Magnum photographers - part 1

December 16, 2013  •  Leave a Comment


I am calling this article "part 1" because I plan to write more on this topic. This might happen or not, but I am calling it part 1 anyway. Why Magnum photographers? I have recently started to study the work of Magnum photographers, searching for amazing pieces of photojournalism and street photography. I know, its not quite my cup of tea, as I am more inclined to altering the reality rather than showing it as it is, however I always enjoyed to shoot on the streets and to watch some good pieces of street or documentary photography.

With this target in mind, I start browsing through various photographers galleries. I might say that my knowledge in terms of photojournalism is quite reduced. Of course I know someone like Steve McCurry , or classics like Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson or Garry Winogrand, but I am definitely not an expert into this area. After watching many photographic essays I can say that my opinion is biased. Even here, at this very top level of photojournalism, I see things that impress me a lot, amazing visual stories, that makes me feel like being there, but in the same time, some series that tells me absolutely nothing from the visual point of view, although they have some deep story behind. I will focus this article on two examples:

Number one is an essay that impressed me , belonging to Norwegian photographer Jonas Bendiksen: On the Frontline of Climate Change. It is a strong series of images depicting the monsoon season and its effect in Bangladesh.Without knowing too much about it, just by watching the images, I can easily figure out that this must be somewhere in South Asia and must be something about extreme weather conditions. Knowing that this part of the world is constantly hit but monsoon and flooding, I already got a strong idea what this is about, without having to read any description. So strong images, subjects well chosen, local specificity and well captured atmosphere. All are the ingredients of a good documentary photography in my opinion

The other example is a series of Chien-Chi Chang called Escape from North Korea . I know that this is rather difficult subject to photograph due to live threatening situation of those people. People are reluctant to be photographed as they are scared for their life and the safety of their families. However, from photographic point of view, this essay tells me nothing. I can see just some Asian people that might be Chinese or Korean, that seem to hide away from something. Maybe they are hiding from local police, maybe they are just ashamed of something. You cannot guess, you cannot figure out, you really need to know the topic and to read the descriptions to understand the images.

With this two examples in mind, I am rather clear of what I want to see in photojournalism: visual stories. I want images that do not require text to clarify the idea behind, maybe just some small details about exact location or exact period of time. Documentary photography is really fulfilling its role when it can express an idea by itself.  Do you have other opinion or something more to add? Feel free to comment on this post!


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