Denis Thorpe (1932 - )
Enchanted by the medium from the time he discovered the limitations of the
written word in a local newspaper, for Denis Thorpe photography became his
passport to another world. John Chillingworth recognises the unique
qualities of a great artist, unfazed by the corrupting influences of daily
In recent years, much has been said, written or seen of Denis Thorpe who is
a natural picture-maker, arguably born out of his time, but who by his
artistry has always transcended the stereotype image of the Press
His work in another age could have been that of the gentleman pictorialist
or an inspired artist-photographer. Instead, blessed with an iron
determination and a highly individual way of seeing pictures, he used the
medium of local, provincial and national newspapers to provide the platform
upon which to nurture his natural gifts of composition and personal empathy
with the world around him.
Lesser people with equal skills would have turned to other lifetime pursuits
after knocking on a handful of doors, but Denis Thorpe’s need to make
pictures kept him focused on the end game like every successful artist. He
needed recognition of his contribution to the reputation of photography as
an art form, as well as its power as a means of communication.
His career has been documented on many occasions, but dates and names cannot
adequately explain his extraordinary staying power and ability to climb the
proverbial greasy pole to The Guardian, which dominated heights of creative
journalism. He did so with his camera, an achievement that has placed Thorpe
amongst the greats of the 20th Century.
His brief, it is said, when he joined the (Manchester) Guardian in 1974 was,
‘just to go out and take pictures’! Such a breathtaking opportunity would
not have arisen had he been more experienced at the time he asked Picture
Post editor, Tom Hopkinson, to look at his work in 1950.
Thorpe’s good taste in revering the work of Picture Post staffer, Kurt
Hutton, one of the original pioneers of 35mm photography for reproduction,
was entirely justified. Kurt was, after all, my own mentor as I worked
alongside him on the magazine from 1949 to 1956.
Had Thorpe joined our happy band, he would have found the romance of working
for Britain’s National Weekly Picture Magazine to be in the eye of the
beholder, rather than at the ‘coal-face’ reality of weekly magazine
publishing at its best.
It has been far better for photography that Thorpe achieved ‘icon’ status
through his work for The Guardian, than by his dream of emulating others in
the days of his youth.
The complete photographer
In his fifty-year work-span he has, through a combination of sheer
professionalism, discipline and artistic merit, achieved more than most of
his early role models.
With an eye for the spectacular, the romantic and the Bressan inspired
moment, Thorpe has won numerous awards, including the 1979 Worlds Press
Photo Gold Medal and Ilford Photographer of the Year in 1988.
His various exhibitions have been reverently received and his work admired
in galleries around the world, but the best is yet to come. With the launch
of the spectacular new LOWRY at Salford Quays, comes his latest exhibition
entitled ‘Denis Thorpe: On Home Ground’, which opens on 5 May until 22 July.
A beautifully designed book with the same name accompanies it.
Printing his own images for exhibitions, he considers the craft of
photographic printing to be part of the wider art of photography. Yet
despite his need to be ‘known’ and to be recognised for his artistic
achievements in a medium populated largely by photographers demonstrating
very different qualities, Thorpe seems often to be surprised by his success.
In Denis Thorpe, every working photographer has a living inspiration to look
more closely at our crazy world, in which each portrait, every scene has a
story to tell.