A letter from President
I would like to welcome you to The Magnum Festival: Celebrating The Art of Documentary.
The festival has been brought together to coincide with Magnum's 60th anniversary, and as a cultural contribution to the City of New York. It forms part of a series of events celebrating our continuing work in documentary image-making. Although Magnum's leading role lies in photography, the festival embraces the documentary tradition in its entirety. Film and journalism are therefore an integral part of the programme.
Since its historic beginning at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Magnum has grown to represent 60 photographers through its four offices in New York, Paris, London and Tokyo. Magnum remains a cooperative organization fully owned and directed by the photographers, committed to documenting the world and significant world events with honesty and authorship.
Documentary photography as a cultural force is evolving and Magnum is at the forefront of its evolution. Within Magnum a genre of photography is emerging that is concerned with history, with humanity, with the world at large and with the small world of the local and locally relevant issues.
In New York City, documentary photography has a long and serious tradition. In its first iteration the aim was reformist: to improve slum housing in the city. Jacob Riis was New York's founder of the movement. A Dane who lived in the city during the 1890s, Riis was "a one-man-band of social reform", who according to the writer Luc Sante, "altered the outlook of the whole city, and eventually the nation."
Yet despite its auspicious start, documentary photography was dismissed as a genre by many of its greatest practitioners, such as Walker Evans. Why? Because it was seen to connote detachment or disengagement from the subject: an uncaring objectivity. I think what makes the collective effort of Magnum photographers so special is the bold, passionate but unsentimental subjectivity that inspires the work - that is the work.
Our diversity implies that as an agency we don't speak with one voice. Indeed, we have recently been described as an "orchestra of soloists". However, we do possess some commonality of purpose that we recognize in words from a letter written by one of Magnum's founders, Henri Cartier-Bresson. "Magnum is a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually."
Our curiosity about the world and our efforts to transcribe this visually makes us quintessential storytellers: if not through working on traditional picture stories (as many of us do) then through the connective threads that run through our work, our individual photographs.
The way photographs are viewed over time by others contains a narrative element. Perhaps you recall the 1968 student riots in Paris. If so, you'll remember that at the time, and for several years afterwards, the pictures that were published were of students behind barricades throwing projectiles, fighting in the street. Thirty years on, it was equally interesting to look at Magnum images, perceptively photographed at the time, of students with their long hair and flared trousers, sitting demurely on the steps of the Sorbonne, dreaming of a bright future. Our way of seeing the past is constantly changing; our way of seeing the future, however, is fixed on success.
We all dream of a brighter future and we at Magnum, in celebrating 60 years of photography, feel that there has never been a better time to be working. In 1936 James Agee wrote that the camera was "the central instrument of our time". In a way, it still is.
The camera, now as ever, empowers the individual to engage with others from the other side of town, or the other side of the world, to build mutual understanding and to dispel prejudice and racism. If this were the only achievement of documentary photography, or the one thread that connects us, our 60 year journey would have been worthwhile.
Stuart Franklin, Magnum President
Commemorating the 60th anniversary of Magnum Photos and the establishment of the Magnum Foundation, Magnum Festival '07 will explore documentary in its various forms – photography, film and journalism.
We are pleased to partner with such notable NY institutions as the New York Public Library, International Center of Photography, the Museum of Modern Art, the Film Forum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center (Walter Reade Theater).
Our June calendar boasts over 30 photographic exhibitions and special events, and over 40 documentary film screenings.
Together with writers, filmmakers and photographers from across the world, we invite you to join Magnum Festival '07 in embracing the past and promoting the future of independent vision and documentary work.
Magnum Photos is a photographic co-operative of great diversity and distinction owned by its photographer-members. With powerful individual vision, Magnum photographers chronicle the world and interpret its peoples, events, issues and personalities. Through its four editorial offices in New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, and a network of fifteen sub-agents, Magnum Photos provides photographs to the press, publishers, advertising, television, galleries and museums across the world.
The Magnum Photos library is a living archive updated daily with new work from across the globe. The library houses all the work produced by Magnum photographers and some special collections by non-members. There are approximately one million photographs in both print and transparency in the physical library, with 350,000 images available online.
Within the library, most of the major world events and personalities from the Spanish Civil War to the present day are covered. There are constantly updated profiles on most countries of the world, covering industry, society and people, places of interest, politics and news events, disasters and conflict. The Magnum Photos library reflects all aspects of life throughout the world and the unparalleled sense of vision, imagination and brilliance of the greatest collective of documentary photographers. In short, when you picture an iconic image, but can't think who took it or where it can be found, it probably came from Magnum.