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Magnum as inspiration?

Ok, I know this might piss off lot of people but let me get this is off my chest.
I go to the Magnum photos website everyday to checkout what my favorite photo agency
photogs are shooting, and most of the time they are inspiring.
However I see a large quantity of complete garbage, and even less-than-point-and-shoot
quality. Its like the photographer was blindfolded and shot the pictures.
Here is an example and nothing personal.

My question is, do magazines publish photos just because you are famous or
belong to a famous photo agency or do they consider pictures entirely(though not objectively)
on the quality and relevance? And how much does your “persona” rather than talent
count in this business?

by robert stone at 2006-04-25 11:57:45 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) ny , United States | Bookmark | | Report spam→

well, first off im not sure these pictures were published anywhere. second, the magnum website has definitely demystified alot of the work they do for me. before the website, we only got to see their work in the occasional magazine or book length project. now we get to see alot more, which means we get to see that, indeed, they are human. the site is also a tool for promotion, to show editors etc… that the photographers are working, doing stuff, etc… for example, whenever a big event happens, they start posting what their photographers have done eg the paris riots, katrina, and so on…i wouldnt say that the magnum website is a venue where they are showing completely finished work…and finally, hell yeah the persona has alot to do with getting work published and with even getting any work. i know very talented photographers who are horrible at promoting themselves (creating a “persona”) who cant get any work, and on the flipside, pretty generic photographers doing pretty boring work who get alot of work and are even repped by good agencies. so yeah, persona matters big time….one other thing, i would say that talent is a “foot in the door” and then it’s all about reminding people of your presence and schmoozing the people you want to work with.

by Kenneth Dickerman | 25 Apr 2006 12:04 (ed. Apr 25 2006) | Chicago, IL, United States | | Report spam→
If you want to see crap, check the VII Archive website: www.viiarchive.com. That makes think that they are not better than me or you. Just they are shooting in the right place.

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 12:04 | Santiago, Chile | | Report spam→
A lot of people like to be associated with success, credibility and status – art directors and editors too.
Anyway, it might just be easier to persuade colleagues to run a story shot by a Magnum photographer.

Although wonderful work is still done by Magnum veterans, top names like Salgado, Natchwey and
Eugene Richards do move on.

by Graham Harrison | 25 Apr 2006 12:04 (ed. Apr 25 2006) | Oxford, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
But I also think the sites like Magnum, VII, Panos even – are there as a measuring stick for the industry. College kids and young photojournalists all look to those sites to get an idea of photographic trends and who is pushing the envelope in what direction. And while books are a great source of learning, I think alot of people head to the web now to geet an idea of what is out there.
Whether or not all the work is good is another debate – but like debating art its subjective. But as long as those sites are up and people are going to them to “learn” and referencing that work in their mind’ eye – it will always have its inspirational place…


by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 12:04 | NYC Biatch!!, United States | | Report spam→
I think Magnum has certainly taken a step away from the “decisive moment” tradition.
Alex Soth’s Niagra series, for example, is a collection of portraits IMHO. It’s not reportage.

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 12:04 | Moscow, Russia | | Report spam→

I think ‘crap’ is probably not the correct term but I get your point and,as Kenneth stated,we are seeing than the ‘stars’ are,in fact human.
I think the same can be said for almost every photographer/agency that has the bulk of their collected archives available for public viewing.
Click on most quality photographers portfolio link and you are blown away but start to dissect their archive like a forensic team at a crime scene and
holes are bound to appear. Nobody has an all star performance every time out.
You could make the same statement about pro athletes pulling in $25million a year. You watch a 20 clip reel of their highlights and are in awe but if every
second of their careers was available for dissection online I think we’d all be less than impressed.


by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 12:04 | Montreal, Canada | | Report spam→
Dang, I hope nobody ever goes through my collection of images. You know sometimes you’re on an assignment and there is just no chance of getting a great shot, or maybe even thats not what your there for. I’d had plenty a brief that quite specifically asked for the dullest of images, but then thats what the client needed for a particular layout or something. I wouldn’t go looking at the worst of someonese work for inspiration.

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 12:04 | Tokyo, Japan | | Report spam→
I think it points less to the fact that these greats of photojournalism are human, and more to the fact
that the world they are covering is humanly chaotic. Our daily visual landscape is full of clutter and unbalance
that easily distract a photographer from extracting the harmonious beauty in the world that they’re looking for.
We’re not working with a blank canvas like other artistic medias. For this reason, I think we all owe our utmost respect
when a photographer is able to untangle the disorderedly that is around us all the time and make it pleasing- and to do
so over and over again is the mark of a visual genius.

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 12:04 | montreal, Canada | | Report spam→
We have twenty times the number of photographers now than we did in 1985, and all the major magazines have cut back assignments at least 50% over what they were giving out back them. At the same time, there are new generations of photographers who learned well from studying the great photographers of the 50s and 60s and there is more good work around than ever before. Magnum is trying to maintain its “glow” and that is what all the web promotion is about, although I agree that the result may be the opposite of what they expect. They are probably showing too much, but again, that comes out of desperation, as the whole industry is overwhelmed with imagery. Its 90% subject matter and everyone knows the subjects by now…..everything, almost everyone has been photographed. And great photography belongs in books, and who buys those anymore? When I came to New Orleans, there were a handful of people shooting here. Now I have seen many come through, and much of the photography (especially the captions) are hilarious. Even the better ones haven’t a clue as to what they are shooting. The “reporting” is not much better, even for very large national magazines. Recently a photographer came down from a large paper, a staff photographer, and took a job I was going to shoot. He hadn’t a clue as to what he was shooting, and his captions showed he knew little about the culture, and less about what he was doing. But he had a fancy name— LOL, its such BS really. I am quite sure I can shoot circles around this guy, by at this point, whats the difference? A lot of this comes from the “New York” attitude (and I was born in Manhattan and can claim to be a native) which is that if it isn’t from NY (or in Magnums case, Paris) it can’t be the best, which is now as far away from the truth as possible— except in my case, of course.

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 13:04 (ed. Apr 25 2006) | new orleans, United States | | Report spam→
What you have to consider is when these photographers were accepted into Magnum they showed their very best work & then it is judged & disected.

I think you should judge the photographer(in this case)on their overall contribution over a long period of time. In fact I have seen a lot worse on Magnum which is inspiration in itself. + at the end of the day the editors at Magnum should reject anything which does not meet the required standard. How many times have all you guys submitted work knowing it was far from your best but it still gets the thumbs up. It happens to us all!

Hey Ben(Lowy)nice to see you participating. What have you been up too? Still would love you to contribute the Gaza dog story to my upcoming book. It’s nearly at the production stage so let me know!


by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 13:04 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Yeah, when I was studying my forebears I always went to books and such because websites like this didnt exist, and it gave you a different idea of their powers because that represented the best they had to offer. I still think it is the best way to learn, but as Kenneth points out, the websites make you realize that they are human after all, and that is a good lesson to learn. There is excessive adulation involved in learning and that is not a good thing; it can stymie your development, you start to think that there is no room among the gods for you.

But I think the website reflects other factors: many photographers are not their best self-editors, and many refuse to allow others to cut their edit down further so as to make it truly shine. I saw this kind of self-indulgence at Black Star all the time. A very bad idea, btw. You might as well shoot yourself in the foot.
Also I think Magnum is in the middle of an identity crisis. You have people there like Soth, who dont fit in the original concept behind magnum and maybe that is bad or maybe that is good. It is not the sort of stuff that I like, but an institution is bound to change and grow, and stultify and adulterate itself too. Magnum is one of the older agencies that has managed to survive the recent upheaval in the business and managed to acquire lots of good photoraphers in the process. We have the new guys, younger ones, doing interesting work, and we have mid-level types like Cristina Rodero who do marvelous work. Dan mil tropezones, pero siguen con fe.

Kitra, I am not sure I buy the chaotic world argument. I agree with the job description, but if you are implying there is something different now as compared with the past, I am unconvinced. Magnum was born in the midst of one of the bloodiest most chaotic centuries yet, and they didnt allow that to overwhelm their aesthetic sense. They brought order to a world that really looked like it was tearing itself apart (though each in his own way: Cartier Bresson’s Decisive moment was one way of organizing things, but Capa didnt really work on that principle). I think the difference we are seeing stems from the lack of a clearly held ideology that binds all their separate practices in one vision, and I think that basically changes in the business, the loss of a market that once placed photojournalism at the center of information-gathering, its replacement by lifestyle reporting (sheesh!), and the inevitable changes in the style and content of reportage have been significant contributors.. On rereading your post, I realize that you are probably not implying a difference, but let the comment stand anyways.

Picking up on what Mark said about long term contribution, I have always thought that what distinguished magnum was not any individual photographer or image or even the quality of any given work — many magnum guys are not good all round shooters by any means. No, it was about commitment to an idea of photography, best exemplified in my mind by Koudelka. That faith and commitment is still there and a lot of those guys work like the devil to live up to it.

by Jon Anderson | 25 Apr 2006 13:04 (ed. Apr 25 2006) | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Hi Andy – glad you survived Katrina. You are right. When I started as a photographer in the 70s
there was a handfull of pros in London, and we often talked of poor layouts and low production
values. Now the layouts and values are pretty good but what is being said visually is, more
often than not, so superficial.

by Graham Harrison | 25 Apr 2006 13:04 | Oxford, United Kingdom | | Report spam→

Generally speaking, many more pictures see the light of the day because everyone is shooting digital. We take many more pictures now than in the past. Because we’re less selective, more mediocre photographs makes it into the public domain. That’s true, whether we’re talking about Magnum, the news agencies, or individual photographers. It’s hardly surprising that these websites and their huge archives are making some of these photographers look ‘average’.

One photographer I interviewed for my dissertation noted the following:

Because you’ve got some agencies, especially with the advent of digital, who are massively over-filing. They’ll go to a job and then shoot it, man looks left, man looks right, man looks down, as I said to XXXXX yesterday, man stares at his own navel. They’ll send every single option. I used to work in magazines, so I understand that it’s important to send maybe more options than you want to a newspaper, because, layout of a magazine is a little more in-depth and they want negative space on the left to lay text, or they want the man looking into the gutter, or looking towards the headline or lead-in, so they want some options on that. But, I see production on the wires now, and there are 20-30 pictures coming out of a photo-call, which are completely pointless and mostly useless. And a picture editor, say at The Guardian, where you’ve got six, seven, eight people working at the desk, there’s a constant flow of stuff coming in, and it means that if they go to look for a picture, they’re actually swamped with a whole lot of pictures. But it’s not like looking at the production of one photographer, they’re looking at a production of several photographers, some of whom have edited very tightly, very carefully, very consciously, very considered. Some people have just taken a scatter-gun approach and sent, say, 20-30 pictures. I still think it comes back to the editing, I mean, you can send 20 pictures from a job, and they can all have a valid use or reason behind them, so some people will send 20 pictures, and you can actually look at them and think: “Yep, that makes sense for that job”. But other people, just say, well, “I’ve got the pictures, so I’ll send them”

Another one said the following:

“But for me, the biggest thing with going digital is that it’s so much easier to shoot a picture and wire it, in that, from any job now you can easily send 10-12 pictures. In the old days, there was never 12 pictures to be sent. You would only send 4 pictures, because you know, shooting film was always a more drawn out process. You would edit so much closer, and you just wouldn’t have the junk to edit anyway. Quite often photographers can shoot 200 frames at a job, which equates to 8 rolls of film, or whatever. You’d be shot if you went back to the newspaper or whatever with 8 rolls of film. So a lot of pictures, I feel now, shouldn’t even really see the light of day, but unfortunately do. That’s my main bugbear of digital. It hasn’t helped the editing process. I think when it was first envisioned, that everything would become easier for the paper’s to edit, but I think that because there’s more of it now, and easier to send, there are actually weaker pictures going in the newspapers.”

by David Azia | 25 Apr 2006 13:04 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Ben, this definitely was not art VS subjectivity debate, most us can see good work vs mediocre work.
And this certainly is not about choatic times, but Jon, you seem to hit the nail right on.
Seems more like a photographer’s lack of ideology or a point of view. Perhaps thats what seperates average
photogs from good or great ones. And David, yes, digital is partly responsible for this overshooting
and lazy editing.

I love Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi work, but when I saw his reportage in the New York Times magazine
about Families of the marines, it was nowhere close. I could think of so many other photographers who could have done
the job million times better. Made me wonder about the reality of assignments, fame etc.

by robert stone | 25 Apr 2006 14:04 | ny, United States | | Report spam→
Graham, thats true…..the best shots never saw the light of day back then. Now I think maybe they are seen, but as 4×6 on the internet, in the middle of 60 other shots. Fortunately here in New Orleans there is a strong reactionary trend and local photographers are now getting organized to promote “New Orleans” photography— which I think is a very good thing. There are two shows that are going up for Jazz Fest, one in the New Orleans Museum of Art, and one at the Fest itself, which is about getting stuff back onto paper. I have been sucked back into “feeding the machine” which is what we all seem to be doing, shooting, uploading, and occaisionally maybe something nice hits the page, but really, no one gives a crap whether its an Andy Levin picture or Alex Reshaun, or whoever. What has happened is that a few photogs like Jim Nachtwey (sorry Jim) are set on the pedestal, and get the royal spread, and the rest fight for the crumbs. In the past, I think things were a bit more level, or at least thats my impression, anyway. I never had a pedestal but I had a chair, now I camp on the floor. But thats OK, it beats being camped under the floor…..and at least there is the hope that maybe I can get another spread, in some rag somewhere.

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 14:04 | new orleans, United States | | Report spam→
But thats just it Robert – inspiration – is subjective. What might get out blood boiling might not work for someone else. Inspiration is a very personal thing. It def is subjective. whether or not that is the type of work being displayed by the more famous agencies is what should concern us. Yes, becasue of the digital age there is more work, more photographers, and now alas – less space in magazines.
And of course we see more images every day and are inundated with scenes from around the world in every visual spectrum. Does that water down the photo world? Unfortunetly, yes. Does that make work that is more refined shine and inspire? I certainly hope so…

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 14:04 | NYC Biatch!!, United States | | Report spam→
And just as a side note – The greatness of the Internet comes from the opportunity that in this shrinking world of less space and budgets in magazines, photographers, the great lot of us, can publish our work online. At least there is a greater chance of it being seen as a 4×6 among 60 other pictures than it would be stuffed in a negative box underneath our beds.

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 14:04 | NYC Biatch!!, United States | | Report spam→
I didn’t mean to imply that our world now is in a state of more chaos than previously, (Au contraire!)
but rather that the world as it is, is chaotic. It takes a great talent to be able to impart a personalized aesthetic style
onto the world. How difficult it is to turn reality, lacking an inherent composition, into an evocative photograph.
A painter’s paint doesn’t change its pigment as he imparts his imagined vision on his white canvas. However, a photographer
is left to mold his image out of a finished product, a living product that is spontaneous and always changing. How difficult
it is to take a great photograph! And yet- there are masters of photography!! However, to expect them to ALWAYS impart their vision
doesn’t seem feasible- especially given the nature of the medium. Although I’m more than prepared to be amazed.

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 14:04 | montreal, Canada | | Report spam→
I’m not sure what this is all about. Look at Pinkhassov, Sarfati, Koudelka or Economopolous. . .

by Davin Ellicson | 25 Apr 2006 14:04 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
This is certainly a resonant topic within our group. I remember the first time I had the reaction as well, that some of the work just wasn’t anywhere near the standard I had come to expect from a given Magnum photographer, as seen through books and exhibitions. And it was something of a relief to know that even they have moments, days, where they are doing their jobs to the best of their ability and it is coming up average. My sense is that sometimes the magic moments aren’t there, or the photographer can’t see them because (s)he isn’t invested personally in the moment. What impresses me is the continued effort to work, and the continued grasping for the images that line up with the photographer’s intention. HCB said something along the lines that the moment he was after came maybe once a year…we are all waiting for different things to happen before the lens, but will never capture it if we aren’t out there shooting mediocre things as well.

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 14:04 | Brooklyn, NY, United States | | Report spam→

That’s certainly true. The Internet is giving us a space to express ourselves…

The thing is, back in the 50’s, Vogue and all these ‘lifestyle’ magazines were dedicated to publishing high quality photo essays. Sooner or later (I hope!), people will come to realise that all this lifestyle stuff is a load of BS. I mean, will anyone in fifty years time really care about Tom Cruise? It’s scary to what extent newspapers in the UK, particularly the broadsheets, are ready to stoop to the level of the tabloids, just in order to shift copy.

Anyway, on the matter of Magnum…yes, there are some members who just don’t seem to fit in with the founding principles of the agency. Yet, if they’re making money for the agency, and financially supporting the entire structure, who are we to judge?

by David Azia | 25 Apr 2006 14:04 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
I am inspired by subject matter, and not pictures…..I am almost always disappointed by my pictures.

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 14:04 (ed. Apr 25 2006) | new orleans, United States | | Report spam→
Isn’t this all to do with mystification and romanticisation of Magnum?
Didn’t Capa, amongst others, sometimes produce less than exemplary images (and fiddle the
captions – in the days before Magnum but still…) And HCB only fitted into that
Magnum tradition when Capa told him to drop the surrealist tag? Maybe
Magnum should return to its surrealist roots.

by Colin Pantall | 25 Apr 2006 14:04 | Bath, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
I like Gilles Peress work a lot…..he created a new style. Alex Webb did too. But then he got stuck with it. People studied what these guys did, and in some cases improved it. Thats why we are at where we are now…..one builds on the other.

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 14:04 | new orleans, United States | | Report spam→
everyone is shooting digital. We take many more pictures now than in the past.

Not me! I am still plodding along preshistorically shooting film. And when I do shoot digital (more now, it turns out) I still do so according to my old habits, which die hard. Btw, there were plenty of photogs in the old days of film who shot too much and handed in those eight or more rolls. On the whole I think you are right though David.

Jon, you seem to hit the nail right on

I sometimes do that, but mostly I hit my thumb! No, in this case I think at least so far as magnum is concerned, there is an unraveling of the vision that held them together once. Oh there was always plenty of diversity: Ernst Haas’s early experiments with color were quite aesthetically different from the rest and raised some eyebrows, so that aesthetic divergence or tension among the members was always present to some degree. But it was a smaller, tighter, more ad hoc operation in the days when a certain ideology ruled about the nature and purpose of reportage. That is no longer the case.

Ben, as far as subjectivity goes, if you mean the term loosely, I can agree with you to some extent. But there is no such thing really as subjectivity in any concrete sense, and without getting into a whole philosophical argument about why that is, let us just say that there is a range of individual opinions at any given historical point in any given society that marks the limits of “subjective” feeling or thought. However, that range is always subject to the limits imposed by the context or “paradigm” that rules and so what we often see when we test or examine an individual’s ideas is that they are an extension of a particular trend within that society. No one thinks entirely on his own, and inspiration or esthetic innovation often strikes many different people at once. Ideas are never really the property of individuals but rather of “schools of thought.” Think of cubism. Who dreamed that up? Picasso, Rivera, Braques, . . . ? All of them really, some of them working together, influencing each other, and some working in a more isolated fashion.

So what is the point? Basically that magazines are ruled by trends which dictate what we see: in the 90s we saw lots of that neutral color, very stiffly posed, high DOF, mannequin-like portraiture, which thank heavens seems to have disappeared. A taste for a particular style prevails but I wouldnt call it entirely a matter of subjectivity. Magnum too is subject to trends of thought and I think that they are swimming around in the midst of conflicting currents nowadays. Robert’s point that the quality of work is something separate from matters of taste and personal opinion is also subject to the same criticism I am making here, in that criteria for what distinguishes good work changes too with the context. At the moment, partly due to the digital revolution and partly due to a loss of status, the criteria for good photojournalism are in flux, or at least it appears so to me, though my own personal “subjective” criteria are still very firm and based in an older tradition that for me is quite sufficient.

by Jon Anderson | 25 Apr 2006 14:04 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Part of the driving force behind Magnum has been chaos anyway, It’s a huge entity with an ungodly number of members, who are treated like the Order of the Jedi, with Leicas as their lightsabers. Every utterance from Cartier-Bresson was venerated as if he were the oracle (though what he says about photography is as cryptic and nonsensical as anything spoken by Yoda). My point is just that you can’t get handle on Magnum style or the typical Magnum photographer—there are just too many, doing too many different things, and “they” are taken way too seriously. Look at the individual photographers—Abbas, Webb, Harvey, etc,—and the stuff of dazzling, but as some big “movement” or collective it just collapses.

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 15:04 | | Report spam→
a photographer is left to mold his image out of a finished product, a living product that is spontaneous and always changing.

Agreed, and for me that is what makes the endeavor so incredibly satisfying and endlessly interesting, wrestling with the stubborn object world and surrendering to it. As Arbus once pointed out, “I have never taken a photo that I intended.”

The greatness of the Internet comes from the opportunity that in this shrinking world of less space and budgets in magazines, photographers, the great lot of us, can publish our work online.

Agreed, but I worry about the quality of the viewing going on. At exhibitions I can see the sometimes very strong reaction the photos elicit, but web viewing is click, click, click, and I wonder how much attention is really devoted to studying the image.

by Jon Anderson | 25 Apr 2006 15:04 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
I am almost always disappointed by my pictures.

I like the phrasiing Andy. But that may not be such a bad thing after all, keeps you sharp, keeps you hungry, keeps you hunting for more.

Also I agree with you that getting stuck with a style is a bad thing. Dashiel Hammett: “It is the beginning of the end when you realize you have a style.”

by Jon Anderson | 25 Apr 2006 15:04 (ed. Apr 25 2006) | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
It’s good you mentioned Gilles Peress. He is a great photographer. His style has been copied but he is still the master.
He’s like a renaissance painter. In his book TELEX IRAN you have all the elements that many of the above posts talk about.
As you turn the pages you think Poor poor poor than WHAM a picture that is so different with obscure composition. Then poor poor WHAM another great picture. I think Kitra was right in saying that chaos impedes vision sometimes but the great photographers wait for that special moment.

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 15:04 (ed. Apr 25 2006) | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→

Well, it’s true that a lot of viewing on the web is “click, click, click”. But I was sitting in my kitchen last night watching Fusco’s Tchernobyl story on the Magnum in Motion website…and I was in awe and disbelief. The emotion that’s communicated by Fusco’s voice, combined with his pictures had a very powerful effect on me. So I suppose that it’s more a question of harnessing the medium and using it to its full extent!

You’re in the fortunate position Jon of being able to rely on film. If it was entirely up to me (and unfortunately, the market dictates otherwise) I would gladly dump my digital camera and continue using film. I was looking through some old contact sheets the other day, and I couldn’t help but think: “Fuck, this is so much more enjoyable than looking at pictures on my laptop!”

Thing is, we’re living through a period of transition. Digital is still in its infancy – not in terms of image quality, but in terms of using it to its full potential – and I hope that the old guard (i.e. Magnum, and othersl) will continue to use multimedia to its fullest extent. And I hope that they also continue holding exhibitions and printing wonderful monographs.

by David Azia | 25 Apr 2006 15:04 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Digital is still in its infancy. Today while buying film I overheard the salesman and another photographer doing the “I haven’t gone digital, will film survive” converstaion. The salesman mentioned that a number of customers who went whole hog into digital got rid of their gear a year later and that the shop was recently selling boat loads of film…

Obviously, the dictates of pressing deadlines mean it will mean digital will survive, but people need to figure out how to “use” it , “process” it. Majoli’s color work, which I think is often digital, is an example of someone in control of his medium. When I see a crap, lifeless, flat image reproduce on paper or pixels I would bet my Leica that it was shot with a digital camer BY SOMEONE WHO IS NOT IN CONTROL

by Christopher Wise | 25 Apr 2006 15:04 (ed. Apr 25 2006) | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Well I dont know if I can “rely” on film, but for my personal work certainly i do, and that is mostly what i am doing right now and I happen to be lucky enough to have some “patrons.” But I am shooting a digital story (with some holga film shots thrown in) on the Colonial CIty here, and I am loving it, so mixing up the media is not so bad. I would say digital is definitely in its infancy, even in terms of quality: it is going to get even better. And nowadays dont forget that you can make up a digital negative and print that to a silver halide paper, so you get those rich blacks crisp greys, etc. Here is a link to Lenswork that describes the idea.

Peress’s Telex Iran is one of those incredible moments when something new and exciting arises. But that is a tricky “style” to keep alive and it can lead to problems like too much obscurity and overindulgence that becomes too mannerist for my taste. But that one book is very important.

by Jon Anderson | 25 Apr 2006 15:04 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
of course,Magnum has some fantastic photographers.
David Hurns book "On being a photographer’ was a great inspration.
I love Burt Glinn’s editorial work.
get a bunch of Magnum members in the same room,get them talking amongst themselves and watch what happens.

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 15:04 (ed. Apr 25 2006) | England, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Eugene Richards work on drugs was excellent too, where the style fit the subject, the use of one lens (28mm Olympus if I remember) in a distinctive way. Between that and Telex, and Alex Webb’s Haiti, those are three very interesting looks. Vietnam, Inc would be another.

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 19:04 | new orleans, United States | | Report spam→
I believe it was the 21mm Olympus. . . but anyways, I think Magnum can do what it wants and regenerate itself over time. Like anyone else these guys must work very hard and shoot a lot of film to end up with good pictures. The website shows more of the process than finished books or exhibitions do. Obviously that Chilean work would be very tightly edited. . . the “features” on the site tend to be loosely put together. If you go through the archive on Magnum’s site you will see a whole of lot of interesting work beyond the most famous books. . . . . . Davin.

by Davin Ellicson | 25 Apr 2006 19:04 (ed. Apr 25 2006) | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Hey Robert, good point! That’s true we have seen lots of garbage produced from Magnum photographers. Human being is a delicate case and always predisposed to be bored with everything. Many of us are going toward perfection. At this point, it’s really hard to “accept” others work; like some of the worst visual stories at Magnum website.
I am glad that Paolo Pellegrin and Alex Majoli are keeping up the most innovative work; to others, I am not interested too much… pity, this is so subjective. SUN IS GOING UP AROUND MY WORLD.
Keep up the good work.

by Bevis Fusha | 25 Apr 2006 19:04 | Tirana, Albania | | Report spam→
Bevis, Thanks again for the car info. Up late there in Tirana?! I like that shot of that horse with sun. . . also Jonas Bendiksen has some very quirky stories out of central Asia. . . Best, Davin.

by Davin Ellicson | 25 Apr 2006 19:04 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Hey Bevis, you must know Bill Crandall. . . I took a workshop with him once in Prague. . . Davin.

by Davin Ellicson | 25 Apr 2006 19:04 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
I sort of feel that with all this ranting and raving about Magnum, if people have such criticism, then why don’t they send in portfolios by 24 May and see if they become nominees?!

by Davin Ellicson | 25 Apr 2006 20:04 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Well, discussion is almost over.
I couldn’t resist anymore. Hugo, please stop the lie to yourself man. What is the right place? The right place is your backyard man. This is like thinking of expensive cameras and lenses to take better pictures. Now, I am listening to Mercedes Sosa who pushes me to go Argentina and end of the world where you live. Nobody can cover your country better than you believe me. You know the culture, people, cities, and language. Why do Salgado’s pictures from Latin America and Eugene Richards’s stories from his neighbourhood are great? You should know the answer!!!
If VII is crap, I don’t even want to think about other photo agencies.
Times have changed; of course Magnum should be change. This shouldn’t be surprise..
Kitra’s stuff from Israel that won POYi this year is not very different than Paolo Pellegrin’s stuff, for me. Both Kitra and Paolo tell the story; there is no huge difference. May be, there was a better picture from the evacuation.
I wonder that did anybody see the pictures of Jonas from Nepal on Magnum website. First pictures were really bad, second and third days pictures were much better. Magnum had to upload those crap pictures because they needed money, probably.
What does Magnum for me? Magnum means long-term projects for me. We might do what new photographers do, but I don’t think we can do what legendary photographers did. You must focus on your project for two-three years or more. You must live in there for a long time where you cover the story. You must weave the stories. And list goes on….. Balkans, Gypsies, Leros, Carnival Strippers, No Man’s Land and many more projects make Magnum different than other photo agencies. I am disappointed about new photographers either. Nothing to do.

Many new photographers just fool around for a few weeks and then job is done. Fu…. off. Your job is not done. You are such a liar. I know you have to do that because you must produce the goods and then sell it to magazines or agencies. You don’t create a photo story you just create goods (merchandise) in shining package that have to be consumed in mass media in a day. I believe that social documentary photography and long-term projects age gone. Magazines do need more space to publish advertising; who care about 6-7 pages photo story every week
. Are we going to fast consume photo culture like fast food one?

I am gonna stop myself, may be I can add more later on.



by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 20:04 | Toronto, Canada | | Report spam→
the moment you spend more time caring/thinking about what’s going on at magnum (or any agency for that matter) is the moment your should hand in (to me ;)) ) your cameras….

such a strange conversational thread…

i’m one step closer to running away from lightstalkers, indeed….

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 20:04 | Toronto, Canada | | Report spam→
Well if you are going to hand in your cameras, please reserve one for me. Any wideluxes in the bunch?

not such a strange thread, Bob, when you consider the powerful symbolism behind Magnum. Obviously people need to wrestle with it a bit.

by Jon Anderson | 25 Apr 2006 21:04 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
You are funny Jon and, as usual, clear headed! I have a Widelux F8, but am keeping it! E-bay has one now and again. . . They have such pin sharp lenses! Davin

by Davin Ellicson | 25 Apr 2006 21:04 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
sure you dont want to part with it Davin? Thought you were using the Hasselblad! Actually ebay does have the F7s quite often and when I get my next grant, you know where I will be spending it! I dont really need a panorama too often, but would like to have it from time to time.

by Jon Anderson | 25 Apr 2006 21:04 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
“get a bunch of Magnum members in the same room,get them talking amongst themselves and watch what happens.”

We do that each year. About 60 big and small ego’s in the same room for at least three days at the end of June… And we get pretty much of what I can read through all those posts in LS: a big diversity in opinions on documentary photography, a brainstorming on the changing market. That’s why we have the party at the beginning of the three days (and now even four), because, believe me, you leave the meeting with a headache, so you might as well start with one…

Each year the exciting part is when the portfolios of the applicants are being discussed: to me it is 70% purely about photography, the rest is about the personality and nothing or VERY little about the market value of the new candidate. That’s when all the different opinions within the group pop up. They can be very provocative or reactionary, but they all somehow tend to the same “thing”: maintaining or trying to improve the quality of documentary photography and STAYING INDEPENDENT.

Back to the beginning of the thread:
“However I see a large quantity of complete garbage”
Yes I agree, we do shoot crap sometimes at Magnum because indeed we are human (thank you to those who noticed it) and because we need the dough. Magnum is a hungry and luxurious machine. Independence is a luxury these days. Luxury is expensive.

“And how much does your “persona” rather than talent count in this business?”
A lot (I know: I haven’t had a proper assignment since nearly 2 years). Getting the nice assignment or getting attention is very much about persona. That goes within Magnum as well, just like anywhere else. Roughly put: you don’t get pushed or supported in the same way by the Magnum staff if you don’t get published or get good exhibition venues, and you don’t get published or get into the right exhibition as easily if you can’t get Magnum spend time on you. Money brings money and fame brings fame. I know some guys at Magnum who are having a hard time (I’ve scaled down my needs by living in Cambodia, so I’m OK thanks). It is not necessarily some evil plot. It is merely a snake biting its own tail for some of us. Because after all: we, the photographers, are the ones who supposedly decide how things are run in the cooperative. But the dynamics in a group of 60 are more complex than with 25 photographers like 15 years back, and the management of the agency has gained more independence from the photographers. So yes, sometimes I think Magnum is too big. But on the other hand I’m sure we wouldn’t have survived if we hadn’t taken in new blood and if we hadn’t expanded commercially. And I wouldn’t have had the stimulating kicks in my butt if we had stuck with the “classical” Leica reportage.

So please: keep watching us and keep kicking the beast in the teeth to see if it’s still alive. And be assured we are watching you…

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 21:04 | his house, Cambodia | | Report spam→
Thanks for that, John. No matter how human Magnum’s individual members may be, as a collective I can’t help but see them an inspiration and an ideal.

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 21:04 (ed. Apr 25 2006) | Brooklyn, NY, United States | | Report spam→
Jon :))…from one rum drinker to another ;))…what I find strange about the thread is this: its always amusing to me that photographers still pigeon-hole themselves as such: does it matter that Shakespeare&Co pub. Ulysses first?, or that, for example, Ronhaldino’s current jersey is for Barcelona, (though, I’ll take Pele’s bare feet over maroon and blue ;) ) or that Nag Hammadi papyrus manuscripts were discovered by a young man in the sandy hill of Upper Egypt or that, hell, the only store in southern florida that would sell an once-underaged young man Gossling Rum was named McCoy’s?…when, folks, are we going to get beyond this shit! :)))))…

Okay, i’ll go on the record: I shoot alot of shit….and I shoot alot of beautiful photographs and neither (the shit and the beautiful) changes one fact: we still hold camera’s (much to our and others dismay) for probably the same reason: we are haunted by stories and wish to convey the same fragrance….

would it not be wonderful to realize that the agency (and I mean this inc the most catholic of ways: medium) of our expression as photographers is secondary, always, to what is and is not accomplished…

once the moment they begin to realize something fundamental: failure is the wolf chewing upon our ankles and failure is not something to be ashamed of, only the denial of such…

I’ve never cared about Magnum (frankly) but Im here to to support its (and the photographers who are members) un-curtaining of itself: beauty and failure….

okay: magnum (and said apotheosistic agencies) pay the bills, but which can sustain those moments which first compelled you to lift up that camera in the first place…

I’ll take any photographer who is unafraid to reveal what we all understand: our failures by far outnumber our successes…and bloody hell, thank goodness for that….

I’d rather spend time castigating my own work (which I do): Jesus Bob, what’ the hell’s the deal…that’s alot of TRI-x out the window….and still, poor sod, I keep buying and shooting more (without or without Magnum in my life)…

“whatever stains you, you rubbed into yourself” seamus heaney ;))))


by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 22:04 (ed. Apr 25 2006) | Toronto, Canada | | Report spam→
i was hoping an actual magnum member would contribute to this, thanks jon! . . .

i think a lot of what you see on the magnum website is the result of the changing face of the business and the agency’s necessary adaptation to survive. you could argue VII has taken the opposite strategy to compete by staying small and ‘selective’, but both are using the web as a necessary means to market themselves, and probably both are finding some amount of success with their web strategies. has this demystified magnum? not really for me. as a working photographer you’d have to be pretty naive to think that any other working photographer – even your heros – doesn’t shoot a lot of average pictures. archives are archives, portfolios are portfolios, they are different beasts. i wouldn’t criticize anyone for the content of their archive, it is supposed to be where you keep everything, good or bad!

anyway, a point on some above posts about overfiling: this is a problem that is plaguing both the wires and the agencies. wires sometimes file 20 photos from a press conference. of what?! crap! (if i can borrow from hugo’s original post ;-). anyway, this seems to pressure others to overfile, and all of a sudden you have people filing 30 pictures a day, whereas before digital they’d have filed 5. digital has changed the business, in so many ways. and affects AP or Reuters as much as it does Magnum of VII. bendikson’s pictures from nepal? no stronger than the wire images, but magnum has to compete on this breaking news story. this is not a documentary story like he did there before. totally different beast, and therefore treated as such.

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 22:04 | Hanoi, Vietnam | | Report spam→
oh, and yes, i still find magnum an inspiration!

by [former member] | 25 Apr 2006 22:04 | Hanoi, Vietnam | | Report spam→
Yes, they are still an inspiration to me. The brilliant stuff as well as the generic crap.The ghosts of yesterday as well as the new up and coming blood. Seeing the archive, and not just the choicest of selects confirms that for most shooters, you shoot a lot of crap to get that one that speaks of both truth and beauty. I find this reaffirming when I have to make 15 exposures to get one I kinda like, and often many, many more than that to create one wothy of a portfolio inclusion.

As far as the Hoepker series referenced above, yeah, not the most in depth or inspirational reportage, but Magnum is not just in the business of reportage. They also license imagery for commercial, advertising, and stock purposes. This kind of photography is a whole other beast. From my experience, when doing this kind of work, you don’t nescessarily offer only the finest composed image possible. You also offer imagery that is shot looser to allow for cropping and bleed outs to be carried out by the art director/designers. Sometimes what might look like a shitty snapshot of a beach scene, one that allows room for text to be placed around it, often has greater sales potential than a wide angle shot of an Albanian teenager holding a rifle. Everyone knows that the long form picture story is currently on a downswing, so in the meantime, it makes sense to me, to make some bucks by expanding your services, so you can finance the longer term personal projects that will hopefully get picked up eventually.

I think by offering the multimedia magnuminmotion projects, they are on the cutting edge of things to come. You innovate, you experiment, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.“you can fall down 7 times but make sure you get up 8” (from Guilad on the Japanese proverb thread. Thanks for that one Mr. Kahn). I also think that Alec Soth joining was a very good idea. Though more recently known as a fine art photographer I believe, he’s out there doing very cerebral (in my mind), and very narrative, reportage. With an 8×10 view camera at that. He’s not plinking out 900 frames a day at press conferences, and uploading 20 soso shots. And with the way fine art and photojournalism are starting to merge, opening the door for someone like him was in my mind a very sound decision.

What I’m curious about is how these elite agency shooters are making a living. I subscribe to some of the weekly news mags, and often look at or buy many others, and I am always looking at the photo bylines, to see who is doing what. Except for the occasional Nachtwey spread in Time, I’m not seeing too much actually being published by either Magnum, or the VII shooters. Is it just from the seminars and books that we the crumbpickers (to elaborate on Andy’s term) are purchasing? Are there images picked up more in markets outside the US? Or are they doing more commercial and corporate work than reportage? It seems like 75% of all the shots I see in the mainstream publications are coming from the subscription based wire services. With maybe another 15% coming from the slickly produced environmental portrait folks. A little off topic, but I’d be curious if anyone has any insight on this.

by Jethro Soudant | 25 Apr 2006 23:04 | Buffalo, NY, United States | | Report spam→
I make some 1300Euro per month through the Paris office, maybe 200 or 300 Euro through London, maybe 300$ a year through NY and Japan I don’t really know…

by [former member] | 26 Apr 2006 00:04 | his house, Cambodia | | Report spam→
Sorry, my mistake: in NY it was a little over 800$ per year for the last two years and not 300$…

by [former member] | 26 Apr 2006 00:04 | his house, Cambodia | | Report spam→
Nowbody is saying Latam is bad place for shooting. Au contraire!!! My point is you must choice the right place for shooting. I think it was a misunderstand, Ali.
What is the point of sending a lot of pictures (I think we are shooting too much) if you reflect a terrible thing: you need self edition. How you can deal with 400 frames and 20 shots to your agency?
My backyard is great. I can shoot in my backyard. But I must choice the right place.
And another conclusion: anyone can make mistakes, and that is an example. Everybody is human and many times shoot a lot crap, like me, like everyone. This thread was a perfect example that even magnum can make mistakes.

And of course, still magnum and VII are inspirations for me.

by [former member] | 26 Apr 2006 03:04 | Santiago, Chile | | Report spam→
digital has changed the business, in so many ways. and affects AP or Reuters as much as it does Magnum of VII. bendikson’s pictures from nepal? no stronger than the wire images

No one has mentioned the effect of photo editors choosing from the 20 crap pictures a day. Maybe they are fine with it. Maybe Time, Newsweek, etc. spot news all looks the same because that is what editors want — whether from wires or agencies. Maybe that is what the public wants — not compostion, mood, feeling, care, power everyone here sees in the “old” photo essays…

by Christopher Wise | 26 Apr 2006 05:04 | Berlin, Germany | | Report spam→
I think the length of this thread is testimony to the importance of places like Magnum or VII or VU or Contact…Islands of quality and dedication in an ocean of mediocrity…not the only ones of course…sometimes a stronger wave from this global ocean comes washing on these isolated islands…so yes, these islanders are humans too, but mostly very talented ones!
These particular humans still manage to produce constantly some of the best photography of our (chaotic) time…nonwithstanding fierce competition from a gazillion aspirants, global ‘instant’ communication and a shrinking editorial market.

by [former member] | 26 Apr 2006 05:04 | home in Brussels, Belgium | | Report spam→
Please don’t underestimate the quality, dedication and intelligence of picture editors in the magazines you mention, the ‘problem’ doesn’t come from them, people like Jamie Wellford and Amy Pereira at Newsweek, Alice Gabriner, Maryane Golon and Michele Stevenson at Time, Olivier Picard formerly at US News, Kathy Ryan and Michele McNally at the NYT, Roseanna Sguera at Vanity Fair, Harald, Volker and Andreas at Stern, Romain at Paris-Match, Dan and Luc at Liberation amongst many others are all incredibly talented individuals from whom I (and many other photographers I am sure) learn a great deal everyday…these gifted picture editors are our best ALLIES!!!
The ‘problem’ comes from ’above’them …publishers, self-appointed art directors, editors, politicians pulling the strings, bean counters in all shapes or forms all worship the most important person in our society (besides GW Bush, of course): THE ADVERTISEMENT MANAGER.

by [former member] | 26 Apr 2006 05:04 (ed. Apr 26 2006) | home in Brussels, Belgium | | Report spam→
With an industry that places more value on immediacy than quality, is it really surprising that more mediocre work is being produced?

I did my internship with AFP in London a few months ago and I was amazed by how much pressure there is to file. The competition is tremendous, and there’s little time for photographers to actually consider the pictures they’re taking. You’re either taking a picture, or you’re wiring it. But you know, there are some very talented photographers, and even with the added pressure, they’re still making the frontpage on a regular basis…

I don’t agree that Bendiksen’s images from Nepal were no stronger than the wire images. Just go onto the Getty website and type Kathmandu in the search.

by David Azia | 26 Apr 2006 05:04 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
David is right, Jonas did well, it is a very difficult place and story to get good pictures of, I know, I failed miserably last year…

by [former member] | 26 Apr 2006 05:04 | home in Brussels, Belgium | | Report spam→
of course jonas did well! i didn’t mean to knock his work. i meant that i didn’t feel it was that different from the rest. and certainly NOT bad, just not really different. under these stressful conditions its hard to compose a pretty picture! and i think the local wire guys did well too.

by [former member] | 26 Apr 2006 05:04 (ed. Apr 26 2006) | Hanoi, Vietnam | | Report spam→
I do think Bruno has a point that is worth considering carefully: not only the editors he mentioned at the more well known magazines, but countless others at smaller places wrestle daily with conflicting demands and a tough workload. There are some whose tastes I dont like,there are others whose tastes are really very broad and progressive, but either way they are not ultimately the ones who pull the strings. The bean counters, owners, all the people that Bruno mentions. Plus, the “text” people. Magazine content is still largely dictated by the texts that are run. We are the “illustrators” and take a back seat, even though the pic editors know better.

Unfortunately, Bruno, Picard is no longer at USNews. that was a very good editorial team there, and for my money, picture wise, the best news magazine of the three.

by Jon Anderson | 26 Apr 2006 07:04 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
I’d like to add some thoughts to this thread. The media business is full of options these days, but the standard is quite low. Most of the times it doesn’t matter. There are the local wires, a big group of dynamic freelancers and the big media companies, all of them looking for a place. Probably, Magnum won’t make a better job than the others, but has to be there. What makes the difference is the other work they do. The work done in the past by Koudelka, Miguel Río Branco and others set the standard of modern photography, and they try to preserve this tradition. In last years they have made associates a group of very interesting photogs, like D’Agata, Cristina García Rodero or Ilkka Uimonen. All of them take their time for taking pictures. Is not the point and shoot business. Who others invest in this photography? Maybe VU and a few others. VII, at least from my point of view, is other thing. You need time for photographing -and thinking about it. And Magnum looks like still takes it.

by [former member] | 26 Apr 2006 07:04 | Madrid, Spain | | Report spam→
I really think it must be hard to be a good photo editor these days, too many photos to look at and therefore I can understand that they go and choose the person or agency who pop up first in their (photo editors) mind……. but I would not say it is lazyness, same case is trust, fidelity to one name and so on

Plus we have a problem now, to look at photo through a computer is quite common and I don’t think is the right way to see well a photographer , indeed many good photographers suffered perhaps the change into digital, the different way of dealing with images after the push and perhaps a time to adapt to that. Before we had slides, with a good lup

But all in all 90 per cent of all the magazines using normal photos, nothing to do with interpretation, easy stock, not much research, photos that more or less everybody can do it, so again first name who pop up in their (photo editors) mind wins the lottery…

I think that most of the photographers (like me) who see this reality are eligible for a marketing&strategy course, how to be in their (photo editor) mind? Most of them (Photo editors…) are not impressed only by the photos….


by [former member] | 26 Apr 2006 09:04 | Shanghai, China | | Report spam→

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robert stone, Photog robert stone
Ny , United States
Kenneth Dickerman, Photographer Kenneth Dickerman
Nyc , United States
Graham Harrison, Photographer Graham Harrison
(Creator of Photo Histories)
Oxford , United Kingdom
Jon Anderson, Photographer & Writer Jon Anderson
Photographer & Writer
Ocala Florida , United States
David Azia, Pic. editor/Photographer David Azia
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Davin Ellicson, Photographer Davin Ellicson
New York , United States
Colin Pantall, Photographer/Writer Colin Pantall
Bath , United Kingdom
Christopher Wise, Photographer/Designer Christopher Wise
Bangkok , Thailand
Bevis Fusha, Photographer Bevis Fusha
Tirana , Albania
Jethro Soudant, Photographer Jethro Soudant
Buffalo, Ny , United States


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