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How a London Cat Photographer Sparked Change - Hero History #2

How a London Cat Photographer Sparked Change - Hero History #2
"Many photographers are naturally shy people. Hiding behind a camera helps them overcome their shyness. It’s a common experience with photographers that they never notice imminent danger when they’ve got a camera in their hands. Something sort of takes over." – Thurston Hopkins
Note from Jason: My next comic book, Super Best Friend #1-3, drops on Kickstarter in ONE WEEK -- 1/24/2023.

Our three-issue series follows live streamer Mattie Moore as he attempts to repair his relationship with his best friend and save the world after broadcasting Captain Terrific’s secret identity. We have an exclusive pin for returning backs and an astounding reward for every backer if the campaign funds in 24 hours or less! Clicking “Notify me on launch” will help ensure we have the strongest launch possible.  Please follow our pre-launch Kickstarter page here. Stay tuned to the bottom of this email for cool reveals from Super Best Friend. Now onto this week’s Hero History!

In every Hero History, we’ll explore some of the best examples of heroes who have inspired us in our modern day. You will find inspiration from some of history’s most interesting individuals! Whether they did something extraordinary or encouraged others, heroes can capture our imaginations and make us better people.

Thurston Hopkins was an unsung hero of photography who documented the beauty of ordinary life in London and beyond. He had a career that spanned over six decades. We know his work for its striking visual style, which often focused on capturing the everyday activities of individuals with a keen eye for detail. Hopkins believed one photograph could transform the world and his art continues to inspire many photographers today. He captured the personalities of ordinary humans, providing a window into the past and giving a voice to those who may have otherwise gone unnoticed. Even with an astounding photography career like that, Thurston is best known for his seminal work “Cats of London.”

(Thurston Hopkins - 16 April 1913 – 27 October 2014)

Hopkins attended St Joseph’s Salesian School in East Sussex, Montpelier College in Brighton, and Brighton College of Art to study graphic illustration. A teacher there told him,

“Watch those shadows, they are what give black-and-white illustrations weight and balance.”

As Thurston later acknowledged, this became a “leitmotif” not just when he made pen and ink drawings for provincial newspapers, but also with his camera. After graduation, Hopkins worked for a publisher framing portraits of Edward VIII. When the king abdicated, his job was eliminated. Because of his former employer’s advice, Hopkins joined PhotoPress Agency to earn a living from photography.

In the late 1930s, many refugees from Fascist Europe had arrived in London, among them were several photojournalism pioneers. Foremost were the Germans, Tim Gidal, Karl Hutton and Felix Mann, as well as the Hungarian Stefan Lorant. They handled two influential magazines - Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung and Münchner Illustrierte Presse. They brought to London, in Gidal’s words, the “unified photo report” – what we now call the photo essay.  It was appealing to Hopkins, who knew that words and pictures work best when used together.

In 1940, he joined the RAF photographic unit and while serving in Italy, he gained a German-made Leica camera, which he would use for the rest of his career. It was his first camera he felt comfortable working with. Technology-averse, he described it as...

“The first camera I can recall handling without a feeling of distaste ... I loved the lack of technical perfection.”
A Leica -E film Standard Camera Body Chrome/Black (1942-1947)

After the war, he briefly worked for Camera Press in London. However, he wanted to join the Picture Post - while on wartime duty; he had seen copies in every tent and service club. The Picture Post hired Hopkins in 1950 after he turned up at the offices with a book of dummy photographs with text. One of his first photo essays was “Cats of London.”

Photo by Thurston Hopkins 

“Cats of London” is a stunning collection of black and white images that capture the feline inhabitants of the British capital in the 1950s. London was still recovering from World War II. Because of the Blitz, many cats had become homeless, and they had to survive on bomb sites by scavenging. Hopkins, a skilled documentary photographer, conveys the personalities and individual characteristics of each cat he photographs in this series, from the regal Siamese to the scrappy alley cat. The essay also serves as a reminder of the enduring presence of cats in the urban environment. Plus, their ability to adapt and thrive in even the most challenging of circumstances. “Cats of London” is not only a visual treasure but likewise provides valuable insights into the past and present of London.

Photo by Thurston Hopkins 

Photographer David Bailey said “the 1950s were gray – the 1960s were black-and-white,” but that does the 1960’s photojournalists a disservice. They brought texture, meaning and empathy to the gray lives of the British through the most difficult 20 years of the century.

His signature features ended with “Life in Liverpool” (1956), which was spiked by Picture Post’s owner, Edward Hulton. He pulped Hopkin's essay in deference to Liverpool’s city leaders, who protested against the depiction of poverty, misery, and deprivation.

Hopkin’s style of photography has been described as “poetic realism.” Sadly, Hopkins passed away in 2014, but his work endures. Hopkins used his talent to bring attention to social issues, producing stories about children playing on the city streets and other topics that highlighted Post’s civil consciousness. Through his lens, he was able to capture moments that will never be forgotten.

Thurston Hopkins's photos are a valuable record of life in the twentieth century.

They remind us to find beauty in even the most ordinary moments.

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While I have your attention, I wanted to show you the three stunning covers we'll be offering during our Super Best Friend #1-3 Kickstarer campaign next week! One by main series artist Jordi Pérez, one by comics superstar Phil Hester, and one by Sarah Leuver! Below that is the Exclusive Pin available to all returning backers! Our series finale is finally here, and I look forward to you reading it! Plus, all three issues of the series are available if you missed one of the previous campaigns.

Thanks for reading, Superfriends.

NEXT WEEK -- Super Best Friend #1-3 launches!

NEXT WEEK AFTER THAT - Why We Love Superman Chapter 2!

Be seeing you.