David Steen, photographer, Died at 79


David Steen was born on February 16, 1936, and died on November 16, 2015.

He was a British photographer, his subjects included show business and sports stars, and politicians.

David was born in London, one of two children (his sister Sheila was born in 1932).

Much of his childhood was spent in the air-raid shelters in London and, also as a result of dyslexia, he was poorly schooled.

David recalls the beginning of his career:

One day a woman called Paddy Brosnan went to Smithfields to buy some meat. My dad asked Paddy if there was a job for me.

She was the secretary to Tom Hopkinson, the editor of Picture Post. She said I could work for her as an office boy. On 1 April 1951, at the age of 15, I started work. Picture Post carried staff writers and about eight staff photographers. I walked around the office delivering post and doing odd errands for the staff. One day I was in the photographers’ restroom, where they had their lockers, when the picture editor Harry Deverson, came in. He said to one photographer, ‘Come and talk to me about a job in Switzerland,’ and to another photographer, ‘Talk to me about a job in Tokyo’. I had rarely left Clerkenwell, certainly never been abroad. My ears started buzzing, and it was at that precise moment I decided that this photography game was for me. I soon started assisting the photographers.

One of those photographers, Bert Hardy, took David under his wing.

Hardy taught him not just about taking photos but also the importance of punctuality, being smart, wearing clean shoes and, above all, the love of the job.

Between the ages of 15 and 18, when David friends were going out to pubs and parties, he was out and about, with a borrowed camera taking pictures around London by day and by night.

On sunny days, mothers would leave their babies in prams outside their homes and, to earn extra money, David would borrow a camera, photograph the babies, and have the pictures printed at a chemist shop.

David would pay a shilling a print and then knock at the door of the mother and sell her a photo of her baby for two shillings.

At the age of 17, he was doing small assignments, and at 18 he undertook his first foreign assignment, travelling to Paris to photograph the film director Otto Preminger. “I stayed at the Georges VI hotel, dined at Maxim’s, and went to the Crazy Horse nightclub.

This was the beginning of a great adventure that would last for decades.”

In June 1954, Steen began his National Service, spending the first few months in Germany as an Army photographer.

David was then dispatched to Egypt, where he was promoted to the rank of sergeant. “My mum and dad were very proud.”

From his base in Ismialia, Egypt, he was sent by the War Office to cover many stories in the Middle East; Cyprus, Libya, Aden and Somalia.

By the time he was demobbed (in June 1956) David had accomplished an immense amount of travel and photography.

David Steen passed away at age 79 in November 2015.