On the occasion of Magnum’s 70th anniversary and Aperture Foundation’s 65th, the two organizations present Great Journeys, the final in the cycle of four Square Print Sales inspired by each of Magnum’s founders. For the first time, Magnum Photos has invited a roster of artists published by Aperture to participate in the project alongside Magnum’s own photographers, creating a collection of signed or estate-stamped 6×6-inch prints available to purchase at the exceptional price of $100, for 5 days only.
Exploring the theme of Great Journeys both literally and metaphorically, photographers have shared their most important and inspiring experiences, travels far and wide, peregrinations much closer to home, and the journeys of the mind that have come to define their visual practice. Explore the slideshow below to view the full curation of images and texts, find your favorite images from the project on the Magnum Shop here, or read more, below, to delve deeper into this unprecedented visual dialogue and its history.
Magnum and Aperture: New Ideals
Born five years apart, Magnum Photos and Aperture are long-standing photographic institutions created by photographers in response to the circumstances within which they exercised their practice. Both founded by small groups of deeply committed, ambitious, artists, the two organizations set new standards and outlined new ideals and ambitions for photography, which predicated how the discipline would evolve over the following decades.
Parisian cafes were the site of animated discussions between Magnum’s co-founders, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David ‘Chim’ Seymour, William Vandivert, and George Rodger – whose legacy this sale honors – all dreamers with the ambition to wrest back control of their creative freedom from the dominant magazines of the time, who, by the same token, also kept ownership of photographers’ copyright.
Founding Magnum Photos in 1947 was a declaration of independence, and provided the impetus for the photographers to decide for themselves which stories to tell through their lenses, and, crucially, to retain the rights to their work, thereby enabling them to sell their stories to magazines world-wide and therefore fund forthcoming projects. This is still, to a large extent, how the agency operates today, and how photographers embarking on personal projects are able to generate an income from their work.
Five years later, in New York, another deeply influential group of photographers – including Minor White, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Nancy Newhall, and Beaumont Newhall – sought to create their own paradigm shift, by launching Aperture Magazine in 1952, “a common ground for the advancement of photography.” Executive Director of Aperture Foundation, Chris Boot, says: “The perception of the early Aperturians was that the prevailing organs and institutions of photography valued photographs for what they showed, as content, but placed insufficient value on either the medium as a creative art form, or the photographer as artist. Aperture, in words and pictures, sought to occupy the higher ground, offering a different paradigm for appreciating the art of photography, and driving the dialogue about and culture of art photography…”
Many of Magnum’s photographers are published by Aperture and today the two organizations have much in common, having played roles central to the theory and practice of photography. Nurturing talent, setting standards, fostering defining conversations, and establishing best working practices, Magnum Photos and Aperture are central parts of photography’s great journey. Through this shared square print project, where 40 artists published by Aperture join the ranks of Magnum’s 76 photographers, we explore this shared photographic history and the role that journeying plays within it.
The Art of Travel, Near and Far
When Magnum was founded, the photographers divided the coverage of the world between them, loosely associating Cartier-Bresson with India and the Far East, Chim with Europe, Capa at large and Rodger in Africa. In fact, Rodger’s print in this sale is an image from his African travels. Morally disgusted by World War II, Rodger gave up war photography at the end of WWII, and left for Africa, “to get away where the world was clean.”
“Unlike Rodger, List never explored Africa in great depth. He remained in the north. His image of the Hercules Caves near Tangiers, however, visualizes three ingredients of many great journeys: an outline of an imaginary country, a wide ocean and the curiosity to look into the abyss of the unknown,” states Peer-Olaf Richter, of List’s estate.
Often it seems photography and travel coincide; photographers are well-known for their frequent peregrinations around the world: “the dream of the road: the place to escape, to wander, to encounter something beyond what you had imagined you’d find,” in the words of Susan Meiselas.
Inspired by the shipping forecast, Mark Power “set out to visit all 31 areas – in retrospect a ridiculously ambitious idea that would take me four years to complete – to see if the reality of what I found bore any resemblance to the imaginary landscapes that already existed inside my head.”
Some journeys are inevitable, presenting themselves as necessities to the photographer. Inge Morath wrote, “One day, in May of the year 1958, it became clear to me that to follow the Danube from its source to its end was, in my mind, one of those inevitable voyages.” And certain places come to haunt photographers, becoming synonymous with their practice, such as Chris Steele Perkins’ enduring fascination with Africa, echoing Rodgers.
Yet photographic journeys can also be very close to home. Larry Towell experienced this while photographing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which stands out “as one of [his] most pertinent journeys, perhaps, because it was so close to home.”
In the sage words of Elliott Erwitt: “For me, any photographic journey has the possibility of being great. Even if the journey is going to the corner store to buy a quart of milk. Photographic opportunities are everywhere. From the exotic to the banal. The result depends on a photographer’s curiosity, perception and luck.”
Photography and Time: Witnessing History
Photographs can make us travel back in time, to era-defining moments that have shaped our visual culture, captured by photographers witnessing these epochal scenes. Seeing the world through their lens, they offer a personal and important document of history, and resonate through the ages. Jamel Shabazz, from the perspective of a “concerned citizen and documentarian,” sees a very specific role for photography: “I felt it was my duty both to warn the youth of the dangers that I foresaw, and to use my camera as a tool to engage and document.” His photograph, A Time Before Crack, is “a constant reminder of a time before the great crack epidemic that would change life forever.”
Cornell Capa, ever the humanist, once described this pleasure in witnessing events and sharing his experiences with others through the medium of photography. “The greatest joy that the camera has given me is my gained capacity to see. The next gain is that I can ‘be there’ where things are going on and have the opportunity to partake. It also gives me a center seat, front (and more importantly a backstage vantage point as well) of the Greatest Spectaculars that man has created to impress others. It has given me rich opportunities to be one with fellow human beings of all varieties in their hours of trial and triumph. Thus I can live a thousand lives during my lifetime. Finally there is the satisfaction of showing others what experiences I have gone through.”
Don McCullin writes of this instinct to participate in a broader, human and historical narrative through his photographs: “I felt immediately that the road was a voice, telling me something about history—a road along which millions of soldiers had marched into fear, pain, and death. I injected a lot of my own thoughts into that picture. There’s a lot of darkness in this simple landscape. I see darkness as my voice. I’m speaking for the victims and casualties of war, because they’re not around to speak for themselves. In war, you see a lot of damaged human beings. They can’t talk because they’re in immense depths of shock and horror. I make my pictures dark, to speak what other people can’t speak.”
A Journey to Selfhood: the Quest for Identity
“I still recall my journeys to the east coast of Greenland as the greatest and most fearless ones of my life… I had started a new life, a new journey that made me feel exactly like that boy jumping off the roof,” writes Jacob Aue Sobol. He points at photography’s capacity to transform, the act of photographing itself becoming a tool through which self-identity can be found and defined.
Visual production is a journey to selfhood in Zackary Drucker’s work: “Before the prevalence of selfies, or the square files of Instagram, I photographed myself into existence to fill the void of feeling that gender outlaws had been erased or only rendered by outsiders. I don’t particularly like this self-portrait, but I acknowledge this past incarnation who exists within me, and honor them for delivering me here and now.”
Using photography as a way to translate the outside world, Moises Saman states, “Iraq has come to represent quite a personal journey in my life. The war there has defined me and my generation, and as such I find myself returning year after year.”
In her work, Bieke Depoorter highlights the status of photographer in a foreign land as a cultural outsider, and seeks to reassess her relationship to photography by going back to Egypt not to photograph, but “with the photographs [she] had previously taken and ask random Egyptians to write their thoughts on the images.”
Photographs become totems of the imagination, objects that hold a transformative power. Justine Kurland writes about her images of motherhood: “I made them mostly for myself during my first years with a small baby, because I couldn’t relate to the depictions of motherhood available to me. These photographs opened up space for me to imagine a different way of being a mother.”
Indeed, as Jerome Sessini writes, “For most people, travel is synonymous with vacation, exoticism and relaxation. Or flight, to escape the quotidian. I understood by traveling, that there was no trip far enough to escape from oneself. Elsewhere becomes here when we are there.”
The Photograph as Journey: Sharing a Personal Vision
“Every photographer always gives away something of what he is and where he comes from in the images he produces. This is something I find really interesting,” says Harry Gruyaert. Photographs can act as objects that transmit their authors’ unique, powerful vision, taking the viewer on a journey alongside the artist.
As Matt Black writes, “Every picture becomes a portrait of the home you left behind.” It is then up to the viewer to gather these hints, decode meaning harvest the clues left behing. “I’m not going to be answering questions as much as challenging ideas and preconceived notions and just letting the audience interpret what they want to. There’s an aspect of my work that I want to be universal,” declares Awol Erizku.
Journeys of the Mind
Carolyn Drake highlights the way in which photographs can trigger a series of feelings, memories, and inner thoughts: “I am fascinated by how images work on the imagination, and I think this curtain in a way puts a shape around those uncanny movements of the mind.”
When Enri Canaj made work in his homeland of Albania, it was in order to create photographs that act as memories do: “This is from a journey backward, to my own homeland, to what I have kept in my memory, what I have forgotten, what I grew up away from. All of it slowly melting together into a light crystal snow ball, that I keep safe with me. To keep me safe.”
Both Drake and Canaj indicate how the photograph itself can become a point of connection and departure, a repository for thought and feeling, a space of interconnection. Describing her own practice, Graciela Iturbide writes: “My work is characterized by an ongoing dialogue between images, time and symbols, in a poetic display in which dream, ritual, religion, travel and community all blend together.”
Photography is an open door, inviting imagination and dreamwork. “More than traveling, I love the idea of leaving. To dream a destination. To fantasize about this country, its culture, its people,” writes Patrick Zachmann. Similarly, journeying is not necessarily concerned with the direction of travel, or with finding a way to go from one place to another. More than this, journeying is about opening doors, finding possibility and potential. In the words of Alex Webb: “More often than not, I had to lose my way in order to find my most successful photographs.”