This Magnum veteran has been documenting the world around him for 60 years
We reveal why you need to know about Magnum’s David Hurn
Magnum Photos veteran David Hurn is one of the UK’s most respected and influential documentary photographers. His best-known work takes a personal and affectionate look at culture and people’s everyday life and behaviour, particularly in Wales, where he has spent most of his life.
What’s his background?
Hurn was born in 1934 in Surrey; his father was an officer in the Welsh Guards. Educated in Wales, he was severely dyslexic and left school without qualifications. In 1953 he began two years’ National Service in the Army and was later selected for officer training at Sandhurst. While there, he bought a camera and taught himself photography.
When did he become a pro?
During his time at Sandhurst, Hurn saw a copy of Picture Post with photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson of ordinary Russian people. They showed the Cold War ‘enemy’ in a different light and made Hurn “profoundly pacifist”. He resigned from the Army in 1955 and a year later hitch-hiked to Budapest to photograph the Hungarian uprising. These pictures, published in Picture Post, launched his career as a freelance photojournalist.
How did his career develop?
He shot his own documentary projects, many of which were published in Sunday newspapers. He also took film stills on major productions including From Russia With Love (1963) and Barbarella (1967). He became an associate member of Magnum in 1965 and photographed the aftermath of the Aberfan disaster in 1966. Full Magnum membership followed a year later.
What’s his most famous body of work?
In 1972, he returned to live in Wales and began a long-term project documenting Welsh culture and traditions, as well as the changes the country has undergone. His photographs of Wales were published in Land of My Father (2000) and Living in Wales (2003).
How has he influenced younger photojournalists?
In 1973, Hurn founded the famous School of Documentary Photography at Gwent College of Higher Education in Newport. He concentrated on equipping students with practical skills, from shaping stories to selling pictures.
What other books has he published?
He co-wrote, with Bill Jay, the classic textbook On Being a Photographer: A Practical Guide. His photo-books have included Arizona Trips (2017), photographs of the American State taken Top Whistling Sands, Porthor, Aberdaron, 2004.
Above Herne Bay, Kent,
between 1979 and 2001. At 83, he is still an active photographer.
What’s his most famous quote?
“Life as it unfolds in front of the camera is full of so much complexity, wonder and surprise that I find it unnecessary to create new realities. There is more pleasure, for me, in things as they are.”
Where can I see more of Hurn’s work?
A selection of his images are in The Great British Seaside: Photography from the 1960s to the Present at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, until 30 September. For details, see www. rmg.co.uk