The Magnum Square Print Sale, FREEDOM, is open from Monday, June 4, 9AM EST, to Friday, June 9, 6PM EST. For 5 days only, signed and estate-stamped prints are available at the exceptional price of $100, through the Magnum Shop. These images, editioned by time rather than quantity, will never be available at this price and format again.
The Spirit of 1968
1968 was a seismic year of deep societal and political shifts in the name of freedom. International issues of freedom from oppression, freedom of speech, political, sexual and religious freedom all came to the fore as student protests racked cities, declarations of independence were made, and in America particularly, the civil rights movement took hold, Martin Luther King was assassinated, whilst anti-Vietnam war protests concurrently emerged.
In Paris, the famous May 1968 student uprisings, photographed by Bruno Barbey, which immobilized the city, and were accompanied by general strikes across the country, to the chanting tune of “Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité!”, are now widely regarded as the turning point of a social revolution, not a political one.
Fifty years on, the Magnum Square Print Sale examines this spirit of revolution, independence and freedom.
When Magnum was founded, in 1947, one of its core principles was to enable photographers to take back control over the copyright to their work while simultaneously giving them freedom over the choice of stories they wanted to cover. Ever since, Magnum photographers’ work has been imbued with a sense of freedom, both in the personal approaches to their work and in the themes and subjects they explore.
Through this project, the Magnum Photos June 2018 Square Print Sale examines both the definition of freedom, and the legacy of this quest for it through the work of Magnum’s photographers. Inviting a wide interpretation of the theme, the project includes iconic images that have defined and documented humanity’s quest for freedom over the past 70 years, as well as the deeply personal images that symbolize creative and artistic freedom.
To view the full sale, please explore the slideshow below, or shop the sale here.
"The rallying cry for Chechen independence was 'freedom or death'"
- Thomas Dworzak
Revolution, Resistance and Insurrection
Magnum photographers have, since the early part of the 20th century, witnessed the insurrections and declarations of independence that have engendered deep social and political shifts, and continue to shape the world we live in today. David ‘Chim’ Seymour’s 1934 photograph of Parisians commemorating the Paris Commune of 1871 is a celebration of the spirit of insurgency and protest against hegemonic rule, while, a couple of decades later, Robert Capa’s photograph of the Liberation of Paris marks the end of Nazi Germany’s grip on Europe.
From Philip Jones Griffiths’s documentation of the “underdog”, Grenada, during the U.S. invasion of 1983, to Susan Meiselas’s unflinching work with the insurgents in Nicaragua, the role of photography in documenting events and the lives of those oppressed or seeking relief from dominion often comes with a political and social commitment to telling stories that matter.
"When I think about freedom, I think about revolution. And my thoughts drift, with much admiration and respect, to those selfless individuals that continue to risk their lives in search of freedom, or in the struggle to take it by force"
- Moises Saman
In the caption to her print, Susan Meiselas writes, “Watching from afar as events rapidly unfold in Nicaragua today, I can’t help but think of the dreams that propelled the Nicaraguan people nearly 40 years ago, and what they continue to demand and deserve as they struggle again for their future.” Her sentiment reminds us of how a struggle for freedom echoes through the years, and while each conflict is particular and specific to its context, freedom is a value that continues to drive humanity.
Perhaps this is part of the reason why so many photographs of liberation, such as Stuart Franklin’s Tiananmen Square image from 1989 or pictures from the fall of the Berlin Wall, become so well-known, often reproduced and published time and again, their meaning becoming more than the documentation of a specific set of circumstances, and taking on symbolic value.
Of course, more recently, images from the migrant crisis have contributed to our understanding of the changes wrought by conflict, climate change, and socio-political upheaval. The free movement of people is far from a reality, and the impact of man on the landscape will inevitably impinge upon the freedom of many.
"Freedom is often described with big words, but we encounter it every day in the little things we do"
- Newsha Tavakolian
Liberty and Photography
Newsha Tavakolian muses poetically on the notion of freedom: “Freedom is often described with big words, but we encounter it every day in the little things we do.”
Indeed, the work presented in the Magnum Square Print Sale is a testament to the differences in experience across the collective, differences which have inspired the photographers to produce diverse bodies of work, that can range from the engaged to the personal, the political to the poetic.
Propelled by her own experience, Eve Arnold immersed herself in documenting poverty, politics and the female condition: “I have been poor and I wanted to document poverty; I had lost a child and I was obsessed with birth; I was interested in politics and I wanted to know how it affected our lives; I am a woman and I wanted to know about women.”
While Olivia Arthur photographed women in their homes in Saudi Arabia, she that found that “notions of privacy and freedom have an intertwined and complex relationship. For some, privacy is a requirement to feel relaxed and be free; others consider the privacy they are forced to keep under a hijab as an inhibitor to their freedom, and there are those who simply want to be out of sight from their families or people that know them. … As a woman, in the company of only women, I was able to see scenes that were not to be shared. But as a photographer, this became a huge problem; I was close enough to enable these women to be open with me, with themselves, and they would forget my role as a professional photographer. I ended up unwittingly taking a lot of photographs that they didn’t want me to use, and had to find a way to obscure faces and identities.”
The role of the photographer, in this space, is not that of an outsider, but rather one who can empathize, and create work that stems from the restrictions at play. This role as both participant and creator of the image, the collapse between outside and inside experience, is deeply felt in Enri Canaj’s work. He writes, poignantly, of the experience of being an immigrant. “When you are an immigrant you feel that nothing belongs to you. Your freedom to dream and to imagine is the only thing you have. Photography is the only freedom I have.”
In this Square Print Sale, we welcome, for the first time, the work of Ernest Cole (1940-1990), a South African photographer who documented apartheid from within. His historically-important archive is now represented by Magnum, and his image, “Handcuffed Blacks Arrested for being in a White Area Illegally” resonates universally. Cole was South Africa’s first black freelance photographer, and his words speak of the specific bias that institutionalises discrimination: “The essential cruelty of the situation is not that all blacks are virtuous and all whites villainous, but that the whites are conditioned not to see anything wrong in the injustices they impose on their black neighbors.”
Being able to create work that highlights injustices is at the heart of many photographers’ practices, yet the position of photographer as outsider can be problematic. Bieke Depoorter sums this dilemma up from a personal point of view in her text, highlighting how taking pictures in the street made her feel as if she were ‘stealing’ pictures, yet, when she turned to making images in the intimacy of people’s homes, she felt “both connected and at ease with the medium, as well as toward the people I was photographing. Although I may have been physically ‘trapped’ inside the house, for the first time I felt free. The relationships I built with the people I photographed was crucial to this evolution. I now see photography as a conversation, even though we don’t often share the same language.”
Photographers can immerse themselves entirely in their subjects, like Jonas Bendiksen who spent years searching for and befriending men who claim to be Jesus Christ’s second coming. In turn, his images put the responsibility of interpretation on the viewer, asking questions about identity and religion, which the photographer does not seek to resolve, but rather to present as areas for discussion and reflection.
America, Land of the Free
The poetry of the open road has come to represent a certain kind of freedom, one that we associate with the American dream, and a highly mythologized, free-wheeling kind of identity and creativity. The U.S. Declaration of Independence outlines the principles of freedom, and highlights freedom as a value to be celebrated and upheld, and the national anthem glorifies it further.
Yet, America’s history demonstrates a complex relationship with freedom, one that is multi-layered, controversial, and deeply personal. Punctuated by events that have shaped the discourse of liberty, the U.S is the site of weighty debates around the meaning, implication, and limitations around freedom, often pitting factions against each other in heated, sometimes violent, controversy, and spanning diverse themes, from slavery and discrimination ,to indigenous rights, gender equality, the right to bear arms, LGBTQIA rights, sexual freedom, freedom of speech and of the press, of religion, and all forms of social and political freedoms, including freedom of movement and free trade.
Bruce Davidson and Leonard Freed, documented the civil rights movement, which sought to free Americans from racial discrimination – a fight which continues today. As Davidson aptly notes, “Freedom was then, as it remains today, something that had to be fought for.”
Matt Black, in his ongoing work documenting poverty in the U.S., questions the validity of freedom and of the American dream: “America calls itself ‘the land of the free,’ but fewer and fewer people enjoy the reality of that ideal.. When your town is collapsing, and you can’t afford to change your circumstances, then what does freedom mean?”
Highlighting the limits and contradictions inherent in the idea of freedom, Peter van Agtmael analyzes the complex relationship between the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, the freedom of movement and its restrictions, while pointing at the weight of artistic freedom and representation:
“The subject of the photograph, patrolling his land on the Mexico-United States border, has the freedom to bear his firearm, and the weight of the law on his side to protect his property. The migrants crossing his land are largely seeking economic freedom and take massive risks to achieve it by illegally crossing a partially-militarized border. As photographers, we have the freedom to choose what to photograph, and in what manner. That freedom is a weighty one. How do aesthetics line up with beliefs, and how do beliefs align with attempts to render events with complexity and thoughtfulness? Freedom and responsibility are close bedfellows, and never seem to fully reconcile. This photograph is no exception.”
"America calls itself 'the land of the free,' but fewer and fewer people enjoy the reality of that ideal... When your town is collapsing, and you can't afford to change your circumstances, then what does freedom mean?
- Matt Black
"Free enough to take pictures of things that don't matter, like spilt cherries on a crosswalk..."
- Christopher Anderson
Photography and Creativity
Indeed, if artists are “free enough to take pictures of things that don’t matter,” as Christopher Anderson quips, this hints at the self-realization that many image-makers have found through their practice. David Alan Harvey, on the significance of the balloon tattoo he wears on his wrist, elucidates further: “There are all kinds of freedom. Creative freedom being one of the most rewarding.”
And while freedom to create can indeed be perceived as a luxury, something the privileged few can exercise, many artists equate personal and artistic freedom as one and the same. Herbert List, who had fled Nazi Germany and found work as a fashion photographer in London, created the image in this selection at the end of a studio session. He called it ‘Female Slave.’ “It reflects his attitude toward the creative freedom of staged studio work and the unfree role of a model in a traditional fashion shoot,” writes Peer-Olaf Richter.
While the work may indeed be personal, it is also necessary, and it remains political, a statement, a declaration of intent. Erich Lessing, writing from Germany in 1958, takes a more serious approach: “… I take mankind seriously in all its aspirations and desires and in whatever arises therefrom in religious, spiritual, artistic and political aspects. That was, and still is, the starting point for my photographic themes …”
As Ferdinando Scianna writes, “Freedom means to run behind one’s dreams.”
The full curation of FREEDOM, Magnum’s June 2018 Square Print Sale, is on view here.
For five days only, these images are available as museum-quality, signed or estate-stamped, 6×6″ prints, at the exceptional price of $100.