Picture Post was a photojournalistic magazine published in the United Kingdom from 1938 to 1957. It is considered a pioneering example of photojournalism and was an immediate success, selling 1,700,000 copies a week after only two months. It has been called the UK’s equivalent of Life magazine.
The magazine’s editorial stance was liberal, anti-Fascist and populist and from its inception Picture Post campaigned against the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. In the 26 November 1938 issue a picture story was run entitled „Back to the Middle Ages“: photographs of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Göring were contrasted with the faces of those scientists, writers and actors they were persecuting.
In January 1941 the Post published their „Plan for Britain“. This included minimum wages throughout industry, full employment, child allowances, a national health service, the planned use of land and a complete overhaul of education. This document led to discussions about post-war Britain and was a populist forerunner of William Beveridge’s November 1942 Report.
Sales of Picture Post increased further during World War II and by December 1943 the magazine was selling 1,950,000 copies a week. By the end of 1949 circulation had declined to 1,422,000.
Founding editor Stefan Lorant (who had also founded Lilliput and had even earlier pioneered the picture-story in Germany in the 1920s) had been succeeded by (Sir) Tom Hopkinson in 1940. Lorant, who had some Jewish ancestry, had been imprisoned by Hitler in the early 1930s, and wrote a best-selling book thereafter, I Was Hitler’s Prisoner. By 1940, he feared he would be captured in a Nazi invasion of Britain, and fled to Massachusetts, USA, where he wrote important illustrated U. S. histories and biographies.
New editor Hopkinson said his photographers were thoroughbreds, and whereas text could always be written after the event, if his photographers did not come back with good pictures, he had nothing to work with. Years later Hopkinson said the greatest photos he ever received to lay out were Bert Hardy’s images from the Korean War Battle of Incheon, which James Cameron wrote the article for. The magazine’s greatest photographers included Hardy, Kurt Hutton, Felix Man, Francis Reiss, Thurston Hopkins, John Chillingworth, Grace Robertson, and Leonard McCombe (McCombe eventually joined Life Magazine’s staff). Staff writers included MacDonald Hastings, Lorna Hay, Sydney Jacobson, J. B. Priestley, Lionel Birch, James Cameron, Fyfe Robertson, Anne Scott-James, Robert Kee, and Bert Lloyd; many freelancer writers contributed, as well, including George Bernard Shaw, Dorothy Parker, and William Saroyan.
On 17 June 1950 Leader magazine was incorporated in Picture Post. Editor Tom Hopkinson was often in conflict with (Sir) Edward G. Hulton, the owner of Picture Post. Hulton mainly supported the Conservative Party and objected to Hopkinson’s socialist views. This conflict led to Hopkinson’s dismissal in 1950 following the publication of Cameron’s article, with pictures by Hardy, about South Korea’s treatment of political prisoners in the Korean War.
By June 1952, circulation had fallen to 935,000. Sales continued to decline in the face of competition from television and a revolving door of new editors. By the time the magazine closed in July 1957, circulation was less than 600,000 copies a week.
Picture Post was digitised as The Picture Post Historical Archive, 1938-1957 and consists of the complete, fully searchable facsimile archive of the Picture Post. It was made available in 2011 to libraries and institutions.
As the photographic archive of Picture Post expanded through the Second World War, it became clear that its vast collection of photographs and negatives, both published and unpublished, were becoming an important historical documentary resource. In 1945, Sir Edward Hulton set up the Hulton Press Library as a semi-independent operation. He commissioned Charles Gibbs-Smith of the Victoria and Albert Museum to catalogue the entire archive using a system of keywords and classifications. The Gibbs-Smith system was the world’s first indexing system for pictures, and it was eventually adopted by the Victoria and Albert and parts of the British Museum collections.
When Picture Post folded, Sir Edward Hulton sold the archive collection to the BBC in 1957. It was incorporated into the Radio Times photo archive, and the BBC expanded the collection further with the purchase of the photo archives of the Daily Express and Evening Standard newspapers. Eventually, the BBC disposed of its photo archive and the BBC Hulton Picture Library was sold on once more, this time to Brian Deutsch, in 1988.
In 1996, the Hulton Picture Collection was bought by Getty Images for £8.6 million. Getty now owns the rights to some 15 million photographs from the British press archives dating back to the 19th century.
In 2000, Getty embarked on a large project to digitise the photo archive, and launched a dedicated website in 2001. A data migration programme began in 2003 and the Hulton Archive was transferred to the main Getty Images website; the Hulton Archive is still available today as a featured resource within the vast Getty holdings.