Picture Post Magazine Anniversary Series- Part 4: Thurston Hopkins
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.
Today, April 16, 2013 Picture Post photographer Godfrey Thurston Hopkins celebrates his 100th birthday. However he may not receive a congratulatory telegram from Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, after telling a startled ‘man from the ministry’ that, at his age, he doesn’t have time to waste searching for his birth certificate. It’s a typical anecdote from Hopkins, still active, energetic and creative as he enters his centenary year.
Hopkins could be described as a reluctant photojournalist. He originally trained as a graphic artist but switched careers after realizing photography might be a more lucrative occupation. He joined a London press agency, but wrestled with primitive glass plate cameras and rudimentary flash and disliked the ruthless tactics and clichéd imagery of Fleet Street’s pressmen. He was on the verge of returning to illustration when the Second World War broke out. Serving with the RAF Photographic Unit in Italy Hopkins acquired a Leica, famously saying it was ‘the first camera I can recall handling without a certain feeling of distaste.’ At the same time he discovered Picture Post magazine, which could be found in practically every soldier’s tent or service club. Inspired by the clean, illustrative style of reportage on its pages, Hopkins decided that one day he’d work for the journal.
After being demobbed Hopkins indulged his love of travel by hitchhiking around Europe, freelancing for newspapers and magazines and developing his own photographic style using small format cameras. Returning to England he submitted an entire dummy issue to Picture Post using his own pictures and text. With his first published story – Cats of London, 1951 – Hopkins finally achieved his ambition. Hopkins joined shortly after Sir Tom Hopkinson was sacked as editor – a period usually remembered as the start of a terminal decline the magazine. However for Hopkins it was a period of intense creativity, fostered in particular by Editor Frank Dowling, and the strong bond Hopkins developed with writers Robert Muller and Brian Dowling, Frank’s son.
Hopkins never really cared for the technical side of photography, being far more concerned with creative expression and he developed a sensitive, humanist approach informed by his artistic background, combining emotion and mood with a gift for composition and use of form and shadows. Picture Post assignments could cover anything from beauty pageants to Australian cattlemen and Hopkins tackled every story with his trained journalistic eye, developing the narrative and occasionally assisting the drama with a little stage managing. In the seven years before the magazine folded Hopkins shot nearly 400 stories and traveled to Africa, India, Australia and the Pacific, receiving two British Press Picture of the Year awards.
After Picture Post, Hopkins opened his own photographic studio, and was very successful in advertising before an equally successful period lecturing on photography. After retirement he finally returned to his first love: painting. Today he lives and paints on the south coast with his wife, Grace Robertson – also a former Picture Post photographer.
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 chief staffer: Bert Hardy