Picture Post Magazine Anniversary Series – Part 2: The Editors
Hulton Archive celebrates the 75th anniversary of Picture Post magazine in October 2013 and in this monthly series, we’re taking a look at some of the key players who helped create the magazine’s lasting reputation as a leader of 20th Century photojournalism. This month’s focus is on two influential men who helped shape the magazine in its early years – the editors.
The first two editors of Picture Post could not have been more different – and indeed, accounts by both men of the magazine’s early days are highly contradictory – however there’s no doubt they shared a mutual, if grudging, respect and between them developed Picture Post’s winning formula.
Hungarian Stefan Lorant (1901-1997) was already a celebrated pictorial magazine editor when he escaped Nazi Germany in 1933, bringing to England little more than a suitcase of photographs and his autobiographical manuscript I was Hitler’s Prisoner. Within days he was commissioned to revitalize Weekly Illustrated magazine. His popular pocket journal Lilliput was bought by publisher Edward Hulton – who was coincidentally looking for an editor to create a new type of picture magazine. Under Lorant’s distinctive hand Picture Post launched on October 1, 1938.
Frequently labelled as mercurial, maverick and ego-maniacal, many myths have grown around Lorant’s short editorship of Picture Post. He allegedly ran the magazine with autocratic zeal, conjuring layouts for entire issues the night before going to press. He certainly surrounded himself with European talent, including fellow émigrés and Leica pioneers Tim Gidal, Felix Man and Kurt Hutton.
On the verge of war, the British public lapped up the anti-fascist messages and democratic articles delivered through bold photo essays, little knowing they were produced by a team of ‘foreigners’ using German cameras. Lorant tapped into the national psyche with an astoundingly intuitive understanding of the political and social landscape. Yet, despite being the founding editor of the most read magazine in the country, staunch anti-fascist and confidant of Winston Churchill, he was still treated as an enemy alien and denied citizenship.
In 1940, now on Hitler’s Most Wanted list, Lorant boarded a boat for America. It was not the first emigration in his life but it was his last. He settled there, reinventing himself as an author and biographer.
So strong was his editorial vision that Picture Post could easily have foundered. Instead the magazine flourished under Lorant’s assistant editor Tom Hopkinson (1905-1990), who’d previously worked with Lorant on Weekly Illustrated and Lilliput. Increasingly uneasy that Lorant might emigrate, Hopkinson had begun studying the layouts coming out of his office, learning for himself the successful formula Lorant employed.
Steering the magazine through the war years was no easy task – Hopkinson’s photographers were interned as enemy aliens or recruited to the forces and his photo stories were hampered by censorship and paper rationing. Somehow though, Hopkinson fostered a ‘family’, maintaining Lorant’s weekly editorial meetings where even the tea boy could suggest story ideas, establishing close photographer/writer teams and defending the magazine’s leftwing editorial integrity. It was the last that led to his downfall.
In 1950 Hopkinson was sacked after clashing with Edward Hulton over a contentious story on the Korean War. Unfortunately none of the following succession of editors was allowed the autonomy Lorant and Hopkinson had enjoyed and the magazine began a slow decline.
Hopkinson went on to become editor of South Africa’s Drum magazine, receiving a knighthood for services to journalism in 1977. It was another affront to Lorant who never forgave the perceived injustices he suffered in Britain. Even so he is now remembered as the ‘Godfather of Photojournalism’ and listed among the ‘1000 Makers of Twentieth Century.’
Editor’s note: Sarah McDonald is a Curator of Editorial Imagery for Getty Images, based at the Hulton Archive. Next month she’ll focus on Picture Post’s first staff photographers, Felix H. Man and Kurt Hutton.