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My Conventional Work
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March 21, 2013
by Richard Kalvar
I hope you’ve noticed that the Magnum Store is now selling the magazine we’ve just published based on the work I did at the Republican and Democratic conventions in the US last year, called Conventional Photography. This is part of the Looking for America series. Faced with the dramatically declining press use of photographic essays, we’re exploring new ways of showing our pictures, and of making a living with photography. Through self-publishing, we’re trying reach the public directly.
Shortly after I joined Magnum in 1975, I moved back to New York and began covering the 1976 presidential campaign, along with a number of my new young colleagues. The Democratic convention was to be held in New York that year, and a group of us (Gilles Peress and I from Magnum, and two friends from the New York Times – Gary Hoenig and Steve Heller) decided to publish a facetious little newspaper with our pictures from the primaries, called Unconventional Photography, and sell it there. I wouldn’t say that it was an extraordinary commercial success: let’s see, about 50 copies sold at 25 cents a shot, minus the cost of the printing leaves… well, at least it was funny and fun to do, and the buyers who held on to their copy can probably cash in on their investment today for at least $5.
More than 35 years later, Gary Hoenig happens to be advising us on the self-publishing project, and last year he said to me, “Why don’t you go the conventions again?”. I hadn’t been to one since 1980, and I thought it was a great idea. We managed to do a deal with Slate, which meant that I could get credentials, have my work seen, and pay for the expenses. And from the very beginning we thought of putting out a new version of Unconventional Photography (the title shortened to Conventional Photography to save on the cost of ink), this time with my pictures only, all shot at the conventions themselves and not during the primary season.
And so a mere six months later, here it is! Now some of you may wonder why it’s come out so long after the events, and I must admit that at times I do, too. This has been a learning experience for us, and not everything has gone according to plan. For news freaks the delay might be disappointing, but for people who like photography, politics, and human relations, does it really matter? I always work for the long term anyway, and I hope that my pictures will have a life long after the news publication has been used to wrap fish (can you wrap fish with an online Slate article? Hmm, I must think about this…). I believe that I will finally be able to bask in people’s appreciation of my work thirty years after my death.
Conventional Photography is a nice object, full of interesting pictures that were all obviously taken by the same photographer, which is not nothing. It’s kind of funny. And it’s rare, since not too many were printed. Get your copy today: only twenty bucks, including postage and handling. A steal!
And thirty years after my death, when we celebrate the fact that it’s become a cult object, I’ll offer the champagne.