British documentary photography sometimes comes across like the forgotten sibling of the more renowned French and American traditions. Whether that’s because ‘our’ magazine for such expression – the Picture Post – disappeared before colour or because the images can lack the decisive seriousness of the big names it’s something of a shame. This selling show of Thurston Hopkins’ work at the Getty Images Gallery provides an excellent showcase of an often forgotten era.
This is England before colour. This is England where children in Liverpool sleep under newspaper sheets and where the moneyed elite stalk through London on the way to a society event. It is an England that we like to imagine the vibrant 60s swept away. This is all recorded in photography that does not labour any point but is presented in well-composed images that sometimes present interesting contrasts – but more often allow the viewer a wry smile.
Hopkins said that he believed that words and photographs needed each other and so it is a bit of a shame that the only text accompanying his images here is the title and the price. I know we’re not in the National Gallery and this is a print showroom but it would enhance the work to have a few lines if possible. It’s a minor gripe though really given just how full the room on Eastcastle Street is of these lovely works.
Personal favourites include the boys – all 50s stereotype – sitting in a doorway reading comics and the dancers at the Gargoyle Club in Soho, all passion, seediness and intrigue (but this being Britain it also looks a bit Carry On too). There is also a very striking image of a father in slum housing trying to hold it together as he holds a baby and is harrassed by his daughters which contrasts very nicely with the “Tea with Pater” in which father and son with expensive socks showing in full under their half-mast trousers dutifully take tea.
Should you be unable to get to Eastcastle Street to see Hopkins firsthand then there’s always the online Getty Images website which has a 60 odd of his photos to peruse.