Eric Hosking OBE (1909
It is said that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. After
the loss of his left eye, Eric Hosking confirmed that prophetic scenario.
The first professional
wildlife photographer in Britain, his specialisation in birds, was to bring
him world-wide acclaim, but he never sought ‘kingship’, just perfection in
his field of photography.
Fortunate to survive
childhood, when illnesses made his school attendance an optional extra, his
love of bird watching made him determined to live life to the full. Leaving
school at the age of fifteen, his headmaster was glad to see him go, saying
“Hosking, you will never make anything of your life”.
Like the predictions of
many an educationalist, his observation was somewhat wide of the mark!
An early start
Unexceptionally, at the age of eight, he was given his first camera, a
Kodak Box Brownie. Saving hard, at ten he was the proud owner of a plate
camera. His first job at fifteen was in the motor industry, for which he was
ill suited. Having sustained a painful industrial injury, he may have been
relieved to find himself unemployed at the age of twenty, when his employer
went into receivership.
Having decided to become a freelance wildlife photographer he had a lucky
break. An old school friend was, by then, a sub-editor on a national
newspaper. For his picture of a child at the London Zoo standing beside an
elephant seal, the Daily Despatch paid him the princely sum of two guineas
(roughly two pounds and ten pence).
Eric Hosking was on his way!
The one-eyed turning point
It was in 1937, as he climbed to his hide in rural Wales, that he was
clawed by a Tawny Owl and lost the sight of his left eye. The bleak future
closed in, but when he learned that Walter Higham, a bird photographer whose
work he admired had only one eye his spirits rose. Twenty-four hours after
leaving hospital, he climbed back into the same hide!
Throughout the 1930’s he supplemented his income with pictures for the
Press, lectures to schools, clubs and societies, even London cabaret. He was
not averse to photographing weddings and children and for a time he helped
Marcus Adams, by taking his ‘outdoors’ commissions whilst the ‘master’
worked in the studio. There was even a request from the Duchess of York (now
the Queen Mother) to photograph her daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and
The great innovator
As he honed his skills, building his library and his reputation as a
wildlife photographer, Hosking battled with the problem of slow panchromatic
emulsions. In 1935, he was the first natural history photographer to
experiment with Sashalight flash bulbs and in the following year he took the
first-ever flash photograph of an owl with its prey.
Despised by ‘serious’ natural history photographers, Hosking found the Leica
camera he bought in the same year to be a particularly useful addition to
Pioneering a decade later Hosking, with specially built electronic flash, he
photographed birds in flight at 1/5000th of a second. Finding his reaction
times far too slow he asked scientist Philip Henry to make him the first
automatic shutter release in Britain, for photography of birds in flight.
It was not until 1963, that he made his decision to work exclusively with
the 35mm format. After testing a number of cameras, in 1974 he changed to
Olympus, using the evolving system right up to the time his death at
As his reputation soared, the quality of his work went with it. Having
photographed virtually every bird in Britain, he was invited by the big
names in ornithology to join them on many major expeditions throughout the
Deservedly feted for his photographic skills, as with his many other
talents, carried with modesty and charm Eric Hosking was, undeniably, a
great gentle man of 20th century photography.
Images from his massive
library, spanning six decades, are still in great demand and, thankfully,
his son David is a chip off the old block. You can be sure that when 21st
century photographers are reviewed, the Hosking name will still be there!