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By Chris Boot

One characteristic of Magnum, perhaps of cooperative and collective enterprises generally, is that the purpose of the organization is fluid, constantly open to the interpretation of its members and the wider community engaged with it. Magnum has a constitution of rules and by-laws that it needs in order to function, but the organization has no official statement of artistic intent and has never had an über-maestro to act as its interpreter-in-chief. At least, never for long. The group is a convocation that gathers regularly, in part to discuss why it is there. Magnum means and has meant different things to different people—a tabula rasa onto which different ideals for the medium and for the role of the photographer are projected. It has traditions for sure, but any core or underlying set of beliefs asserted on its behalf—this often happens, often with passion—is invariably in competition with an alternative set of beliefs asserted by others with equal conviction. Different journalistic and artistic ideologies, advanced by particular individuals and like-minded groups, ebb and flow. The dominant ideas of Magnum’s past—the confident simplicities of the principled photojournalism of its pioneers, the idea of the concerned photographer conjured in Cornell Capa’s exhibition title, “The New Photojournalism” as coined by Gilles Peress—have left their mark on Magnum’s traditions and their influence on photography. Each eventually makes way for others.

Summer rain, Sydney, Australia, 1999. (from the series Dream/Life) Trent Parke/Magnum Photos

Today Magnum acknowledges its pluralism and eschews a corporate or ideological position. Accommodating a diverse range of documentary image-makers from collectors of pointed visual evidence to graphic expressionists, it has made diversity and diverging views a central plank of its contemporary identity. In this respect, competing ideas about artistic and social purpose continue to characterize the organization, just as they have since it began. What this means for the photographers is that all are subject to constant challenges regarding their individual purpose as both artist and community member. This peer pressure is part of Magnum’s group dynamic, its culture.

The mythology of Magnum relies on the contribution to the unfolding story of photography made by its past and present members. It has been around 60 years since Magnum began with the visionary guiding spirits of Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. It will last as long as its photographers remain loyal to each other. But it is the restless striving that makes it unique in the world of photography; the way in which individual members are drawn to and then respond to the call of the convocation, to the legacy of the group’s history of purpose—to the competing ideas of what documentary photography is for—and to each other, that changes them. Photographers who have spent any time within Magnum are not the same photographers as they would have been otherwise.

Magnum’s culture insists upon a commitment to the medium and an artistic destiny on the part of each of its members. It demands a more intense engagement with the ideas of art, society and history than is found anywhere else in the world of photography. This may not be the organizational purpose that will be discussed in history books, but it is what makes Magnum unique.

Lena on the Bally Box, Essex Junction, Vermont, 1973. (from the series and book Carnival Strippers) Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos.

Chris Boot is a photobook editor and publisher. His publishing firm is Chris Boot Ltd. With 22 titles in print, including Photojournalism in Context since 1955. He is also the author and editor of Magnum Stories (Phaidon, 2004).

  • Woman injured by U.S. Helicopter Fire, Saigon, South Vietnam, 1968. (from book Vietnam Inc.) Philip Jones Griffiths/Magnum Photos.

  • Summer rain, Sydney, Australia, 1999. (from the series Dream/Life) Trent Parke/Magnum Photos

  • Lena on the Bally Box, Essex Junction, Vermont, 1973. (from the series and book Carnival Strippers) Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos.

Collector's Focus

Gallery Trends

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By Daniel Cooney

When considering the current trends in commercial photography galleries, there are the obvious and already well-stated. Digital manipulation has become the norm, as have large, bold color images. Many galleries known for their emphasis on photography have begun to integrate non-photographic mediums into their programs, and the search for the next “young art star” is more intense than ever.
Something I have begun to notice lately is the reemergence of black and white photography in contemporary art. While it might not yet be considered a “trend,” I am starting to see a trickle of black and white images by working artists. While conducting research for this article I contacted a few colleagues who said they were also beginning to notice this, but only in bits and pieces. Many said they did not see it at all.

I started to consider this idea when one of my artists, Sarah Pickering, explained to me that her new series of photographs include both color and black and white images. The idea made sense, considering the series and the varied formats of her previous work. The idea of mixing black and white and color was exciting to me. I brought up the idea to a collector whose opinion I value greatly. He pointed out the recent exhibition of Vera Lutter’s monumental black and white photographs at Gagosian Gallery and the wonderful exhibition at Postmasters by Anthony Goicolea. Later he followed up with an e-mail mentioning Gregory Crewdson’s Fireflies exhibition at Skarstedt Fine Art and the integration of black and white images in Sarah Anne Johnson’s work shown at Julie Saul’s recently.


I enjoy the thought that black and white is being “reintroduced” to the world of image making, considering photography was black and white for most of it’s history. It is inspiring to see the work of artists who never abandoned the practice. One of the reasons I love photography and feel compelled to devote my life to it is that there is no other artistic medium that is constantly challenged by technology. Photography was born of technological advances and has continued to evolve because of those continuous advances.


On this subject, Sarah Morthland of Archive Consulting and Management Services in New York had this to say, “In no other artistic arenas are processes so easily dismissed as obsolete, or identified so strongly as belonging only to certain eras. Large color works are now ubiquitous and have lost some of their initial impact. It would be a natural tendency for artists to turn to black and white as another option in terms of utilizing whatever process best complements and promotes what they desire to express, rather than suffering the constraints of technological developments in the medium to provide the only acceptable source of materials for the creation of contemporary works of art.”


The collector who I mentioned earlier added, “As a collector of photography for nearly 15 years, I’m not sure if I’m convinced that black and white is a trend, as much as simply another way for artists to express themselves. Today, there are some great examples of contemporary photographers stretching their craft into the black and white realm. It seems odd to think of black and white as a stretch, but after years of big color, it feels like a refreshing venture. There is simplicity to black and white images. When color is taken out, the image becomes the main focus.” Charlotte Cotton notes in her essay The New Color: The Return of Black and White, “I am sure I’m not alone in beginning to think that the more complex, messy, unfashionable and broad territory of black and white photography is where we are going to find some of the grist to the mill in photography’s substantive and longer term positioning within art.”


From the perspective of the artists, Anthony Goicolea commented on the use of black and white imagery in his recent work, “I was interested in playing with the idea of traditional black and white photography versus digital and I like the film noir references and that it undermines the technology behind the image.” Sarah Pickering added a similar voice, “I’m currently using black and white as it suits the subject matter, dark and monochromatic environments. My work appears to have digital manipulation and I have been asked about that in my previous work where there was none. Although photography has always had the potential for manipulation, authenticity is much more of a concern now that digital technology has permeated the medium. I enjoy this ambiguity and with my new work I’m returning to traditional silver gelatin printing, but using digital methods.”


Looking to the future it seems that traditional black and white printing may become less common as silver-based papers and established darkroom processes become obsolete. As Anthony and Sarah mention, they are using digital production as a means to produce their images. Perhaps traditionalists will begin making their own papers or maybe it will become a cottage industry for artists dedicated to preserving the gelatin silver image. No matter how they are made, it seems that we might be seeing more black and white photographs in the world of contemporary art. It’s only natural after many years of color work becoming increasingly more saturated, brighter and bigger that artists would start to engage with the subtleties that a black and white image reveals. It is a refreshing look at an approachthat some have forgotten. Perhaps with the combination of technology and creative minds the “new” black and white will be something totally unexpected and truly new.

Daniel Cooney has over fifteen years of experience as an instructor, gallerist, curator and auction specialist. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Illinois. He taught photography at the University of Illinois for three years and has lectured widely on contemporary and historical photography. Currently, Cooney is an adjunct faculty member in the Graduate Studies Department of the Fashion Institute of Technology. He began his gallery career at the James Danziger Gallery and continued as Associate Director of the Julie Saul Gallery. He was also the Director of Online Photographs at Sothebys.com. He has taken appraisal classes at NYU and is on the Board of Advisors of the
Center for Photography in Woodstock.

Daniel Cooney has over fifteen years of experience as an instructor, gallerist, curator and auction specialist. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Illinois. He taught photography at the University of Illinois for three years and has lectured widely on contemporary and historical photography. Currently, Cooney is an adjunct faculty member in the Graduate Studies Department of the Fashion Institute of Technology. He began his gallery career at the James Danziger Gallery and continued as Associate Director of the Julie Saul Gallery. He was also the Director of Online Photographs at Sothebys.com. He has taken appraisal classes at NYU and is on the Board of Advisors of the
Center for Photography in Woodstock.

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Collector's Focus

What I Did Over Summer Vacation

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By John Bennette

I started writing for Focus with the idea that the person reading my words would be by my side and that it could be as relaxed as having coffee with a friend. That was about a year ago. I have tried to shy away from telling you what to buy or who is the next great artist. I really want you to look at photography. A new season filled with new excitement and new photographs to look at has started. It is by now October; the auctions will be in a few days. Please try to visit the previews this year.

Collecting is not about what you can buy but about what and why you choose to leave something out. Collecting is another art form. It could be why the larger collectors of today with money and power have started to build their own museums to keep their visions whole and undiluted. We are not there yet — maybe one day.

This column was inspired by what I did during my summer vacation. Collecting is a joy, but like anything else, you need a break, a different direction— maybe to realize that you have reached your goal. For the summer I decided to stop looking for images to acquire. For the summer I decided to put myself to the test that I usually give to my students, that is, to curate an imaginary exhibition of 16 images based on a theme using photographs from many sources, mostly from printed matter and, most importantly, not iconic photography. I use this as a way to help them see and understand what it is they are looking for. Usually we have a session where they all show their ideas and we talk. The process hopefully expands our thoughts about what it is that drives us to collect.

Finding a subject was easy because I love looking at people. More and more I find myself looking with the understanding that something lies within the borders of the image that the sitter is trying to tell me — something more than the conflict of revealing the private self, more than the blank gaze or defensive glare, more than the artist’s manipulation. I want to see it all. I want to be there in the second when no one is looking, knowing of course that it is all in my imagination, that a photograph does not provide me with the privilege of someone else’s life.

I gave my effort the title of “Degrees of Separation.” Previously in my class exercises I had used as a unifying theme people holding photographs of lost friends and family. I am moved and fascinated by the power of the photograph that comes to represent the missing. While I was working on finding photographs that fit with my conceit, a New York gallery approached me to do a summer show. My notebooks were filled with nearly 600 portrait images. The show gave me an opportunity to force myself to edit, to crystallize what was important about this group of photographs. The gallery has as its primary objectives the striving for quality, diversity and affordability. So all of a sudden I could no longer borrow big-name artists from high-profile galleries. I had to establish a sense of cohesiveness to communicate to others a simple idea about repetition in presentation, and I could not use all 600 photographs to do this.

The decision not to use a Diane Arbus or an Irving Penn had a profound effect on me and on the way the show looked. To frame the exhibition—maybe to give pause or a visual rest to what eventually became 95 photographs — I chose six large format photographs of interiors with family portraits and snapshots displayed. This is the way most of us live with portraits. The artists were Mary Presley Adams, Sheila Pree Bright, Annabel Clark, Wyatt Gallery (a person not a space), Joelle Jensen and Jessica Rowe. There were 61 artists from around the world including 17 women. Most are working artists, some with long and distinguished careers. A number I found when visiting galleries and online sites. It was also for me a pleasant chance to show work by artists that I have met over the past 15 years while I have collected and visited places like FotoFest and Photolucida and Rhubarb-Rhubarb.

Rachel Dunville, Heard; Courtesy Peer Gallery

I guess I should give a little overview at this point. There is a wonderful Shelby Lee Adams picture called Mother and Baby, 1999, a homage to Mike Disfarmer taken for the Sunday New York Times. It had never been seen before, but it recalls some of the great paintings on the subject. Placed near it was Heard by Rachael Dunville, a tender image of a family gently intertwined on a porch in an old glider swing. Taken in Missouri, it is beautifully colored, yet there remains something that is a little off. Most people who see Heard say that it reminds them of a Pieta.

“Degrees of Separation” is a portrait show with a number of issues under discussion. One is Identity. How much does a photograph tell us about a person? Marco Arbus’s photograph from Two Cultures in an Armchair — of a handsome black man sitting in an elaborate chair — could have been taken almost anywhere, but it is part of a series taken in Verona, Italy, of a Pentecostal group of West Africans living there. The man evokes George Rodgers’s famous photographs taken in Sudan in 1947.


To some viewers the image suggests the work of Seydou Keita. Against this lushly colored image where the subject injects his presence and connects with the viewer, you are asked to define a person by what is left behind. Vicki Topaz’s keen observation in #302 San Francisco, California gives only a single clue: a lovely piece of lingerie left in a well-appointed hotel bathroom.


We feel that we know this woman based on many images that have come out of advertising in the past. The portraits balance ideas about who is looking. Roger Eberhard’s Taxi Driver, Russia, 2006, taken on the streets, carefully frames a man parked smoking and waiting, a man who appears to be unaware of the camera, yet the viewer is led to where the driver is looking, his gaze focused on his rear view mirror. At what could he be looking so intently? Maybe he is a spy.

Another small silver gelatin photo by Radek Skrivanek of Two Teenagers with a Cassette Player, Wadi Hadhramawt, Yemen, 1995, leaves no doubt as to what engages their eyes. The response to the exhibition was close to what I wanted to create. People took the time to look, and some came back more than once. They looked at details and asked questions. They noticed that some artists posed their subjects very carefully while others seemed to let life happen.

I think Joelle Jensen’s Portrait Hall, 2006, best represents the essence of the show. The artists, their subjects and the viewers are like a large family. Maybe we don’t always talk to or see each other, but we know we are there. We like to stop in that hallway and remember and reflect; we like to look.
Collecting is about looking and then deciding what stays with you. What stays with me is a conceptual piece by Mauro Altamura consisting of 1000 14 x11-inch black and white photographs. Twelve were in the exhibition. The body of work is called Anonymous and they are re-photographs of people in the background of pictures published in the New York Times Friday Metro section.


So this summer I had a lot of time to look at people. I would suggest to future collectors that they try my little exercise. Maybe it will help them see too. The artist who made “Degrees of Separation” a reality are listed below. Most have websites.

Shelby Lee Adams, Mary Presley Adams, Mauro Altamura, Marco Ambrosi, Dave Anderson, Roswell Angier, Sheila Pree Bright, David Wilson Burnham, Julie Dennis Brothers, Debbie Fleming Caffery, Peikwen Cheng, Albert Chong, Annabel Clark, Valdir Cruz, Rachael Dunville, Roger Eberhard, Amy Elkins, Martine Fougeron,  Allen Frame, Wyatt Gallery, Stan Gaz, Justin Guariglia, Charles Harbutt, Jefferson Hayman, Jason Horowitz, Joelle Jensen, Jimmy Katz, Rafaelo Kazakov, Mark Kessell, Yasutaka  Kojima, Milomir Kovacevic, Jason Langer, Li Jie Liu, O. Rufus Lovett, Joseph Maida, Gratiane de Moustier, Mladen Pikulic, Dan Nelken, France Scully Osterman, Mark Osterman, Sung Jin Park, Paolo Pellegrin, Matthew Pillsbury, Nicholas Prior, Chris Rauschenberg, Frank Rodick,
Jessica Rowe, Junsik Shin, Elizabeth Siegfried, Inbal Sivan, Radek Skrivanek, Will Steacy, Maura Sullivan, Joseph Szabo, Brad Temkin, Vicki Topaz, Charles Traub, Preston Wadley, Ann Weathersby, Frederic Weber, Marc Yankus.

John A. Bennette is a well-known New York photography critic and scholar whose passion is collecting and supporting emerging artists. His 1996 AIPAD address on “The Joy of Collecting” brought him to national attention within the photographic community. He is a frequent panelist and lecturer at photographic symposia nationwide. He is also participating in Focus Feedback. To contact John with comments or questions, please e-mail him at johnabennette@focusmag.info.

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Collector's Focus

Dare To Go

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By John Bennete

My wish for all collectors is to dare to be brave and go outside the much-hyped name artists that are being shown today—to begin collecting with an open mind and a willingness to take risks. The best thing about this moment is that we have greater choice, yet I fear by not supporting lesser-known established artists, we will doom the visual voice of a generation. Most artists need some support either intellectually, the nod of a sale, or preferably both. Too many artists, too few galleries and lists touting high six and seven figure sales tend to mask the reality that many good photographs sell for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

For all purposes the art world is making a final dash before the summer season begins. March/April have become prime months in the photography world. This year the Photograph Show and a number of major and special auctions have taken place in New York. Then there was Photo Lucida, a bi-annual event in Portland where photography is celebrated with a communal intensity that will not be seen again until Fotofest 2008.

Spring also signals a hungry new group of photographers being unleashed on us from every art school across this great land—hungry young photographers with starry eyes and dreams of being the next new name. For some weird celestial reason that I have never understood, I have the good fortune to see a lot of this new work, partly because I spend time on the review circuit, partly because the word has gotten out that I am easily approachable, and partly that occasionally I say something that makes a difference.

One of my favorite collectors says the only thing you need to collect is money. I thought it was just a good way to get a laugh; it was. But the one thing we would both say is: look and look, some more; study, and then edit. Collecting is very much like love. It happens, but most of the time you have to work hard at it, and nothing is ever guaranteed. This thought leads to the real reason I am writing this column.

Today a letter from a reader of Focus, who happens to be a photographer, arrived. It read:

Dear John Bennette, I am writing to thank you for writing such a well-researched and informative article in the February issue of Focus magazine. It is my first issue, and I am looking forward to the rest. As an emerging photographer based in Philadelphia, it is good to know what the art world is looking for and thinking. I have just recently started to show my portfolio and selling prints, and there is so much to know. I’m sure you get asked this a lot, but do you have any recommendations for an emerging photographer in Philadelphia to get started? I have heard that competitions are a good way, but at the same time, there are so many out there I don’t know which ones are any good. Also, I understand that cold-calling galleries is usually not recommended. One thing I have learned is that networking and getting to know who is who is very important, so I thought I’d reach out and start building my own network. Warmest regards, PE

My response:

Dear PE, The strangest things have happened in the last few years. Photography has broken away from being considered a second-hand art form. A few photographers have become media stars, and a new breed of collector has arrived on the scene with the galleries evolving their ideals to meet these new needs, as well as covering the escalating cost of keeping their space open. The artists are spending so much time promoting their photographs and trying to get into a major gallery (New York, preferably) that I am surprised there is any passion left for making art. I spent a little time at the Armory Show, an event for high art, and I was overwhelmed by the mass of people that congested the space. The fact that a lot of collectors spending large sums of money had an advisor at their sides to say, “This is worthy of taking out your checkbook,” was not really a problem, but it made me pause. What happened to the passion for creating art because you know nothing else, and you would have no life otherwise? What happened to the passion of collecting, which could cause you to give up food and debate how to pay the rent in order to own an image? I would like to share the following thoughts with you.

1. As an artist, you must have some knowledge of the history of art and photography and how your work fits in, reflects or extends that history. The reality is that the basic themes were established long ago; most artists can only hope for a flash of brilliant reinterpretation.

2. I don’ have an exact number, but let us say 3,000 artists finished institutions of higher learning with degrees this year. Competition is fierce, and that is a given for the ages. I have heard both sides of the argument for and against the juried show. I believe that all artists should enter them once in a while. I suggest this even to mature artists because it causes you to focus and reevaluate your work. Sign up and visit the many reviews that are conducted around the country. Create a web site that works, and link it to other sources. I noticed in the recent photo la catalog that artists are taking out ads for themselves. Having your work seen is an important part of the creative process for most.

3. The review session process, such as found at Photo Lucida (Portland, Oregon), Houston FotoFest and Review Santa Fe, is a good way of networking; in some ways it presents a level playing field. When participating in a review, remain positive. Remember, you go to reviews to meet other people and exchange ideas. Although sometimes people walk away with promised galleries, shows and book deals, what you should hope for is that your work is remembered, so if there is an opportunity for it to be shown, the reviewer will remember you. For example, I recently curated a show in New York City. The artists I chose for the show, which took place in a Chelsea gallery, were people I met at either Fotofest or Photo Lucida.

A new trend is the CD with the artists images written to it. I love them, though I suggest the artist please use an image on the label—when a reviewer goes through them later, it is easier if they can see an example of what is stored on the disc.

4. There are many highly respected career advisors and art coaches. Two that come to mind are Mary V. Swanson and Maria Piscopo. If you feel that you are stuck, then maybe it is time to find a consultant who specializes in getting you moving.

5. Be disciplined and devoted to your art.

I will name a few artists whose work I have acquired since I began writing this column. In order to do this, I need to be transparent and up front: a gallery for which I have curated an exhibition represents one of the artists. Added to my collection in the past year are photographs by Arthur Tress, Charles Traub, O. Rufus Lovett, Thomas Kellner, Dan Nelken, Carl Burton, Randy West, Roger Eberhard, Jefferson Hayman, Seth Dickerman and Stan Gaz. You can Google these artists to view their work.

My Stan Gaz is from the “Ash Drawings” series. Each image in the series is a unique hand-processed toned silver gelatin, negative-based print. Stan’s work is about loss, memory and grace. The image I acquired is 40 x 50” and called Lensboy X. I first became aware of his work on a studio visit. Stan was donating a piece to charity (another way to get some exposure of your work to the public). I was blown away by the tension between the lush and tactile surface and the calm mystery that lay beneath it. I was also impressed by the development of the work, how it related to art in general, as well as other bodies of work created by Stan, a very thoughtful and mature artist. Stan represents the shift away from the tiny box in which many photographers have placed themselves. For artists such as Stan, all media are part and parcel of the language they use to express their ideas and concepts. For me, Lensboy X evokes wonder and awe.

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