The Swapper is a story about the internationally-acclaimed British documentary photographer David Hurn; it is a story of a dyslexic, Welsh schoolboy written off as being ‘a bit thick’ and an extraordinary ‘succession of bizarre coincidences’ which would propel him into the ranks of photography’s elite
A fixture of Sixties London and the Hollywood inner sanctum, David’s images of Jane Fonda as Barbarella, Sean Connery as James Bond, and the Beatles on the set of A Hard Day’s Night, became icons of the 20th Century, but they are mere window dressing on a body of work so influential, that recognition by him is now regarded as something of an anointing of photographic careers.
Magnum is the stuff of legends. Being invited to join its hallowed ranks, [there are only 62 working members in the world] is notoriously difficult; think of it as a kind of SAS, Harvard, an Olympics gold medal of photography. David Hurn is a luminary of Magnum Photos.
Magnum is one of the most revered and exclusive organisations in the world, which has documented life on virtually every corner of the planet over the past 70 years. That one famous photograph that sticks in your mind? The chances are that it is a Magnum photograph.
The associations’ selected and exclusive collection of photographers have informed generations with some of the most indelible, mind-blowing, thought-provoking, disturbing, entertaining and curious images of our time.
Once nominated by existing members, potential candidates will then run a rigorous four year, three-stage gauntlet of continually proving their worthiness. Only the chosen few survive to be voted in as fully-fledged members of the Magnum Association.
Martin Parr, out-going president of Magnum Photos, said: “One of the first emails any new nominee will receive, on being accepted by Magnum, is from Hurn, inviting them to exchange. Everyone always willingly agrees; they select their favourite Hurn image and vice versa.”
To swap with David Hurn is a most flattering entry into the big time for photographers, both inside and outside Magnum, young, old, established and indeed, lesser-known. It is continuing a tradition started by Hurn in the late 1950s. Just as then, whenever a photographer’s talent catches his eye today, he approaches them to swap a print.
His collection, now a 700-strong whos-who of photography, has become the subject of a major exhibition entitled ‘Swaps, Photographs from the David Hurn Collection’ in his native City of Cardiff.
It marks the fulfilment of a significant hope of Hurn’s, in the opening of the first permanent gallery dedicated to photography at Amgueddfa Cymru; National Museum Wales, where he has recently donated his entire [£3.5m] archive.
The museum is of deep significance. His mother, perhaps recognising something in her dyslexic son whom teachers had written off, would take him there on weekly visits. The marble-floored halls of Rodin statues and Brangwyn paintings ignited an insatiable curiosity that continues to fuel his work today.
Now aged 83, David Hurn has a new quest; to harness the phenomenon of the selfie to inspire photographers of the future.