Good Afternoon, I have struggled to develop my writings and theories recently, as I am coming to the end of university. This, along with the extraordinary times we find ourselves in, mean that my time has been taken up entirely by photographic work. It is not quite polished enough to be revealed just yet, so I thought we could spend the afternoon informally discussing one of my favourite photographic books: The 1960s Photographed by David Hurn. Unlike my previous article – in which we discussed the work of Joan Miro – I have no underlying philosophies to portray in this article. Instead lets just enjoy the work of an artist who inspired me both visually, and conceptually.
I will begin with what is my absolute favourite thing about Hurn, and in particular this book! Hurn photographed, and stood out, in one of the most glamorous decades, often as a fashion or editorial image maker. The imagery below of Sean Connery, posing in a glamorous depiction of James Bond in 1963, shows this beautifully.
And yet despite this, Hurn shows an incredible understanding of the mediums nature and power, across all types of photography.
When discussing how Russian and Western propaganda portrayed the Russians as merciless savages (when in reality the is very little difference between us and them) Hurn writes :-
“That was a very early lesson for me about the enormous power of photography. I realized then exactly what I wanted to do with my life – exploit that power, but use it carefully.”
It shows that Hurn understands, impeccably, the impact and importance of his profession. In my small experience I have seen many photographers taking images, without having much understanding or appreciation for the medium as a whole. I should make it clear that it is not solely fashion photographers, I also see many nature, and portrait image makers doing the same. They decide to press the trigger in hope, when they “like” a scene, or when they find something aesthetically pleasing. Of course all photographers are guilty of this at some point, but it’s the ones who understand why a particular image will be significant – such as Hurn – that I respect the most. Those who largely understand why to include certain elements, when to exclude others.
This appreciation for the medium of photography on a wider scale, is why I think Hurn transitions between genres so seamlessly. And in turn why I enjoy The 1960s Photographed so much. One moment we are looking at an image of Bond in a studio, the next Nuns in the snow, captured seemingly unwittingly (I’m sure they weren’t not aware of the cameras prescience, but the were otherwise engaged) then we find another fashion shoot with soft lighting and eccentric outfits, before being absorbed by a chaotic political riot.
I would argue it is very unusual for a photographer who documents impulsive moments, and significant public events events, to be able also construct the balanced, sometimes delicate, sometimes strong, image of Jane Fonda, seen on the right.
The skills needed to create these images are so wildly different. When talking about the shoot with Fonda, Hurn explains how he befriended her, calming the set to allow the photographs to come together naturally. I imagine that the opposite is true of protest photographers in their respective environments. Instead of manipulating with the aim of smoothing out a process, I’m sure protest photographers manipulate awkwardness, disharmony, and some go as far as encouraging, or initiating explosive situations they can then capture.
It is not the diversity that would make me encourage everyone to read The 1960s Photographed by David Hurn, it is how that diversity was achieved, with no loss of standards of quality. I feel that without the greater consideration of which genres require which tactics from the photographer, either Hurns success would be diluted, or he would have had to commit to one style of photography.
That is why I would urge anyone interested in photography to study David Hurn, and if you don’t enjoy the work, respect and appreciate it.
Jamie Edwards – 17/05/2020