Swaps: David Hurn on Photography

Swaps: Photographs from the David Hurn Collection runs from 30 September 2017 to 15 April 2018. This exhibition celebrates the major gift of photographs from David Hurn’s private collection and marks the opening of Amgueddfa Cymru’s first gallery dedicated to photography. Here are some short films from the exhibition:

The Collection

"The collection really didn’t start until 1958 I suppose. I started taking pictures in 1955, and in 1958 I was shooting pictures in Trafalgar Square, and there was another photographer who came up to me and said a very bizarre thing. He said “I think you might be a pretty good photographer”. Anyway, it turned out to be Sergio Larrain. I was looking at Sergio’s pictures and he gave me a couple of his pictures. And I realised how much I treasured not only the beautiful pictures, but there is something (which is in my opinion indescribable) about the connection between having the print that a photographer himself had okayed.

So I started to collect and then I started the idea of actually swapping a print. And so that’s what I started to do, and I had the confidence that I could go to photographers like Dorothea Lang and people like that. I then had the arrogance to meet her and say how much I liked her pictures, and I would love to swap a print. And I suddenly discovered that people like doing it.

I think the collection is a very personal collection. I think of the photographers that are in there; it would not be possible to have a better collection."

Dorothea Lange

White Angel Breadline, San Francisco, 1933.

"Dorothea Lange was one of the great photographers in the history of photography, who was very important particularly because of the pre-war pictures in the dustbowl.

I knew of Dorothea Lange and I happened to be in Chicago, and I knew that at that time she was living in Chicago, and so I literally went… I was now known a little bit as a photographer, and I just went to see her basically. I hadn’t thought about getting a print, it was before I swapped prints even. I saw her and she was showing me some prints, and I basically said “I love this picture” and she gave me the picture.

She did a wonderful book, it was done with her husband and it’s one of the most complete books which is the pointing out of a social problem. It’s a very beautiful book. It really shows you how a book can be laid out, and how the correct captioning and the correct text and the correct pictures can put together a very powerful argument for something, you know. It’s a very important book I think."

Henri Cartier-Bresson

French painter Henri Matisse at his home, villa 'Le Rêve'. Vence, France, 1944.

"Bresson was married to a wonderful photographer called Martine Franck. Martine had photographed on Toraigh Island which is a little island off the Irish coast, and photographed somebody called James Dixon who was a naïve painter there, and I had about three paintings by James Dixon because I’d also been to Toraigh island and photographed. I said ‘Ok, why don’t we swap the painting for a picture by Bresson and a picture by you?’ So I got two pictures for the painting.

So, the pictures arrived and I’ve got the two pictures – a wonderful, wonderful picture by Martine Franck. And then this appealed because it’s perhaps one of my favourite painters photographed by one of my favourite photographers. Later, after Henri had died I got an envelope through the post, and it’s from Martine, and it’s another one of the same picture, but it’s got a bend in the corner. I do actually have the note which is even more charming, and the note says ‘discovered this picture. It had obviously been damaged and Henri had realised that it was damaged, therefore had another print made’ because he didn’t make his own prints ever, they were always made by the same people, ‘and so I thought you might like this as well.’

It’s a beautiful portrait. It’s everything to me a portrait should do, you know."

Banner photograph by John Davies.

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