British photographic history

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John Hillelson, who owned the John Hillelson Agency and was the London agent for Magnum from 1958 until 1987 died  on 13 February following complications after a heart operation. John was born on 13 April 1923 in East Prussia and arrived in Britain in 1934 fleeing from Nazism. He was classified as an enemy alien in 1939 but secured a job as a caption writer at the Keystone picture agency. He then served with RAF as a wireless operator rejoining Keystone after the war.

He opened the John Hillelson Agency in 1958 at 145 Fleet Street, representing Magnum Photos in the UK.He maintained close links with Magnum until his death.

His son writes: “After serving in the Royal Air Force during WWII, John Hillelson embarked on a career in journalism that took him to Paris in the early 1950s, to run the United Press picture desk. In 1958, following his return to London, he was invited to represent the Magnum photographers' co-op, and, during the 1960s, he collaborated with a new generation of weekly magazine editors to publish photo-reportage by Magnum photographers and gain exposure for less-known work, such as the pictures of apartheid smuggled out of South Africa by Ernest Cole in 1966-7.

The John Hillelson Agency became one of the most respected picture agencies of 70s and 80s, expanding its stable to include the French Viva and Sygma agencies, and many independent photographers. The Agency's library, overseen by Judith Hillelson with her incomparable visual memory, was an important resource for a generation of picture researchers.

Alongside his love of good contemporary photography, John was a pioneering collector of early photographs specialising in historic images of the Near and Far East by the likes of Felice Beato, Hill and Adamson, and James Robertson. These two strands of interest spanned over a hundred years of photographic development, and came together to confirm John's position as a leading advocate of human interest photography”.

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Comment by Michael Pritchard on February 20, 2012 at 21:45

John's funeral will take place on Tuesday, 28 February 2011 at 2pm at Golders Green Crematorium.

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