John F. Hillelson has died. A great figure of 20th century photojournalism has left us. The “John Hillelson Agency” represented Magnum in London, but also Sygma and Viva. He collaborated with and sold the work of photographers including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Erwitt, Cole etc. I would need a book to name them all. On Monday February 13, John F Hillelson succumbed to complications from heart surgery wrote his son James Fox who asked that the photographic community be informed.
David Hillelson his son just send us this words:
“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.
John died in London on 13 February 2012, following complications after a heart operation.”
And following is a testimony by John G. Morris:
“I shall never forget my first encounter with John Hillelson, in New York in the mid-1950’s. John had come to New York in the course of selling pictures for London’s Daily Express syndicate, and came to see me in the Magnum office atop a building otherwise occupied by jewelers, on West 47th street.
I was then Magnum’s international Executive Editor. I was as curious about John as he was about Magnum, for we had had trouble selling Magnum photos in London. I was immediately impressed by the fact that he was trilingual. Born a Berliner, he had worked in Paris before moving to London, with an American wife. He seemed culturally at home in France, England and America.
John told me he was thinking of leaving the Express to open his own office. I agreed that if he did he could represent Magnum in London. So that’s how John became one of London’s leading agents. The arrangement continued happily for many years, until Magnum decided to open a London office of its own. John declined to run it if it meant closing his own office.
In those years John became one of the most beloved businessmen in the picture business. Aided by his wife Judy, who died only recently, their office, at first located over the Cheshire Cheese, was in effect a Magnum London office. It was through John that Magnum at first enlarged its roster of London-based photographers. I well remember how John introduced Cartier-Bresson and me to the fine New Zealand photographer Brian Brake, in the lobby of the Hotel Pastoria. Henri was one of several Magnum photographers who continued to work with John after he ceased representing Magnum.
In later years John Hillelson became a sophisticated collector of photography, specializing in 19th century work. But it is his personal legacy which will endure.”