Charles Harbutt (1935-2015)

Charles Harbutt (who I always thought of as Charlie), died on June 29th 2015, aged 79. Although he was twice president of Magnum (leaving it in 1981 to form Archive Pictures along with others including Abigail Heyman, Mary Ellen Mark and Joan Liftin), he is perhaps not that well known as a photographer, but will be remembered warmly by all those of us who attended one of his many workshops.

It was one of his workshops back in 1976 at Paul Hill‘s Photographers’ Place in Bradbourne, Derbyshire that led a few years later in 1985 to a friend of mine, Peter Goldfield,  leaving his business as a pharmacist and purveyor of high quality photographic products – particularly fibre-based Agfa papers – under the name of Goldfinger in Muswell Hill to set up his own photographic workshop at Duckspool in Somerset, and it was there in 1996 that I spent some days at a workshop with Harbutt. (Goldfinger of course morphed into Silverprint under the guidance of Peter’s partner in crime, Martin Reed.)

I’d perhaps been around too long in photography for the workshop to totally change my life as it did Goldfield’s, but it was certainly a very enjoyable and stimulating experience, and Harbutt was one of two outstanding photographic teachers I’ve had the privilege of working with.

I’d first met Harbutt around 20 years earlier, not in person but through the pages of his 1973 book ‘Travelog‘, one of the first real photography books that I bought, though the Creative Camera bookshop in Doughty St. It was a book that pushed documentary beyond its traditional limits (Harbutt had studied at college with both Roy Stryker and Russell Lee as visiting lecturers) with images that were very personal and often left far more questions than answers.

I’ve written a little about him in a few posts here, on the occasions of his work being featured on-line in Visura magazine and in L’Oeil de la Photographie.  He also merits a mention in my post written on the death of Peter Goldfield in 2009.

Travelog I think remains his most important work, a book that is one of the classics of photography, and compared to it his two later volumes are perhaps a little disappointing, with the best work in the 2012 ‘Departures and Arrivals‘ being mainly from the earlier volumes. Travelog is unfortunately now a rather expensive second-hand purchase.

There are obituaries of Harbutt in The New York Times (which includes material from the afterword of Travelog), in Photo District News, some details in Mike Pasini’s Photo Corners article and more elsewhere. As well as the pictures on his own web site you can also see a few at the Peter Fetterman gallery and in the Visura feature mentioned above. An older web site of his web site is on the Internet Archive WaybackMachine.

2 Responses to “Charles Harbutt (1935-2015)”

  1. […] set up his own photography workshop centre at Duckspool, where I met Harbutt in the 1990s. I wrote a longer post on him at the time of his […]

  2. […] I’ve written many times, both before his death and in on this site in an article last year written to mark his passing about his contribution to photography, concentrating on its effect on photography in the UK and on […]

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