and the dog, and often drove him around in the car as a joke. Hopkins asked the driver to pose for him with the dog sitting alert and upright in the seat next to him, just like a dowager. Entitled  ‘La Dolce Vita, Knightsbridge, London, 1953‘ the picture has been widely reproduced over the years and sold as a popular poster.


The decline of Picture Post was clearly indicated by the fate of the story by Hopkins on Liverpool, arguably his finest work. Taken in 1956, it showed the people of the city living in slum properties with few possessions, through a series of powerful images.A child peers from the corner of a broken window; a woman washes her face sitting crouched over a bowl of water on a newspaper covered kitchen table, her breakfast cup and plate still on it, an older woman stands among scattered sheets of newspaper in the desolate infinity of an alleyway between the walled yards of back to back streets, clutching a few packets to her breast., desolate and desperate. A child tries to sleep on a sparse bed below a dirty blanket. Covering this are sheets of newspaper, probably more to protect the blanket from falling plaster and drips of water than to keep her warm.


The city fathers protested to the proprietor, Edward Hulton about this indictment of conditions in their city. He put pressure on the editor (no longer Tom Hopkinson, who had left the magazine several years earlier following the dispute with Hulton over his printing of a report by Bert Hardy and journalist James Cameron on the mistreatment of prisoners in the war in Korea) and the story was dropped. Twenty years later, other photographers, including Paul Trevor, went back to Liverpool and found little had changed.

More Features

Street Games

Another fine Hopkins feature – fortunately published – was of children playing in the street; its aim was to support the provision of less dangerous play areas and activities. These pictures appeal to me partly for personal reasons, as I can see myself in many of the young kids he found; I was of an age with them, played on the streets much as they did, wore the same uniform of short trousers and shirts and pullovers (though mine were more untidy, worn and darned than most in his pictures.) His work shows an impressive ability to get to know these children well enough to produce images that look entirely natural, although we often know that some have been set up and posed by him. In perhaps the most graphic of them, a small face with a feathered ‘Indian’ headdress pops up from a coal-hole in the pavement in the foreground and takes aim at the photographer with his six-shooter, while his friends down the street look on.

Christmas in Pimlico

One image that perhaps sums up his – and Picture Post’s – approach perfectly was taken on Christmas Day, 1954. The view is down from an upper floor into the bleak yard of a block of council flats in London, a drab block at the top of the image of the tarmac yard, used as a drying area for washing. Two lines of whites are pegged out neatly to dry, the top mainly babies nappies, framing the conversation that is taking place near the central post in the yard. A priest, The Reverend George Reindorp, Vicar of St Stephen’s Church in Rochester Row, near London’s Victoria Station, bareheaded in black cassock leans down to talk to a young boy, dressed in his Sunday best, cap in hand, looking up at the vicar.

Viewing the Hulton Collection

Photographers on the staff at Picture Post were paid a salary and their prints and negatives became a part of the Hulton empire. When the magazine closed, this fabulous archive was sold to the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) who proceeded to neglect it in a damp cellar. Later it was saved from ruin by being sold to Brian Deutsch, and it is now owned and managed by Getty Images. Although it pains me to see photographs by some of the best photographers of the era simply credited to the collection with the photographers not named, Getty Images have recently organised shows with some excellent new prints of work by Hopkins, and you can also search the Hulton Collection on their web site to see more. If you know the picture number you can enter this into the search box, otherwise simply put ‘Thurston Hopkins’, and you will find a large number of images by him – almost 800 when I last looked.