Thurston Hopkins was born in South London in 1913. Trained as an illustrator at Brighton College of Art, he began work as a commercial illustrator upon graduation. He found the work sporadic, and as newspapers transitioned from illustration to photographs in the 1930s, he soon discovered, “the camera paid better than the brush.” In 1936 he began full time work as a Fleet Street photographer but soon found the clichéd imagery and ruthless tactics required of press photographers tiresome. Picture Post, a new weekly illustrated magazine based on a European editorial formula, launched in 1938 and soon became a creative base for Hopkins. The magazine’s pioneering practice of partnering photographers with writers was particularly inspiring and fit with his progressive ideals.
Hopkins joined the RAF Photographic Unit in 1940 and served in Italy and the Middle East. It was during the war that Hopkins, not the most technical of photographers, first acquired a 35mm Leica. He viewed the lightweight camera with both love and contempt, describing it as, “the first camera I can recall handling without a certain feeling of distaste.” After the war he hitchhiked around Europe honing his skills in hopes of joining the Picture Post staff, which he did upon returning to the UK.
Unlike many photojournalists of the day, Hopkins would not hesitate to arrange his subjects, even recreating spontaneous events to gain the desired effect. He excelled at street scenes and fought to present the daily life of the everyman no matter how rough and tumble. Picture Post folded in 1957 and the photographer responded by opening an advertising agency in West London. After a successful ten years’ run with the agency, he began teaching editorial photography at Guildford School of Art. By the 1980s, Hopkins had retired and returned to his artistic roots painting full time. Much to his amusement, institutions such as the Victoria & Albert, the Arts Council and the Museum of Modern Art, New York came calling to collect his 1950s photographs for their permanent collections. Hopkins died in 2014 at the age of 101.