Atlas of Brutalist Architecture – Phaidon
15 November 2018 § Leave a comment
For the launch of this spectacular new publication from Phaidon we were kindly invited on a tour of some of London’s major Brutalist landmarks. Starting at the Barbican on the Southbank and proceeding via a series of impressive landmarks like Centre Point and The London College of Physicians it was pointed out by our insightful guide that much contemporary architecture, almost inevitably, runs through a love/hate/love cycle.
Brutalism is an architecture that has perhaps suffered more, on this roller coaster of critical opinion, than many others. Surely most styles have never been quite so universally hated? Was it this passionately deep dislike from many quarters that has also ultimately pushed others to an equally heart-felt passion?
It seems to be only in the last decade or so that there has been a largely universal recognition of the quality and values of Brutalism as a unique style that is worth preserving and enjoying. A cautionary word that the task is not yet complete is provided by the book’s list of properties scheduled for demolition – of which appallingly half are in the UK.
In this context is is perhaps remarkable that so much great Brutalist architecture has still survived but it is also necessary to recognise the great buildings that have not. Phaidon’s Atlas of Brutalist Architecture features all of them – lost or otherwise and is undoubtedly the most complete and wide-ranging survey of this still controversial movement.
Proving that the style was truly international, the volume records 850 buildings from more than 100 countries and these are organised in to nine continental regions. Each building is illustrated with black and white (what else?) images, succinctly described and categorised by use (used/abandoned), status (listed listed or scheduled for demolition) and condition.
Within this list not only contains a who’s who of twentieth century architecture – masters like: Marcel Breuer, Le Corbusier, Carlo Scarpa, Ernö Goldfinger, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Kahn and Oscar Niemeyer – but also those lesser known or simply galvanised by the style.
Interestingly, for a movement that many would allocate to a specific period now past the authors argue that the origins of Brutalism lie much earlier that the traditionally accepted period from 1950 to mid 1970’s and feature for example Erich Mendelsohn’s Hat Factory in Germany built in 1923.
Similarly, the conventional end date of the mid 1970’s has been considerably extended, helped along by the widespread international use of structural concrete. Architects like Herzog & de Meuron with the Signal Box in Basle, Switzerland from 1994 and Stephen Hall at M.I.T in 2002 show that inspiration gained from the movement has continued up to the present day, and undoubtedly will continue and evolve in the future.
Phaidon must be praised for their commitment with this substantial book which in style, size and weight is also deliberately evocative of a Brutalist object. As they headline the book on their website: Big. Bold. Brutal. The cover is both embossed and roughly textured, bold black lettering emerges from a montage of iconic Brutalist buildings whilst the spine text too large and proud to be confined, wraps itself round on to the covers.
The Atlas of Brutalist Architecture not only successfully records Brutalism as a movement, but expands its scope, develops our understanding and inspires further evaluation. A definite must for any architecture or concrete-lovers (well built) coffee table.
To purchase visit www.phaidon.com
This post was also published at CELLOPHANELAND*
Size: 340 x 240 mm (13 3/8 x 9 1/2 in)
Pages: 560 pp
Illustrations: 1000 illustrations
California Captured by Marvin Rand
11 November 2018 § Leave a comment
Mid century modern is one of today’s most prominent design trends – especially in California. Cruise around say, Los Angeles or Palm Springs and you will find no end of shops and businesses offering original, reproduction or imitation mid century furnishing. Around the world decor, design and architecture reflect a renewed interest in the period.
With this significant revival comes a desire to look in more detail at this era and perhaps re-assess the major figures. Phaidon’s latest publication, California Captured is therefore a very welcome look at the pioneering architectural photography of Marvin Rand.
His stylish and precise photography perfectly captured the aesthetic of the era but Rand was much more than simply an observer – an intrinsic part of the movement he worked hand in glove with some of the period’s major movers and shakers.
Helping to shape developments in architecture from within his imagery was vital in a period where Angelenos sought a new and modern style within an optimistic and expanding city. A circle of photographers, magazines and architects brought the latest designs, themselves enabled by the latest technologies, to an eager public. The new architecture boomed and along with Rand the associated trades flourished.
Born in downtown LA he enrolled at Art Center College of Design joining a circle of avant-garde artists and designers, including Saul Bass, Lou Danziger and Charles and Ray Eames. Through this he met Esther McCoy, an influential LA architectural historian, who would help launch his career.
Rand worked with many of today’s cutting-edge architects through the key decades of the fifties and sixties, his client list a who’s who of architects past and present, including the likes of Eames, Louis I. Kahn, Craig Ellwood and Frank Gehry.
But not only was Rand active in photographing the new but he eagerly recorded the rapidly disappearing architecture of LA. He helped in restoration and preservation, spending time photographing distinguished buildings threatened with destruction.
Rand always insisted that the architecture spoke for itself. He photographed with a light hand eschewing artifice and unnatural lighting. His skill lay in spotting unseen angles and capturing the essence of any building. Unlike most of his peers he often worked alone whilst insisting on doing all of his own darkroom work which he considered of equal importance to the quality of the original image.
Remarkably it was only as recently as 2012 that his archive of some 50,000 images was ‘re-discovered’. Having been carefully organised by Rand before his death in 2009 it had remained stored away within family possessions.
Rand was amongst a small group of photographers who worked to record and promote the architecture of the period. Julius Shulman is usually the pre-eminent name but this book elevates Marvin Rand to a significant position within the group and is an essential addition to any collection of architectural photography.
California Captured by Marvin Rand is available via this link at www.phaidon.com
This post was also published at CELLOPHANELAND*
240 colour illustrations
290 x 250mm
ISBN 97807 1487 6115
America’s Cool Modernism – the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
7 November 2018 § Leave a comment
Most histories of modern art in the USA seem to skip through the period after the Great War in Europe. It is easy to do, after all the huge burst in European art movements that occurred in the early part of the 20th Century had by then subsided. The war had split groups and killed artists with those surviving largely shocked and confused with the new world order, unsure of new directions.
In Europe, expressionism and surrealism became prominent but there has always seemed that there was less to grab the attention over the pond. In the USA the effect of the war was less profound but still notable. It began with the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age, to be quickly followed by the Depression in late twenties and thirties. We think of progress in technology, film and design, perhaps ‘art deco’, but what of art?
It is a welcome event therefore to see America’s Cool Modernism arriving at the Ashmolean. This is an exhibition that looks more closely at this period with for example early works by Georgia O’Keeffe, photographs by Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Edward Weston and cityscapes by Edward Hopper.
There are plenty of works that have never travelled to the UK and there is the opportunity to learn of pioneers of modern American art whose work is less well-known in the UK, particularly Charles Demuth and Charles Sheeler.
It is often an anxious look at the period made with a cool detachment and emotional restraint. It is a world where people are largely missing from observations of eerie and empty places. But is it lost of hope or inspiring of redemption?
Of course we have Edward Hopper. His Manhattan Bridge Loop (1928) has a gloomy atmosphere with a tiny, solitary pedestrian whose walking pace is at odds with the bridge’s traffic. The African American Jacob Lawrence shows the harsh experience of marginalised groups seeking a better life.
Similarly bleak is the art of George Ault. In New York Night No 2 (1921) we see a cold and inhuman Manhattan in a dreary fog.
But not all the art is angst ridden. There was an alternative and altogether more optimistic viewpoint. Demuth’s I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold (1928), was dedicated to the poet William Carlos Williams, and in more particularly to his poem The Great Figure: Among the rain, and lights, I saw the figure 5, in gold, on a red, firetruck … It consists of a giant, stylized ‘5’ painted in bold colours, evoking new styles of advertising and a remarkable anticipation of Pop Art.
Another stunning evocation of Pop is found in Stuart Davis’s painting Odol. This is Warhol’s Brillo and Campbell’s soup cans but painted nearly forty years earlier. Davis incorporated imagery from logos, commercial signage, and modern packaging. This is a sleek, streamlined ode to a bottle of mouthwash (he also painted Lucky Strike, a visual riff on a pack of cigarettes). His work is usually presented as simply visual ’synthetic cubism’ inspired by earlier modernist masters. We would give him more credit and suggest it is a far more knowing representation of – let’s just call it – ‘early pop’ culture.
There was great progress over this period in design, architecture and building techniques and the grand structures of this machine made world feature prominently. Skyscrapers and bridges are studies in geometry and cities sharp and modern. Louis Lozowick’s prints capture the energy with soaring buildings while Ralston Crawford and Sheeler depict the factories of industrial America as glorious new cathedrals.
Georgia O’Keeffe looks over rooftops and chimneys in East River from the Shelton Hotel. It is the epic and almost abstract American landscape, but instead of out in the desert she is in the heart of the city. With Black Abstraction (1919) she is even more abstract.
This is a distinctly American modernism when artists were trying to create a distinct visual language rooted in American landscape and tradition. We see here a cool restrained and pared-back aesthetic featuring smooth surfaces, pure lines and a lack of figures. The Ashmolean allows us to see the birth of a new distinctly American style in this tremendous exhibition.
America’s Cool Modernism: O’Keeffe to Hopper is at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford until 22 July 2018
For more information visit www.ashmolean.org
Frieze London 2018
5 November 2018 § Leave a comment
As soon as Frieze makes its annual appearance in Regents Park everyone knows that it is time to check out the London art scene. The annual schedules of the galleries – both commercial and public – are all heavily weighted towards the Autumn and the most important names carefully lined up for exhibition. This is the time when anyone can get an all-round view of global trends without leaving central London.
With the twin clouds of Brexit and falling market confidence hanging over the art world, it was good to arrive at Frieze to receive a David Shrigley newsflash accompanying the Art Newspaper – NEWS: PEOPLE GATHER IN LARGE TENT. It helped to lighten the mood – for more of Shrigley you could visit Stephen Friedman where he took over the whole stand and showed some witty neon works alongside his more usual sketches and bonkers animations.
Also lightening the mood were US artist Julia Scher’s pink-clad pensioner security guards who were regularly seen patrolling the fair.
As seemingly has been the trend for several years now the big institutional-type works were largely absent from a show that was dominated by smaller and mid-ticket works. An ugly and rather pointless exception was Tatiana Trouvé’s The Shaman which nevertheless apparently sold on the first day. Many other big name – big ticket items were perhaps held back for gallery events or even Frieze Masters.
Swiss artist Urs Fischer dominated the show entrance at Gagosian with a suite of iPad paintings printed on to reflective aluminium panels. All show his New York home with the image disintegrating across each set as if digitally erasing itself.
Lisson Gallery had works from Marina Abramovic and John Akomfrah , whilst at David Zwirner were Wolfgang Tillmans and Chris Ofili. Tacita Dean was at Marian Goodman Gallery’s stand.
This years #metoo angled theme was Social Work, exploring how women artists looked at political activism within their work. With artists including Faith Ringgold, Sonia Boyce, Helen Chadwick, Nancy Spero and Berni Searle it was however somewhat underwhelming and could easily be passed largely unnoticed.
As usual though there was plenty to enjoy and here are a few of the other works that caught our eye:
Last but not least, as you leave the fair in Regent’s Park, perhaps to venture up to Frieze Masters, some twenty five different sculptures were dotted throughout the greenery and included Kimsooja (above), Rana Begum , Tracey Emin, Conrad Shawcross and Elmgreen & Dragset. They will remain until the end of Frieze week.
CELLOPHANELAND* were guests of Frieze London
For more information visit www.frieze.com
This post was also published at CELLOPHANELAND*
Glen Brown, Come to Dust – Gagosian Mayfair, London
20 February 2018 § Leave a comment
“I am rather like a Dr. Frankenstein, constructing paintings out of the residue or dead parts of other artist’s work. I see their worlds from multiple or schizophrenic perspectives, through all their eyes. Their sources of inspiration suggest things I would never normally see – rocks floating in far-off galaxies, for example, or a bowl of flowers in an 18th-century room, or a child in a fancy-dress costume. The scenes may have been relatively normal to Rembrandt or Fragonard but because of the passage of time and the difference in culture, to me they are fantastical.” Glenn Brown
Glenn Brown’s latest show, amazingly his first major UK one since 2009, takes advantage of the large spaces of Gagosian’s recently opened (see here) Mayfair gallery. This is a hugely impressive, state of the art space and Brown’s classical themes and inspirations are well suited to this gallery’s wooden floors and dark walls as opposed to the cliched concrete floored white cubes found in most commercial spaces nearby.
The lighting is low and each work is spotlight whilst besuited security guards add to the feeling of entering a major London Museum rather than a west end gallery. This seems entirely relevant since Brown appropriates from classical artists that include Rembrandt, Delacroix, Greuze, and Raphael in a variety of genres like landscape, portrait, flower and history painting.
He usually uses Photoshop to distort, merge and colour the selected sources in sophisticated compositions that fuse diverse histories – Renaissance, Impressionism and Surrealism. The original may in turns be obvious or hardly recognisable. Sometimes he puts them in historic gilt frames to confuse us more.
In his oils, hybrid figures painted in intricate swirls reveal the sumptuous potential of oil paint. While these paintings give the illusion of thick impasto with volume, closer scrutiny reveals smooth surfaces that glow with a vital force. Up close form also disappears in complex swirls and vortices as if slipping from memory in some drug induced trance or dreamlike haze.
In graphic works Brown paints using largely black and white lines over a neutral ground. Meticulous, elongated brushstrokes reimagine works from the likes of Raphael and Guido Reni to create depth and animation in portraits that barely seem to exist.
There are also a significant number of sculptures, which we found slightly less successful. Elaborate masses are built from thick ‘strokes’ of coloured paint – perhaps imagine the likes of a sculptural Kossof. Some partially encase nineteenth-century bronze statues with growths of pulsating, gravity-defying paint.
This is a stunning exhibition of formidable technical ability and Brown impresses with an artistic language that transcends time and pictorial conventions. In his unique vision the abstract and the visceral, the rational and irrational, the beautiful and grotesque, churn in a dizzying amalgamation of reference and form. Not to be missed.
Glenn Brown, Come to Dust runs at Gagosian Mayfair until 17 March 2018
For more information visit www.gagosian.com
Basquiat: Boom for Real – The Barbican Gallery, London
2 November 2017 § Leave a comment
Do not come to the latest Barbican Gallery exhibition Basquiat: Boom for Real expecting a straightforward show of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work. This is rather more than that and all the better for it. This is an exhibition where, in the words of Jane Alison, the Barbican’s Head of Visual Arts, we can “see those works in the context of the New York scene of the 1980s.” We therefore get videos, photographs, music, film, books and paintings, where Basquiat is presented as a multidimensional artist weaving between media.
New York at that time was certainly a rich melting pot. A dangerous and violent city on the edge of bankruptcy, it housed a thriving cultural scene. Basquiat, young and black has often been pigeon-holed as a a poor outsider, who developed from homeless graffiti artist to gallery favourite. The truth is rather different.
From a relatively wealthy family, Basquiat went to a private school, was well educated and a talented artist and was admiring Renaissance masters in New York galleries in his teens. Having dropped out of college, he briefly ran away from home, stayed with friends and scrawled graffiti as ‘Samo’ (a play on ‘same old shit’), although its style was not ‘from the streets’ but always from an artist insider critiquing the contemporary art scene.
The Barbican Gallery divides the show in to some fourteen sections. From Samo graffiti we then see the beginning of his stratospheric rise in a recreation of the New York/New Wave exhibition. A landmark show where despite including the likes of Andy Warhol, Nan Goldin and Robert Mapplethorpe, the young Basquiat was singled out for admiration.
Between examples of his work we get to learn plenty about the post-punk underground art scene: The Canal Zone, a graffiti covered downtown loft/art space brought him together with collaborators for collage and postcards; the Mudd Club was where he hung out and performed with his band; at Area he hung out with Keith Haring or Madonna whilst dj-ing sets on a Brian Eno created sound system.
A key element of the exhibition is a remarkable film, Downtown 81, a chronicle of a day in the in the life of a down and out artist, for which Basquiat was chosen to play the leading role. It is essentially a prescient version of his real life as we see him spraying Samo-tagged graffiti and hawking his art (some of it in the show) around galleries as he visits clubs, watches bands and interacts with the larger than life local characters.
If so far we haven’t mentioned his art much, it is with good reason – there is not a lot here. We do see his graffiti, collages, postcards, sketches, polaroids and even his graffiti covered fridge. We also see books, records and photographs as the Barbican outlines his jazz, art and classical influences.
Where we do see his larger works – vibrant, raw imagery, abounding with fragments of bold capitalised text – they offer insights into both his encyclopaedic interests and his experience as a young black artist with no formal training. New scholarship sheds light on some of his most acclaimed works – sampling from an extraordinary breadth of source material – anatomical drawings to bebop jazz to silent film.
“Untitled” (1981), for example, includes variations of the name Aaron. While Basquiat’s father understood it to be a reference to baseball player Hank Aaron, the Barbican Gallery posits other allusions: a character in Shakespeare’s play “Titus Andronicus,” and the brother of Moses in the Old Testament. Two letters also feature individually, “A” and “O,” and relate to a passage from Revelation that fascinated Basquiat: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”
The label for his 1982 painting Jawbone of an Ass, he lists historical figures including Hannibal, Machiavelli, Savonarola, Sappho and Rameses II, is a vision of world history as a ceaseless round of wars. Cartoon monsters with savage teeth express the violence of the painting’s Biblical title. In the bottom right, a black boxer hits a white opponent.
He worked surrounded by imagery: open books, pages from magazines and photographs laying around him as the TV flickered and jazz music played. He worked rapidly absorbing influences from anything and everything. Sometimes the resulting art is hard to like, at others remarkably fresh, powerful and multi-layered.
Strangely there is nothing here about his heroin addiction and untimely death at just 27, and we do not know if there were lost chances to save him from self-destruction. We are ultimately left to ponder what sort of art this talented and elemental force would have continued to produce if it were not for his tragic end.
Basquiat: Boom for Real is on at the Barbican Gallery in London until 28 January 2018.
All images © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Licensed by Artestar, New York
Frieze London 2017
10 October 2017 § Leave a comment
October is the very best time of year to see art in the capital. The city is abuzz with the latest blockbuster shows – 2017 brings Jasper Johns as well as Dali/Duchamp to the Royal Academy, Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Barbican and Rachel Whiteread is showing at the Tate. The commercial galleries have pulled out their biggest names – there are Jean Dubuffet at Pace, Jake & Dinos Chapman at Blain Southern and Anselm Kiefer & Robert Longo at Thaddeus Ropac. Meanwhile all the big names auction houses stage their autumn contemporary sales.
Frieze of course also comes to London, not only with the contemporary focused Frieze Art Fair, but the thriving Frieze Masters event just up the Regents Park footpath. The great and the good of the art world come together with a smattering of celebrity names to see the latest that the art world has to offer.
Our annual visit to Frieze is always highly anticipated. Not only to admire some great art but to also to discern new trends, see what the big names have on offer admire the most spectacular works – after all this is the biggest fair in the greatest city in the contemporary art world.
Yet still, and perhaps because of the anticipation, there is again a tinge of anti-climax. Are we expecting too much or could Frieze do better? Their gallery selection process doesn’t help – preferencing worldwide galleries means we seem to get mediocre work from perhaps Peru or Burkino Fasso at the expense of many excellent local galleries (is this not a London art fair after all?).
Gone are the bigger artists names and the spectacular and expensive works that graced earlier shows and we now seem to get more mid level and affordable (?) pieces – even from the big name galleries. One is left with the niggling impression that much of the best work is hidden away and that most of the deals are done back at their base.
The curated ‘Sex Work’ exhibition spread through the show failed to stir us and was rather tame. Still, this is the very best contemporary art fair in Britain, there is plenty of good art to be found and new names to be discovered. There is always something to surprise, people to meet and in the end, where else could you for example pick up a free Passport to Antartica?
Amongst our selection of what we noticed at this years fair were: Olafur Eliasson whose colour-shifting balls drew a large crowd whilst Eddie Peake was eye-catching as usual. We loved Ryan Mosley’s newest works, rather more colourful than usual and Mathew Ronay’s curious pastel-coloured and tactile sculptures. On the other hand Jeff Koon’s Glitterball Jesus and Hauser & Wirth’s Bronze Age pseudo museum display failed to inspire.
So, will we go back next year? Of course we will – and we’re looking forward to it already!
akickupthearts were guests of Frieze London
For more information visit www.frieze.com
The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology ed. William Ewing and Barbara Hitchcock
4 July 2017 § Leave a comment
This post is also featured at www.cellophaneland.com
Remember that time, not so very long ago, when we all rushed down to the local Boots to drop in our films for printing? From this frustration of impatiently waiting anything from an hour (for those willing to stump up extra) to a week, to see the results of all the careful holiday snapping, lays the foundation of the Polaroid.
Back in 1943 Edwin Land, having been asked by his young daughter why she couldn’t see her photo right away, immediately set to work. Within an hour he had conceived the technology and the story of instant photography had begun.
When the long and painstaking development process (no pun intended), documented in the book by prototypes, models and test images, had been completed, the result was not only scientifically groundbreaking but also heralded a new chapter of artistic expression. The New York Times proclaimed “There is nothing like this in the history of photography…”
Nowadays Instagram is the leading representative of the world of instant imagery. It should therefore not be surprising to know that prominent in the lobby of their California HQ sits a collection of Polaroid cameras, the most noteworthy being the 1977 OneStep featuring the rainbow logo appropriated by Instagram in its own design.
Land had in the seventies already predicted escalating use of cameras saying that they would soon be used ‘All day long…. like a telephone’, whilst probably not anticipating they would often be one and the same apparatus.
In this lay the recognition that the world, and people, had irrevocably changed; the barrier of subject and photographer had started to disappear in line with Barthes ‘Death of the Author’ and there was a continuous recording of lifes events and expansion of the ‘sharing’ experience. The almost instant sharing of Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat seem to be a natural development of what began with the Polaroid.
For the more artistic the new product was impressive but came with many built in limitations. Images were usually of limited size (save by using larger studio-bound cameras), fixed formats, limited camera adjustments. Laboratory colour and exposure manipulation were impossible.
Despite, or perhaps because of, these very particular restrictions it invited users to become ever more inventive. Artists like Lucas Samaras and Bruce Charlesworth manipulated or separated the emulsion or used repeated exposures. David Hockey used multiple images overlaid or arranged in grids to increase dimensions. Other painted, drew or scratched on and around the developed image.
Andy Warhol took all his portraits with a Polaroid and incessantly snapped his way around New York, Others like Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, Robert Rauschenberg and Chuck Close often used it, whilst film makers, commercial, advertising and fashion photographers found the instant images essential for planning their shots.
It’s colour initially put off many art photographers, black and white being up to then the choice for ‘serious’ practitioners. This however was the era of ever more portable 35mm cameras and also of photographers like William Eggleston and Stephen Shore and Polaroid were in a perfect position to tap in to the wider acceptance of their casual colour snap-shot aesthetics.
The Polaroid Project leads us through this story via a series of essays that look for example at Polaroid’s foundation and history, the development of the technology, artistic developments and its relation to social networks and the selfie. They are interspersed with an impressive array of widely varied imagery with plenty of ‘how on earth did they do that?’ moments.
The book is subtitled ‘At the intersection of Art and Technology’ and it is published to accompany a major touring exhibition, so it is not surprising to see that text and illustrations are geared towards the artistic. Perhaps a future show and accompanying volume can show what the public, as well as industry and business, created with the technology – but that’s yet another story.
There is a frequent lament here to the death of Polaroid, tied to the winding up of the company and closure of the factories, but, as with vinyl, this seems hugely premature. Instant film lives on in Fuji and Impossible, as does the use of Land’s cameras. The Polaroid Project itself shows us that interest in this technology and its uniquely ‘authentic’ aesthetic is increasing, whilst here at CELLOPHANELAND* we even have a couple of cameras of our own and Polaroids pinned on the wall. The king is dead – long live the king!
The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology ed. William Ewing and Barbara Hitchcock, published by Thames & Hudson. To purchase (currently at a 20% discount) visit www.thamesandhudson.com
A touring exhibition organised by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography opens at the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas June 3 to 3 September 2017 then travels to Europe. fep-photo.org/exhibition/polaroid/
Magnum Manifesto edited by Clément Chéroux
1 July 2017 § Leave a comment
This post also appears on www.cellophaneland.com
Any history of photography would be incomplete without substantial mention of the famed photographic agency Magnum, now celebrating its 70th anniversary. Within its 1947 origins are both the reasons for its success and for its often rocky journey: the diverse founding group included both Robert Capa who represented the ultimate in involved photo-journalism and, at the opposite end of the spectrum Henri Cartier-Bresson whose imagery was detached and artistic. This stylistic inclusivity both made it important but at the same time ensured that members would rarely see eye to eye.
What they had in common however was a desire to break the traditional model of the photographic business – a system where the publishers had total control. Magnum Photos Inc sought to break this with a disruptive model worthy of Uber. The photographers would take control of their images, owning their rights, dictating editing and presentation and even creating content and photo-essays.
Despite the canny catch-all basis of the business – which included not only photographs but for example printing, cameras, moving images, design, studios, materials and equipment – image quality always remained high in the agenda. Magnum would always stand for intelligence in combining both reporter and artist in the photographer’s role.
The story to be told in the Magnum Manifesto therefore is formidably complex. It is one that includes the Magnum’s founding, its ever-changing membership, the business models, the personal relationships and the artistic and cultural events that shaped the whole. In an often uneasy amalgam, its constituent photographers were often in conflict and a steady intake of new members, carefully screened and slowly inducted, meant an organisation in continuous flux.
Over and above this are of course the photographs from a roll call of the best in the world in all fields – Capa, Cartier Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Alec Both, Alex Webb, Eve Arnold and so on. Their archive is represented by a steady stream iconic and event-defining images. These not only represented what was happening in the world but often shaped public opinion and by doing so could be argued to have moulded future events.
A deep look into the organisation is therefore so much more than a book of photographs and in fact the anniversary is being marked not just by this hugely impressive book, but by a global programme of events and exhibitions.
The title Magnum Manifesto makes it clear that this is not just a photo book featuring their ‘greatest hits’ but a deeper look in to everything that it represents. The book infact takes the opportunity to display plenty of lesser known, but still impressive, works. After some introductory essays, the preface looks at the four founders at the time that they created the organisation – all working busily around the globe in a rapidly changing post war world – before dividing Magnum’s story in to three key periods.
Human Rights and Wrongs represents the period from its founding until 1968. A time of widespread unrest it was also the time of the UN Declaration of Human Rights – a proclamation with the same values of liberty, equality and dignity espoused by the agency. We see representative images of hunger, postwar Soviet Union, black power, strikes and student riots before a series of longer photo essays that look at universality – a theme that at least partly inspired Edward Steichen’s landmark ‘Family of Man’ exhibition at MoMA in 1955, where nearly a fifth of the images were supplied by Magnum.
An Inventory of Differences describes the subsequent period, from 1969 to ’89, where the focus became more on differences and otherness. We find the unemployed, deformed, immigrant, minority and marginalised of the world and memorable images like Steve McCurry’s Afghan Refugee. Portfolios include Inge Morath’s Masquerade, Philip Jones Griffiths Immigrants and Josef Koudelka’s Gypsies.
Finally Stories About Endings shows the postmodern era up to the present day. Cultural expansion led to greater ‘artistic’ output and a flowering of methods of distribution of the imagery – books, exhibitions, gallery displays and the internet. Photographers looked at what was disappearing. We see Martin Parr’s Still Lives and Colonial lives, Thomas Dworzak’s Taliban and Donovan Wylie’s The Maze.
That the Magnum Manifesto succeeds in its task is great credit to the editor Clément Chéroux who must be commended in producing something that has combined all these aspects in to a cohesive whole. We get a compelling story that draws us through the ups and downs of the organisation even whilst great historic events unfold. We also get enough stunning imagery from the great photographers to realise why Magnum is something unique and special.
An absolutely essential book on the most important photographers collective the world has ever seen.
Magnum Photos’ 70th anniversary will be celebrated with a global programme of events throughout 2017. For more information visit www.magnumphotos.com
To purchase Magnum Manifesto (at a 20% discount) visit www.thamesandhudson.com
The first accompanying exhibition is at the International Center for Photography NY until 3 September 2017 and will then tour internationally.