Photo Histories
The Photographers' History of Photography

'While with an eye made quiet by the power of harmony … we see into the life of things:' David Hurn in Wales, June 2010. Photos & text © Graham Harrison

David Hurn

He is the Magnum photographer whose flat in London was a creative haven for photographers during the 1960s, and whose documentary photography course at Newport in succeeding decades became the most successful course in photographic education in Britain. As a new book of his photographs is published, David Hurn talks to Graham Harrison about photography, photographers and of a life enriched by friendship.

In May 2009 David Hurn was the victim of a hit-and-run. Sent spinning to the ground by an SUV that hit his camera bag as he crossed Beaufort Street in Chepstow, Hurn was left with torn muscles and a torn Achilles tendon in his right leg.

Nine months later the bruises have gone and one of Britain’s most distinguished photographers is resigned to the fact that at the age of 74 his Achilles may never heal completely.

After recounting the incident as he loads an espresso machine in his six-hundred year old cottage in Wales, David adds that a witness was so excited by the collision that they forgot to note the registration number of the vehicle.

The account is typical Hurn: facts that conclude with a considered, sometimes critical observation. In this instance he has prompted us to examine how the emotional response of a witness meant they failed to do what would have been most useful.


Twice within the last ten years we have come close to losing one of the most interesting minds in British photography.

This is the clear-minded thinker whose documentary photographs are worth revisiting and who’s legend prevailed over everything at the course he created at Newport College, and who talked and can still talk, if we only stop to listen, with perception about a profession which has undergone such radical change since he discovered photography while training to be an army officer five and a half decades ago.

In 2001 David was diagnosed with cancer of the colon. The diagnosis was late and the statistics were stacking up against him. That he survived major surgery to make a full recovery is testament to the fitness of a former sportsman who has never smoked or drunk.