Arts & Culture

Emotions of the Sun

In an immense collaboration between Magnum and Veuve Clicquot, eight photographers across five continents were given one assignment: to interpret the force and beauty of the Sun

© Nanna Heitmann / Magnum Photos

Faced with the sun as a photographer, how do you feel? What emotions does it inspire in you? Joy? Wonder? Awe? Its light is the source of all photographs, yet its beauty is difficult to immortalize through a lens.

For Veuve Clicquot, the influence of the sun has been at the core of their very being since their founding over 250 years ago. A “universal symbol of joy and optimism,” it is represented through their iconic, ubiquitous yellow, which has been present on the champagne bottles themselves since 1877.

Today, the sun’s influence continues to radiate through Veuve Clicquot’s identity and culture, and this year, in an immense, global project featuring eight photographers across five continents, Magnum and Veuve Clicquot join forces to launch one, seemingly straightforward assignment — to interpret the force and beauty of the sun through a series of photographs. 

The result is Emotions of the Sun, an exhibition curated by independent curator and photographic historian Pauline Vermare, featuring 40 prints from the eight participating photographers: Steve McCurry, Cristina de Middel, Nanna Heitmann, Lindokuhle Sobekwa, Newsha Tavakolian, Olivia Arthur, Trent Parke, and Alex Webb. The exhibition makes its debut at Milan Design Week in the Garden Senato Milano. It is open to the public from April 15 until April 21, 2024. 

Each photographer was given a carte blanche to interpret the theme where and as they wished, letting their creativity reign free. “Their free-ranging, individual interpretations are captured in 40 new photographs, each an illustration of the Sun’s power, across an extraordinary spectrum of emotions, shapes and colors, from vast outdoor spaces to intimate interiors,”Veuve Clicquot writes.

To celebrate the opening of the exhibition in Italy, we share a glimpse of the eight projects that form Emotions of the Sun.

Cristina de Middel
The Magic of the Sun

De Middel crafts a magical realist world that revolves around the sun and its influence from Salvador de Bahia in Brazil

© Cristina de Middel / Magnum Photos

Creativity and imagination reign within De Middel’s series of images, as she draws on props such as a bright yellow balloon and golden threads to convey her emotions. “Amidst sand dunes and expanses of water, drawing on strong lighting, metaphorical shapes and bright colors, she created a theater of life, exuding warmth and abundance,” writes Vermare. 

"I am always amazed by how the sun can change the mood of a whole scene and impact our emotions."

- Cristina de Middel

Steve McCurry
Sun Cycle on Mount Fuji

McCurry captures Japan’s Mount Fuji in a series of landscapes that encapsulate its monumental power and beauty

© Steve McCurry / Magnum Photos

The sun lies at the heart of all Japanese mythology. Faced with the Fuji-san’s cone for the first time, McCurry captured the active volcano at various times throughout the day, from sunrise to sunset, carefully timing his shots to allow the radiance of the sun to complement the majestic nature of the mountain. “McCurry’s choreographed images include a human presence in each landscape, a humble witness of nature’s unparalleled beauty, symbolizing a profound harmony,” writes Vermare. “Shining bright, the sun stands as the source of all life.” 

"The colors we perceive in the natural world are influenced by a combination of sunlight, the objects themselves, and atmospheric conditions. The changing light at sunrise or sunset makes Mount Fuji even more magical."

- Steve McCurry

Nanna Heitmann
The Sun That Binds Us

Calm contemplation and connection reign in Heitmann’s series of images, shot in the Bardenas Reales desert in northern Spain

© Nanna Heitmann / Magnum Photos

Using a length of yellow fabric to symbolize the rays of the sun, Heitmann stages moments of magic in the vast expanse of the desert, with the soft light conveying a moment of shared serenity. “In these theatrical mises-en-scène, human beings and the sun are in perfect osmosis: in the vastness of our world, they are one,” Vermare writes. “This series conveys a sense of calm, awe, and introspection, inviting viewers to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature, and to find moments of stillness and appreciation amidst the chaos of life.

"The sun is the source of light and life for our planet. It inspires awe and wonder, and reminds us of the vastness and beauty of the universe."

- Nanna Heitmann

Olivia Arthur
Make Hay While the Sun Shines

From France, Arthur captures the slow change in the air as the summer begins to draw to a close

© Olivia Arthur / Magnum Photos

The familiar feeling of longing for the return of the summer sun looms over Olivia Arthur’s images, captured during the final few days of summer. Hay bales, dry grass, and striking shade transport us back to slow moments of summer heat. “In these bucolic, ethereal photographs, haymaking and the end-of-summer sun come to symbolize seizing the moment and getting the most out of life,” Vermare writes. “In one particularly intimate and gentle photograph, the sun tenderly embraces a body and projects it as a delicate silhouette onto the hay, blending the elements in a sensuous ballet.”

"I wanted to think about the last days of summer sun, when we have sunk into this feeling but need to enjoy it as much as we can before it ends."

- Olivia Arthur

Lindokuhle Sobekwa
Blooming in the Sun

Shooting in his native South Africa, Sobekwa celebrates springtime through his lens 

© Lindokuhle Sobekwa / Magnum Photos

Contrary to Arthur, Lindokuhle Sobekwa’s series was shot in September, which marks the beginning of spring in South Africa. Through his lens, he captures the blooming nature of the season with a richness of color. “His exquisite portraits of blossoming flowers, in rich and bright colors, are an ode to the sun, and to the fertility, joy and abundance our nearest star brings to the world,” writes Vermare. “The series makes palpable the gentle caress of the spring sun, and the sheer energy of nature.”

"The Sun gives life to the natural world and provides beautiful golden light. We often say in photography that without light there is no photograph and without the Sun there is no life."

- Lindokuhle Sobekwa

Newsha Tavakolian
Nurturing Sun

Tavakolian invites us into a visual fable depicting the emotional power of the sun from her home in Iran

Newsha Tavakolian shot her series of images during a sunny day in Iran, using various locations from a minimalist bedroom to a swimming pool, and out to the Iranian deserts. More than a series of images, she weaves a story to show the emotional power of the sun on our spirits and moods. “She was inspired by a book titled Conversation in a Garden by Iranian writer Shahrokh Meskoob, in which two intellectuals discuss Persian gardens, concluding that ‘the garden is inside you,’” explains Vermare. “In this same enlightened spirit, Tavakolian’s soulful vision of the Sun as a soothing and nurturing presence makes us realize that its warmth and light are, indeed, inside each and every one of us.” 

"I see these images as a journey into consciousness. As you grow closer to nature, you become more self-aware, understanding the importance of living authentically. This is the realization that life is lived only once."

- Newsha Tavakolian
© Newsha Tavakolian / Magnum Photos

Alex Webb
The Many Suns of Oaxaca

Webb takes us on a voyage through the bright, lively streets of Oaxaca, Mexico through his series of images

© Alex Webb / Magnum Photos

Oaxaca is a city that is very close to Alex Webb’s heart. The vibrant colors of Mexico were the catalyst for his shift to color photography in the late 70s, and it is here that he decided to return to capture his personal interpretation of the power of the sun. Webb describes Mexico as a place ‘where color seems almost embedded in the culture,’” Vermare explains. “His photographs capture the mood and atmosphere created by the colors themselves, each filled with their own emotional component: happiness, excitement, and, sometimes, mystery.”

"I became increasingly aware of the color of sunlight. I started to respond to the mood and atmosphere created by light, and to realize the emotional component of color, how its emotional tenor transforms one’s experience."

- Alex Webb

Trent Parke
The Sun As the Ultimate Force of Life

From his hometown of Adelaide, Australia, Parke captures the sun in full force

In contrast to the dry, yellow deserts of Tavakolian and Heitmann, Parke turns to the powers of the sea to dialogue with the sun’s force, in a visual contrast of fire and water, shot during the peak of summer on the Australian coast. “Against the sun’s fiery rays, impressive silhouettes make striking photographic motifs,” writes Vermare. “The ocean becomes a sumptuous canvas. The Sun, an almighty presence, stands as the lead in this cast of characters, providing a divine backdrop for the ocean, birds and humans alike.”

"The sun has always been a symbol of the great clock in the sky. The sun is the ultimate force of life."

- Trent Parke
© Trent Parke / Magnum Photos

To view the full selection of 40 images, visit “Emotions of the Sun” at the Garden Senato Milano from April 15 until April 21, 2024. Plan your visit and book your tickets here

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