Thursday, 10 May 2012

Magnum 62

This post is also included under this date as an entry in my hard copy learning journal to enable me to reproduce some of the images discussed rather than just posting links. However, the links are well worth following as the gallery website allows viewing of some large sized images of the photographs.

Today I had another trip to London to take some more images which I had planned for the Elements of Design assignment.  I organised the visit to coincide with the Magnum 62 exhibition at the Chris Beetles Fine Photographs  gallery near Piccadilly.  As most students of photography will know, the Magnum agency has been the pre-eminent force in photojournalism since it was first formed in 1947 by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour and George Rodger as a cooperative agency that would be owned by the artists themselves and who would retain their own copyright.  In the words of Giles Huxley-Parlour in his introduction in the Magnum 62 gallery catalogue and guide, it was “part practical and part visionary” and set Magnum apart from other agencies.

The Magnum 62 exhibition itself shows a single photograph from each of the 62 full members that Magnum has had so far (although there was a 63rd, Philip Jones-Griffiths, for whom work could not be sourced).  There are some iconic images included in the show as well as many with which I am less familiar or had never seen before.  Capa’s image “Landing of the American troops on Omaha beach, Normandy, France, 6th June 1944” and its associated story is probably one of the best known photographs in the world and is used as the cover for the exhibition guide, the show advertising and is the first photograph on view as you go through the door.  It is just a grainy image, but one that somehow captures and epitomises one of the most significant moments in modern world history.  The soldier at the forefront of the image dominates the photograph and his view going out through the bottom of the frame leaves me wondering at what, at whom or where he was looking as he made his way up the beach away from the tangled chaos of the background.

Cartier-Bresson is always associated with capturing the ‘decisive moment’ and nowhere is this more apparent than in his image “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, 1932.”  This was taken with the then new Leica 35mm camera which allowed portability and faster shutter speeds and permitted him to capture the man leaping across the mirror-like water surface moments before the calmness would be shattered by the splash, which of course never happens in the photograph.  You can purchase a print of this for £15,000 ...

I don’t plan to comments on all 62 photographs you will be glad to know, but two images from my own lifetime which I remember from the time at which the events actually happened had particular impact for me.  Firstly, Stuart Franklin’s image of the Chinese student blocking the path of tanks in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989, simply called "Tank man", and secondly Thomas Hoepker’s image of “Muhammad Ali showing off his right fist, Chicago, USA, 1966”.  The “Tank Man” is an iconic image which has been reproduced countless times as a symbol for taking a stand against tyranny and oppression.  Ali of course, was and is still, a legend, both as a boxer and for his stand for human rights and against the US draft for Vietnam.  Still quite simply, “The Greatest”.

All these images relate to specific moments in either history or time.  All are simple, with few visual elements, and the works from Franklin and Hoepker were unplanned events and neither regarded by the photographers as being of particular significance at the time the shutter was released.  That came later.  The message that came to me from the exhibition was that although I am unlikely to ever be in a position to take photographs such as those on show, remarkable images arise from unplanned events and ‘being there’ is obviously the first step! 

A favourite photograph of mine from the show from the more modern era was Steve McCurry’s “Dust storm, Rajasthan, 1983”. I think the two cooking pots in the foreground create a powerful lead into the main subject of the photograph which is the group of women in stunning red who have gathered into a circle to shelter from the coming storm.  I felt I should be looking at the women first, but my eye keeps coming to those pots whenever I open the image.

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