“The border I’m most interested in crossing is the one between ordinary life and dreams,” writes Alec Soth in the short text that accompanies his submission to ‘Crossings’, the November 2018 Magnum Square Print Sale in Partnership with Aperture.
The sale, which makes available a curation of over 100 images by international artists, explores perspectives on passages, transitions and transformations in photography. View the full selection in the slideshow below.
While it is only the second time that the two organisations have joined forces on the Square Print Sale, Magnum Photos and Aperture Foundation in fact have a long-standing, shared history, spanning many collaborations on publications and events through the decades. In ‘Crossings,’ a roster of artists published by Aperture has been invited to participate in exploring a visual theme alongside Magnum’s own photographers, resulting in a vast and diverse curation that encompasses both classic and contemporary artistic practices.
The project creates an unprecedented visual dialogue between 122 singular authors, spanning depictions of physical crossings – roads, rivers, borders, oceans – and the personal crossings that manifest in growth, revolt, evolution and self-realisation, the voyages of the mind that have the power to spark change and transformation.
“I took my first photograph in the backyard of my childhood home when I was around 13 years old. I had no idea at that moment in time that I would spend a lifetime taking photographs, or that photography would take me on a journey around the world,” writes Trent Park. He continues, “I had to travel away from home to make an important discovery … that the formative years, the place where it all started, is what interests me most. It is in those childhood years where one’s life is shaped, by memory, emotion, imagination and endless possibilities.”
A photographic career is often made up of such crossings: “I crossed the Sahara desert on a dump truck with migrants; I tried to cross the Caribbean with 44 Haitians who were trying to make it to America (we sank). I have crossed my fingers and I have crossed lines, but my favorite crossing remains the threshold of my home,” says Christopher Anderson.
Shared themes emerge across the images, from an examination of contemporary shifts in our understanding of selfhood and identity, to more macroscopic topics such as migration. “Journeys are sometimes fuelled by hope as well as despair. They necessitate looking forward no matter what obstacles lie ahead, because there’s no looking back. These sorts of crossings entail a point of no return,” writes Nikos Economopoulos.
‘Crossings’ asks both literal and metaphorical questions about the human ability to move, transform and build connections through visual practice.
Todd Hido addresses “the theme of Crossings in the most basic manner: I bring together exact opposites on the color wheel, red and green, warm and cool.”
Artists including Joel Meyerowitz, René Burri, Martin Parr, Duane Michals, and Eamonn Doyle photograph at or on literal crossings: bridges, ferries, red lights. “A girl on a Vespa on her way to ‘who knows where,’ when the light stopped her at the 72nd street crossing near the Dakota, where John Lennon would one day cross paths with his fate. She takes this moment to finesse a fingernail before she resumes her downtown journey, while I, stopping at the same crossing, but on foot, leap into the street to capture this vision of a dream girl before time takes her on her way,” writes Joel Meyerowitz.
Catherine Opie’s work, From Here to There (2009), sees her create work while traveling on a container ship, where her physical passage from one place to another was marked by the passage of time. “In 2009, I went on a 10-day journey from the Port of Busan, South Korea, to the Port of Long Beach, California, on a Hanjin container ship. The ship was perhaps the most abstract space I’ve ever occupied, a mass transportation of goods in the ethereal light of the sea. I kept track of time with my daily diligence of photographing sunrises and sunsets, waiting and watching from darkness to lightness, then lightness to darkness. This photograph is a sunrise that centers the ship sailing into the horizon. This ever-present horizon can be seen as a transitional space that we move toward and through, but mathematically, based on the ship’s height, is always 12 miles away until shore is reached.”
The relationship between the passage of time and movement through space is something that is deeply connected to the notion of crossing. “I bore witness to changes in culture and identity that many made as a result of being forced to crisscross the continent in hope of a new beginning,” writes Larry Towell, about his decades-long work documenting the lives of the Mennonites.
The notion of border is central to the exploration of the theme; indeed, Alex Webb’s book Crossings (2003), which partly inspired the theme of this project, explores the border between the U.S. and Mexico. “I’ve long been fascinated by the transience and paradoxes of the U.S.-Mexico border. Between 1975 and 2001, I crossed the border numerous times, photographing this unique region to try to make sense of it. Even though these two countries were culturally worlds apart, it sometimes seemed that the border region was a kind of third country between them—2,000 miles long and 10 miles wide, a place where two countries meet, sometimes easily, sometimes roughly, and often with a confounding note of surrealism. Looking back, I realize that Crossings (2003), the book I made from this work, reflects the last days of a more porous border between the United States and Mexico, so different from today’s militarized border,” he writes.
In contrast to these physical passages, Herbert List’s contribution, an image of two tables seemingly leaning against each other, is a visual metaphor of the type so central to List’s practice. Peer-Olaf Richter writes: “It was code for something that List as a gay artist could not openly portray in the political climate of his times: Love and affection crossing the boundaries of the heterosexual paradigm.”
Indeed, crossings can be constructed to create meaning through visual representation, as Larry Sultan’s contribution also shows. “For the past two years, I have been hiring day laborers as actors in the landscape photographs I make on the outskirts of the suburbs. I drive to lumberyards and big box hardware stores where, every day, from dawn to early evening, hundreds of men wait nearby to be picked up for hourly work. They gather in small groups on the edge of a vacant lot or sit on the grassy verge at the freeway entrance. They occupy landscapes which are the marginal spaces and transitional zones invisible to most of us. I’m not sure if there is a specific term for these places. They are deeply reminiscent of the terrain I sought out as a child: the empty fields behind malls and scruffy borderlands of the Los Angeles River that ran behind my house in the San Fernando Valley. I direct these men’s actions and gestures while drawing from multiple sources: an amalgam of my own childhood wanderings as well as interpretations of their experiences as exiles. The resulting dramas are small and mundane; they are rituals related to place and domesticity, alluding to the poignancy of displacement and the longing for home,” he wrote of his 2006 series Homeland.
Crossings can also become social experiences. Susan Meiselas writes: “In 1977, I followed the men who performed as Santa Claus to raise funds for the Volunteers of America. They were recovering alcoholics, ringing bells on the street all day long. On Fifth Avenue, they crossed the lives of those who would never look at them otherwise.”
For Paolo Pellegrin, the photographic act itself is a kind of crossing: “I see photography as a bridge between subject and viewer. Like an extended hand, or the beginning of a conversation. I leave something unsaid so that the viewer can fill in the missing piece. A photograph is completed only once it is looked at, a beautiful idea.”
The selection of works included in ‘Crossings’ lies at the crossroads of documentary and conceptual practices. Tyler Mitchell neatly encapsulates this in his contribution to the project. He writes of his photograph: “This image was shot in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn. I set out with an image in my head of black masculine freedom emanating from the pictures. And specifically, a fictional image of black men having a full and free range of expression. This started with adorning these two twins, Torey and Khorey, in pearls, fabrics, and natural light to create a world where documentary and fantasy intersect.”
The curation encapsulates the diversity of practices found within photography and celebrates the singular authorship of each artist. Indeed, it speaks to the multifaceted nature of the photographic medium. Christina de Middel reflects, “One of the most important aspects of photography, for me, is its imperfection and how this opens the gate to creating images that our vision could never generate.”
Spanning decades of artistic production, ‘Crossings’ is a testament to the major visual and thematic threads that, together, create our visual culture.
Many of the artists included in the project will use the proceeds from sales of their works to benefit organisations they are involved in and support. Nan Goldin will help fund the work of P.A.I.N. (www.sacklerpain.org); she writes, “I was addicted to OxyContin for four years. I overdosed but I came back. I decided to make the personal political. I’ve started a group called P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) to address the opioid crisis. We are a group of artists, activists and addicts that believe in direct action. We target the Sackler family, who manufactured and pushed OxyContin, through the museums and universities that carry their name. We speak for the 250,000 bodies that no longer can.”
Deeanna Templeton’s proceeds from the sale of her print will be donated to For Freedoms, Ethan James Green’s to Operation Smile, and Ed Templeton’s to Skateistan, “a nonprofit that works to build safe places for kids to play and learn through skateboarding in impoverished and threatened areas within cities in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa.”
For five days only, the images included in ‘Crossings’ will be available as signed, or estate-stamped, 6×6” prints exclusively on the Magnum Shop.
For the first time, this year the prints are also being exhibited simultaneously at the Aperture Gallery in New York, in a special exhibition hosted by Airbnb Magazine for the duration of the sale. The show is open to the public from October 27th.