Magnum Manifesto at ICP

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday May 25, 2017

Seventy years ago in February, at the Museum on Modern Art, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David “Chim” Seymour formed a cooperative photo agency conjured out of the ashes of post-war Europe. With a champagne toast, they proclaimed “Magnum.” The agency was unique for its time in that each member owned the rights to their photographs and could determine conditions for their distribution. Since then, 92 photographic members have contributed to the story of Magnum, with 49 photographic members chronicling the world, its people, events and issues today through visual storytelling.

Magnum Manifesto, an exhibition of images that capture the soul of the past 70 years through images by more than 75 photographers, opens tomorrow at the International Center of Photography. Drawn from the archives of Magnum Photos, the exhibition is more than a chronicle of its times. Divided into three sections, it asks questions about what photography is and how photographs can portray a changing world.

Curators Clément Chéroux and Clara Bouveresse lead the exhibition tour of Magnum Manifesto at ICP. Photo: © Peggy Roalf

Part I, 1947-1968: Human Rights and Wrongs takes the text of the Declaration of Human Rights as a starting point for an exploration of the post-war idealism that arose out of the defeat of a global power-seeking madman through the cooperation of the Allied Forces.  Among the highlights of this section is Generation X, a project in which eleven Magnum photographers represented a new generation of men and women who had just turned twenty years old—in fourteen different countries. A cooperative publishing venture, the images were published in several installments by a number of magazines including Holiday in the U.S.; Picture Post in the U.K., and Epoca in Italy, among others. Also in this section is Charles Harbutt’s “Picture Bandit Apparatus,” a slot-machine-like device that projected images from the 1969 book and exhibition, America in Crisis. Visitors pull a crank that triggers the simultaneous projection of three randomly selected images; if all three turned up a portrait of President Richard Nixon branded with a dollar sign, the player has hit the jackpot.

© Donovan Wylie, Deconstruction of Maze Prison, Northern Ireland
, from the series The Maze, 2009. Courtesy Magnum Photos and the photographer

In Part II, 1969-1989: An Inventory of Differences the social and political upheavals that defined youth culture and the burgeoning pop culture that began with the May 1968 student protests in France is explored. But the underside of society also became a theme for the times with Danny Lyons’s Conversations with the Dead, the first exposure of prison life in an isolated society with its own codes and regulation. During the same period, Josef Koudelka’s nomadic lifestyle took him from Czechoslovakia to Hungary, Romania, Spain and France where he photographed the Romany people. In 1970 he fled his native country after photographing the invasion of Prague by Soviet forces, moved to Paris and joined Magnum Photos. Gypsies, published five years later, was emblematic of the kind of freedom the agency provided its members: to produce work that embraced differences in form, style and content. It also marked a new phase in which Magnum’s photographers embarked on pursuing lucrative commissions in the corporate world, a subject of debate on the distinction between reportage and promotion that continues to this day.

© Jonas Bendiksen, Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies. Environmentalists fear for the region's future due to the toxic rocket fuel. Altai Territory, Russia, 2000. Courtesy Magnum Photos/ICP

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 ushered in societal changes throughout the world, and serves as a prelude to Part III, 1990-2017: Stories about Endings. In studying the Magnum Archive, the organizers saw that the photographers who looked at the end of the Communist bloc as an event so significant as to open previously unimaginable beginnings—for individuals as well as for ruling parties and for states. A rarely seen publication by Martin Parr from 2003 evokes the end of the Soviet rule through a series of still lifes that represented a way of life under Soviet dominance. He subsequently applied the same terms to the end of colonialism in Sri Lanka [Ceylon] in a collection of images that evoke British kitsch through found vintage objects. During the same period, Donovan Wylie, known for his coverage of the violence inherent in Northern Ireland’s past “Troubles,” documented the Maze prison, which had for nearly thirty years housed paramilitary prisoners from the period of conflict. The lifeless scenes of abandoned corridors, cells and exercise yards, rendered in color so delicate as to verge on black-and-white, convey the weight of memory while questioning one’s ability to understand recent history.

Bookending the Generation X project from 1951, ten Magnum photographers went to Rochester, New York in 2012 with the idea of portraying the ways in which Kodak had created a “company town.” They set up a photo studio in a farmer’s market where they photographed townsfolk, students and passersby. As part of the larger Postcards from America series, the Rochester Project questions the means from which the photographers’ art and journalism derives while reiterating the relevance of their art at the end of the silver-process era of photography.

© Christopher Anderson, Cherries spilled on crosswalk, New York City, NY, USA, 2014. Courtesy Magnum Photos/ICP

The final gallery of the exhibition, Magnum Is, questions the differences between art and reportage, art and commerce, art and life, through a poetic dialogue in words and pictures. For David Seymour, “Magnum is something of a miracle.” For Susan Meiselas, it is “a community of individuals.” And for Thomas Dworzak, “Magnum is spice, fun, passion, confusion.” The question is extremely difficult to answer, states the wall text, because everybody views the agency through the lens of their own photography. “In seeking to tell what photography means as a pursuit, they also tell us what Magnum is.”

Magnum Manifesto, May 26-September 3. International Center of Photography, 250 Bowery, NY, NY Info. The exhibition continues on tour, opening in the Fall in Shanghai [dates TBD]; at Ara Pacis Museum, Rome, February 2018; at C/O Berlin, May 2018. The book, Magnum Manifesto (400 pages and over 400 illustrations) accompanying the exhibition is published by Thames and Hudson. Info

Magnum Manifesto: A Curator’s Talk, Friday, May 26, 6:30 pm. ICP School. 1114 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY Register/ free

Magnum Manifesto is organized by curator Clément Chéroux—formerly chief curator of photography at the Centre Pompidou, now senior curator of photography at SFMoMA—in collaboration with photography historian Clara Bouveresse and ICP Associate Curator Pauline Vermare. Magnum Manifesto features group and individual projects and includes more than 250 prints and 300 projected photographs, as well as more than 130 objects—books, magazines, videos, and rarely-seen archival documents. Among many others, it incorporates the work of Christopher Anderson, Jonas Bendiksen, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Cornell and Robert Capa, Chim, Raymond Depardon, Bieke Depoorter, Elliott Erwitt, Martine Franck, Leonard Freed, Paul Fusco, Cristina Garcia Rodero, Burt Glinn, Jim Goldberg, Joseph Koudelka, Sergio Larrain, Susan Meiselas, Wayne Miller, Martin Parr, Marc Riboud, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Eugene W. Smith, Alec Soth, Chris Steele-Perkins, Dennis Stock, Mikhael Subotzky, and Alex Webb.

Magnum Photos at 70  Info includes numerous public and educational programs, which will be detailed in future issue of the DART Board, on Tuesdays. 


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