Magnum Legend Thomas Höpker: “Young Photographers Are Better Than We Were”

Photojournalism legend and Magnum photographer Thomas Höpker, 77, romances over the good old times when a magazine employed a dozen photographers and didn’t ask any questions about travel expenses. Photographers flew business class back then, enjoyed big paychecks and enough time to do a proper job — sometimes they even flew back on location for a second shooting, says Höpker. Today’s world with photo and stock agencies and countless freelancers is completely different. But has the world become a worse place for photographers? On the contrary, says Höpker who just published the new fascinating photobook New York where he lives since the 70s.

New York -- Thomas Hoepker
New York — Thomas Hoepker
In an interview with German magazine Spiegel you learn something about the inner workings of myth-enshrouded Magnum Photos where egos, friends and foes clash, and what it took to become a photographer back in the days when Elliott Erwitt called the shots at the agency.

Robert Frank‘s classic Les Américains was defining him, recalls Höpker, but it was only thanks to his personal contacts to boxer Muhammed Ali granting him unrestricted access that Höpker rose to fame.

Today the Leica shooter and president of Magnum from 2003 to 2006 has some advice for aspiring young photographers who want to become photojournalists:

Have a rich father! No, seriously: to make it by oneself as a photographer and lead a tolerable life is hard. One can already call himself lucky if the editor pays two nights at the hotel. On the other hand it is easier to take pictures. The entire laboratory component falls away — you edit images on the computer and can send them immediately. What really amazes me are the many outstanding young photographers out there. They are, I think, better than we were. The extinction of the profession is out of question.

You can order “New York — Thomas Hoepker” from Amazon.

Höpker's probably most famous photo: New York. September 11, 2001. | Thomas Höpker / Magnum Photos
Höpker’s probably most famous photo: New York. September 11, 2001. | Thomas Höpker / Magnum Photos

(via Spiegel)


  • Romald Patterson

    For someone who experienced it first hand, that photo comes as very disturbing.

    Great storytelling, though.

    • JakeB

      I tend to agree. While brilliantly caught, some people will find the content slightly offensive to an extent you could forgive them for thinking the whole setup was staged in an attempt of evoking exactly those feelings.

      • Was hesitating to post this 9/11 shot as a “representative” Höpker photo, but as he’s a New Yorker by now and it’s the main photo on his Magnum page I thought it needs to be this one.

        Staged? Maybe partially. Highly unlikely that the group completely ignored Manhattan. He may have caught them in a moment of related discussion?