exhibition

magnum photos 60 years
8 Feb - 12 May 2008

© Paolo Pellegrin, Moments after an Israeli air strike destroyed several buildings in Dahia. Beirut. Lebanon, August 2006
© Paolo Pellegrin, Moments after an Israeli air strike destroyed several buildings in Dahia. Beirut. Lebanon, August 2006

This retrospective is being presented at the Stedelijk Museum to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the renowned MAGNUM photo and press agency. UNFORTUNATELY PHOTOGRAPHING IS NOTALLOWED IN THIS EXHIBITION.

Throughout that period MAGNUM never ceased to supply photographs that have become part of the world’s collective memory – pictures of landmark events like the Russian army’s invasion of Prague in 1968 and the Tiananmen Square demonstrations inBeijing in 1989. The exhibition uses photographs, books and texts to illustrate the history of MAGNUM year by year and gives visitors the opportunity to view work by 83 photographers, such as Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Carl de Keyzer, Martin Parr, Susan Meiselas and Leonard Freed.

MAGNUM was established in 1947 by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David Seymour. They were convinced that photography was the best medium with which to document world events and raise public awareness. And they succeeded – the way MAGNUM photographers have recorded the background to the news has proved vital to the public’s perception of events. From the start, the agency was distinguished by its complete independence: the choice and length of reportage, editing control and intellectual property rights were all kept in the agency’s own hands, guaranteeing photographers the status of auteurs. Attracted by the energy and artistic ethics of its founders, other photographers soon began to join the new agency, eventually making it one of the most original and prestigious creative co-operatives in the world.

MAGNUM photographers were and are to be found on every front line in every continent. They have recorded every major aspect of our times, from armed conflicts and revolutions through to everyday life and outstanding personalities. Their insight and vision have enabled them to create iconic images which have been disseminated through the international press to become part of our society’s collective memory. MAGNUM photographs have proved to be both witnesses and artists working on the basis of personal intuition or a variety of individual concepts. Henri Cartier-Bresson believed in the ‘decisive moment’, while Raymond Depardon looked for ‘moments of weakness’ and Gilles Peress practised ‘documentary archaeology’. Equally, Martin Parr’s work features ‘consumerist clichés’, while Lise Sarfati produces ‘inner landscapes’.

The forthcoming exhibition is in two parts. The first is a 45-metre-long frieze offering a linear account of MAGNUM’s activities over the last six decades, conveyed by way of texts, key images and original books. The second consists of four interactively controlled projection screens which enable visitors to (re)discover the work of all the photographers associated with MAGNUM (past and present) via carefully composed selections of images.

This is the third exhibition about MAGNUM to be held at the Stedelijk. The first, in 1964, stressed the post-war humanist ethics propagated by the founder members and was based on the collection of photographs acquired by the museum since 1958. The second, in 1990, emphasised the vision of the individual photographers. This reflected the growing interest in auteurship at a time when the print media were increasingly losing ground to television. The present exhibition presents these individual views and relates them to current thinking about the visual presentation of history.

The exhibition was originally devised and produced by the Rencontres Internationales d’Arles and Magnum Photos. The anniversary volume Magnum Magnum will be on sale during the exhibition (564 pp., published by Thoth, € 150).