Photo Story | What is a Photo Story?

A ‘photo story’ or ‘photo essay’ is a series of images that are intended to evoke a series of emotions from the intended audience. A photo story can cover absolutely anything, from war to fashion, so long as the pictures work together to portray a story of some kind.

One of the earliest examples of printed photo stories is ‘Picture Post. Picture Post was an extremely popular magazine in Britain between the 1930’s and 1950’s, so popular in fact that during the second world war it’s readership was estimated at 80% of the British population. The magazine was being published before television and so it became a window into the rest of the world for the British population by ‘bringing major social and political issues of the day into popular consciousness’. It’s combination of candid 35mm photography and talented photographers meant that from the first issue it was a huge success with circulation reaching 1.7 million within six months.

The magazine editors Stefan Lorrant and later Tom Hopkinson made the magazine a liberal and anti-fascist publication. It provided a broad documentation of British life from the 1930’s to the 1950’s with thousands of photos of ordinary life, boys playing in the street, young women on a rollercoaster and people at the beach.


On Brighton beach a man reads a newspaper with news of the impending war while his wife sleeps, 12th August 1939


Two women chatting on the railings in Blackpool, England, 1951


Two young women enjoying themselves on a rollercoaster at Southend Fair, England, 1938


Children playing with an old tyre on the streets of Salford, Manchester, 1951

The layout of the magazine was dominated by the photograph and then accompanied by a small amount of text, sometimes just the photo caption. This is an example of Picture Post from the 28th September 1940:

This particular issue documented the Blitz taking place in London. Bert Hardy walked the streets the morning after bombing had taken place and documented the devastation caused, as well as people carrying on with life as normal. Some of the photos include the clean up process, wider shots of the rubble covered streets and an image of women drinking tea in front of a bombed out shop window.

Taken from :

The magazine turned its lens on the major national and international social and political issues of the day, bringing into sharp focus

  • World War II and the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany
  • The Korean War, including coverage of South Korea’s abuse of political prisoners
  • British social history from the 1930s to the 1950s, including issues around race and immigration
  • Postwar reconstruction in Britain, including the launch of the social “Plan for Britain” and the creation of the National Health Service in 1945

It was this social conscience that was to eventually lead to the demise of the magazine. In 1950 Bert Hardy and journalist James Cameron were sent to cover the conflict in Korea. Both the resultant photographs and the text were highly critical of the United Nations and, in particular, the treatment of South Korean political prisoners. The Editor, Tom Hopkinson, was twice stopped from publishing the story by owner and Conservative supporter, Edward Hulton, who at the time was being considered for a knighthood and was concerned that publication of the story might impact on this. The end result was that Hopkinson was sacked.

Over the next few years the direction of the magazine shifted. It retained a social voice but this was increasingly muted. The magazine moved towards the gloss of glamour and celebrity, and advertising began to dominate its pages. Whilst the magazine was able to keep afloat for another seven years it became increasingly under pressure as its previously loyal readership began to steadily melt away. In June 1957 the magazine finally closed its doors.

Links used:,29307,1624849,00.html


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