The founding of the Magnum Photo Agency in 1947 within the prevailing state of geopolitics, society, photography and journalism is now history beyond most of our memories. The group is already in its fifth generation of photographers. Has Magnum managed to sustain a sense of purpose between the world then and now? If so, what is that purpose?
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.
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.
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.
GORDON PARKS: A CHOICE OF WEAPONS
NEW YORK CITY—Howard Greenberg Gallery will present the photography exhibition Gordon Parks: A Choice of Weapons from October 8 through December 22 in the new gallery on the 8th floor of the Fuller Building at 41 East 57th Street.
One of the world’s leading galleries for classic and modern photography, the Howard Greenberg Gallery is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an exhibition of important work by the renowned photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks. Through his still images, both candid and staged, the exhibition explores the roots of Parks’ future as a filmmaker.
Parks, who described his camera as his “choice of weapons,” was known for his work documenting American life and culture with a focus on social justice, race relations, the civil rights movement, and the African American experience. He was hired as staff photographer for Life magazine in 1948, where over two decades he created some of his most groundbreaking work that cast light on the social and economic impact of poverty, discrimination, and racism.
In 1969, Parks launched a pioneering film career by becoming the first African American to write and direct a major studio feature, The Learning Tree, based on his semi-autobiographical novel—a career move foreshadowed through his cinematic approach to photography.
Marking the 50th anniversary of the release of Parks’ second feature-length directorial endeavor, Shaft (1971), a classic New York City detective film that spawned the blaxploitation genre, the gallery will present photographic works that reveal the artist’s cinematic approach.
Parks’ earliest photographs often imply a narrative beyond the individual frame, echoing his desire to represent complex facets of his subjects’ lives and communities. Like his films, Parks’ photographs present robust narratives that seek to reveal the complexities of his subjects’ lives.
The works on view include those staged in 1952 in collaboration with Ralph Ellison and inspired by his novel Invisible Man, as well as those made while Parks was embedded with the New York gang leader “Red” Jackson in 1948, and images of the Fontenelles, a Harlem family that struggled to feed their eight children in 1967.
The exhibition coincides with the release of the HBO documentary A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks in November, and the extended presentation of works from his series The Atmosphere of Crime in the permanent collection galleries of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
About Gordon Parks (1912-2006)
Gordon Parks was born into poverty and segregation on a farm in Kansas in 1912, the youngest of 15 children. He worked at odd jobs before buying a camera at a pawnshop in 1938 and training himself to become a photographer. From 1941 to 1945, Parks was a photographer for the Farm Security Administration and later at the Office of War Information in Washington, D.C. As a freelance photographer, his 1948 photo essay on the life of a Harlem gang leader, Red Jackson, won him widespread acclaim and a position as the first African American staff photographer and writer for Life magazine, which continued until 1972. In addition to being a noted composer and author, in 1969, Parks became the first African American to write and direct a Hollywood feature film, The Learning Tree, based on his bestselling novel of the same name. This was followed in 1971 by the hugely successful motion picture Shaft. Parks was the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Medal of Arts in 1988, and was given over 50 honorary doctorates from colleges across the United States. Photographs by Parks are in the collections of many major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, National Gallery of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. stated, “Gordon Parks is the most important Black photographer in the history of photojournalism. Long after the events that he photographed have been forgotten, his images will remain with us, testaments to the genius of his art, transcending time, place and subject matter.”
About The Gordon Parks Foundation
The Gordon Parks Foundation permanently preserves the work of Gordon Parks, makes it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and electronic media, and supports artistic and educational activities that advance what Gordon described as “the common search for a better life and a better world.” The Foundation is a division of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation.
Paris Photo 2021 Review
This review originally appeared in https://independent-photo.com/news/paris-photo-2021/
Paris Photo, the world’s leading art fair dedicated to photography, returns for the 24th time with a packed schedule at the impressive Grand Palais Ephémère in the heart of the French capital, from 11-14 November.
─── by Josh Bright, November 3, 2021
Featuring 177 exhibitors from 25 different countries, along with 30 publishers and booksellers, the fair represents the best of the medium, encompassing the full breadth of the photographic spectrum including the full range of styles and genres, and its earliest forms through to its most cutting–edge iterations.
In addition to the numerous returnees, the fair will welcome 29 new main sector galleries, such as AFRONOVA (Johannesburg) who will exhibit recent works by young South African female photographers, and LOFT ART (Morocco) who will present multimedia artworks by Côte d’Ivoire-born Joana Choumali.
Some of the highlights of the 17 solo shows and 10 duo shows, include, a selection of works by preeminent German photographer, Herbert List, presented by KARSTEN GREVE (Paris); BRAVERMAN (Tel Aviv) celebrates Ilit Azoulay’s work on photography and hysteria; São Paulo gallery LUME, Claudio Edinger’s series on Brazilian identity, and MAGNIN-A (Paris) introduce “Allegoria”, the latest, politically charged series, by Senegalese artist, Omar Victor Diop.
The diverse array of group shows incorporate a host of new and rare works, from unpublished dye transfer prints by American photographer, Tod Papageorge, exhibited for the first time by THOMAS ZANDER (Cologne), to rare prints by Magnum’s, Bruce Davidson, courtesy of HOWARD GREENBERG (New York). A selection of images by newly represented artist, Carrie Mae Weems, will be presented by FRAENKEL (San Francisco).
Group presentations celebrating women in photography include the work of, among others, modernists, Berenice Abbott, Ilse Bing, Germaine Krull, and Helen Levitt, exhibited by BRUCE SILVERSTEIN (New York), and new imagery by Zanele Muholi, presented by STEVENSON (Cape Town), whilst GREGORY LEROY (Paris) and CHARLES ISAACS (New York) extol the work of Mexican photographer, Yolanda Andrade, who documented the 1980s LGBT movement in her homeland.
First launched in 2018, the Curiosa sector will return for 2021. Dedicated to platforming and celebrating emerging artists, it will highlight new trends in contemporary photographic practice, including cutting-edge documentary approaches and themes focusing on identity and the natural environment.
Curated by Shoair Mavlian, Director of Photoworks and Tate Modern’s former Assistant Curator of photography, it features solo presentations by twenty artists from eleven different countries, a number of whom will be exhibiting in France for the first time. The kaleidoscopic photographs of rising London photographer, Maisie Cousins will be on display (TJ BOULTING London) as will Jošt Dolinšek’s poetic depictions of the natural world (PHOTON Ljubljana).
Additionally, for the first time ever, Paris Photo Online Viewing Room will open to the public from November 11-17th.
Powered by Artlogic (the industry leader in digital solutions for the art world) it provides a platform for galleries and book dealers, allowing them to expand on their physical offerings, and, an opportunity for those collectors and photography enthusiasts who are unable to attend in person, to peruse and purchase artworks, discover new talent, and connect with galleries and art book dealers from around the world.
The 24th edition of Paris Photo will run from 11-14 NOV 2021. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit their website.
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A Trillion Sunsets
A Century of Image Overload
Are there too many images in the world? Too many of the wrong kind? Too many that we don’t like, or want, or need? These feel like very contemporary questions but they have a rich and fascinating history. A Trillion Sunsets: A Century of Image Overload takes a long look at our worries and compulsive fascination with the proliferation of photographic images. The exhibition highlights unlikely parallels and connections across the decades. From picture scrapbooks to internet memes, from collage and image appropriation, to art made by algorithms, the exhibition offers powerful insights and new perspectives on our long love/hate relationship with images.
Artists include Hannah Höch, Nakeya Brown, Sheida Soleimani, Walker Evans, Sara Greenberger-Rafferty, Guanyu Xu, Hank Willis Thomas, Robert Capa, Barbara Morgan, Richard Prince, Louise Lawler, Andy Warhol, Pacifico Silano and John Baldessari.
79 Essex Street, New York, NY 10002Jan 28, 2022 – May 02, 2022
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