Bluffer’s Notes

This Mag­num vet­eran has been doc­u­ment­ing the world around him for 60 years

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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

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