Tom Hutchins was one of New Zealand’s foremost photojournalists, and also made significant contributions to New Zealand art through his work as a lecturer at the Elam School of Fine Art from 1965 onwards. Hutchins was the first lecturer in photography and film in the British Commonwealth, having encouraged Paul Beadle, then the head of school, to create a distinct photography department. Notable New Zealand photographers who were educated by Hutchins include Ian MacDonald, Fiona Clark, Anne Noble, Janet Bayly and Megan Jenkinson. Hutchins began his photographic career working for the New Zealand Herald in 1941, later undertaking a Diploma in Journalism at the University of Auckland. He was a socialist and pacifist, and elected to be detained as a conscientious objector during World War II rather than join the military.
Hutchins worked for the Auckland Star until 1956, when he left the job to travel overseas to China, which previously been all but inaccessible to Western journalists. As a socialist, Hutchins was extremely sympathetic to the aims and attitudes of the pre-Cultural Revolution People’s Republic, and produced a series of inquisitive, nuanced photo-essays over the course of his four-month trip which are of great historical interest, and are comparable to the work done by Cartier-Bresson in China only a few years earlier. Hutchins worked as the stringer for Life magazine in the South Pacific, as well as doing work as a film cameraman, researcher, broadcaster, writer and critic. He was a founding member of PhotoForum, was a selector for the seminal 1975 exhibition The Active Eye, and was the picture editor for the 1981 book By Batons and Barbed Wire, which documents the Springbok Tour protests of that year.