Bristol-based publisher RRB Photobooks has released a new monograph of work by British photographer David Hurn (who recently appeared on CR with his photos for an episode of Black Mirror). Spanning a period of 67 years and drawing from his extensive archive of photographs, the book traces his illustrious career from early shots of London in the 1950s to images created around his current home of Tintern, Wales.
Born in Surrey, England in 1934, Hurn first ventured into the world of photography when he was 21 years old via an assistant position at the Reflex Agency. By the next year, he was already establishing himself as a documentary photographer in his own right, as he travelled to Hungary to capture the 1956 Revolution – a photo of which can be found in the opening of the book.
Returning to London, he began documenting a revolution of a different kind: the social revolution of the 50s and 60s as changes in class and demographics gave rise to a new era of hedonism and pop culture.
During this period, Hurn worked for publications such as the Sunday Times, Queen Magazine, and Town Magazine, and shot some of the biggest figures of the day, including The Beatles, Sean Connery, and Jane Fonda. It was also around this time that he became a member of the prestigious Magnum Photos.
More of Hurn’s iconic photographs came in 1966 as he captured the aftermath of the Aberfan disaster in Wales. A single image in the book reveals the chaos that he encountered upon arriving in the small village, watching from above as miners struggled desperately to pull victims from the coal slag heap that had cascaded down from a nearby mountain.
The event had a profound effect on Hurn, who decided shortly after to leave his home in London, where he had lived for the past 20 years, and relocate to Wales, “the land of his forefathers”.
This move marked not just a return to the country of his ancestors, but also a more slow-paced approach in his photographic practice. Having grown tired of working in a commercial capacity, he yearned for a quieter, more reflexive process, and as a result spent the next year living in a van, travelling around Wales, and attempting to capture and understand the complexities of its people and culture.
Happy to be away from the hustle and bustle of London, he decided to stay put for a while, and quickly made his next big career move by founding the School of Documentary Photography in Newport, where he taught until 1989.
At this point, Hurn left the world of documentary photojournalism behind for good, opting instead to pursue projects of a more personal nature. Photographs from these later years can be found at the end of the book, and while there is no obvious thematic thread between them, there is evidence of Hurn’s unending curiosity for the world around him.
In his essay in the final pages, Isaac Blease, an archivist at the Martin Parr Foundation, explains Hurn’s ongoing mantra: “Life as it unfolds in front of the camera is so full of complexity, wonder and surprise that I find it unnecessary to create new realities.”
David Hurn: Photographs 1955–2022 is published by RRB Photobooks; rrbphotobooks.com