Closer • The Magnum Square Print Sale • June 2017

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Closer

Closer explores Magnum co-founder Robert Capa's legacy in photography. What does getting closer mean to Magnum's photographers, and why is it important?

Antoine d’ Agata Japan. 2006.“My gaze doesn’t focus on the event itself but on what converges around it. My courage fails me. A gesture and its sublimation are equally necessary, a forced reconciliation of the tr (...)

The Magnum Square Print Sale is open from Monday, June 5th, 8AM EST to Friday, June 9th, 6PM EST. During this time, 78 museum-quality, 6×6″, signed or estate-stamped, prints by Magnum photographers, will be available for $100. These images will never be available in this size and price again. Visit the Magnum Shop here to view the full selection.

If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” Magnum co-founder Robert Capa famously said. The Picture Post (December 3, 1938) described Capa as “the greatest war photographer in the world” when he was just 25. His maxim has become almost as famous as his body of work, which continues to influence generations of photographers.

“Getting closer is a revered maxim for all of us. It is also an art,” says Chien-Chi Chang. As Magnum Photos revisits Robert Capa’s phrase and examines what it means to ‘get closer’ – a project that is part of a cycle of four founder-themed Square Prints Projects to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the agency – the photographers express through photographs and texts their interpretation, acceptation or even rejection of the maxim, all of which can be explored in full in the slideshow below and on the Magnum Shop, where signed or estate stamped, museum quality, 6×6″ prints, will be available for $100, for five days only.

Robert Capa American troops landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day. Normandy, France. June 6, 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa Farewell ceremony for the International Brigades. Near Barcelona, Spain. October 25, 1938.“My brother Bob went to Spain for the same reason that volunteers from all over the world went there to f (...)
Robert Capa Pablo Picasso with his nephew Javier Vilato and Françoise Gilot on the beach. Golfe-Juan, France. August, 1948.“In these images of Picasso and his family, Robert Capa stresses the everyday human (...)
Elliott Erwitt New York City, USA. 1955.

“In thinking about getting closer, weddings come to mind... at least initially. Afterward, and down the line, all bets are off.”

— Elliott Erwitt © Elliott Erwitt | Magnum Photos
Bruce Davidson Subway. New York City, USA. 1980.“In 1980, the New York subway system was deplorable—unsafe, scribbled all over with graffiti. Some of it very interesting. I took it upon myself to explore the 5 (...)
Alex Webb Cotton Candy. Oaxaca, Mexico. 1990.“I’ve been photographing in the streets of Mexico for some 40 years, and there’s one particular city that I feel especially close to— the airy, vibrant, lyrical (...)
Jim Goldberg Circle K Station. Everglades City, Florida. 2014.“This photograph is part of Prop Roots Vol V, an oversized artist book and installation created for the exhibition ‘Imagining Eden’ (March 19–July (...)
Jonas Bendiksen Altai Republic, Russia. 2000. (Alternate Take)“I’ve always tried to follow Capa’s adage about getting closer. The irony is that my most well-known image of a crashed spacecraft with butterflies (...)
Stuart Franklin “Tank Man” stopping a column of T59 tanks. Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China. June 4, 1989.“‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,’ Magnum co-founder Robert Capa famously s (...)
Matt Black El Paso, Texas, USA. 2015."You can be right next to something and still not see it. Or you can be across the street and connect. I think this is also what Capa meant: Don't just be there, feel it (...)
Jacob Aue Sobol Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. 2012. (“Arrivals and Departures,” 2012).“When people ask me how I get so close, the answer is simply because I am that close. I do not know anything else, and I cannot imag (...)
Nikos Economopoulos Political meeting. Yozgat, Turkey. 1990.“It was a political rally in Yozgat, Turkey. In spring. The square was packed with male supporters of Ismet Inönü’s party. There was tension, a sense of ur (...)
Olivia Arthur India. 2017.“I had intended to make a portrait of Loren on her own, but she took me to a house she shares with other members of the hijra society–India’s ancient transgender community¬–and it was (...)
Abbas Tehran, Iran. January 25, 1979.“‘If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,’ Robert Capa famously said.1979, Tehran: The Shah has left the country. Khomeini has arrived. (...)
Peter van Agtmael “Robert Capa’s adage has become one of the most ubiquitous phrases in photography. Like many iconic quotes, it’s both incredibly vague and specific; you can interpret it any way you please. The mea (...)
Christopher Anderson Toys from my childhood that my son plays with on my parent’s floor. USA. 2009.“Even in my former life as a ‘war photographer,’ I never thought that Capa’s advice to ‘get closer’ was in reference (...)
Leonard Freed The fire hydrants are opened during the summer heat. Harlem, NY, USA. 1963.

“Get closer, get wet.”

— Elke Susannah Freed, daughter of Leonard Freed © Leonard Freed | Magnum Photos
Bruno Barbey The Amazon River. Belém, Pará, Brazil. 1966.“At the time I was in Brazil, my first of many trips there, exploring the favelas of Belém, a town located at the mouth of the Amazon. The year was 196 (...)
Martin Parr Mar del Plata, Argentina. 2014.“I love Mar del Plata. It is safe to say the Argentines do as well. With 17km of beaches and 2000 hotels, it is by far the biggest resort in the country. Indeed, it (...)
Eve Arnold Marilyn Monroe. Los Angeles, USA. 1960.“I remember we laughed a lot, particularly at the end, when I found that although I had had a white paper cone built around us for greater privacy and conce (...)
Antoine d’ Agata Japan. 2006.“My gaze doesn’t focus on the event itself but on what converges around it. My courage fails me. A gesture and its sublimation are equally necessary, a forced reconciliation of the tr (...)
Carolyn Drake Ukraine. 2006.“I made this image of Olya at a Ukrainian boarding house, where about 60 girls, judged to have disabilities, lived together tucked away on the edge of a forest near Ternopil. In th (...)
Miguel Rio Branco Oyinho. Salvador, Bahia. Brazil. 1994.“In the 1970s, I focused on the parallel lives in Pelourinho, a historic neighborhood in Salvador that was at the time inhabited by prostitutes.When I came (...)
David Alan Harvey Kanwaka, Kansas, USA. 1969"After grad school, I moved to Kansas for a job as a newspaper photographer. My boss told me that the most important thing I could do was to get close to the community. (...)
Ian Berry Maseru, Lesotho, Africa. 1960.“I have always thought about Capa’s exhortation to ‘get closer’ and, as a result, have spent my life shooting with 35 and 50mm lenses.In this case, I was photograp (...)
Werner Bischof Farmer shading himself as he looks after his grazing cows. Cambodia. 1952.“Recently I’ve been thinking too much; I have doubts about my work. I am the kind of person who loves to make great photo (...)
Larry Towell Lambton County, Ontario. Canada. 1996.“I live on the Sydenham River, which cuts my Ontario farm in half. I was brought up on this water, and we bought the farm because of it. When I was a young (...)
Eli Reed Rosa Parks. Atlanta, Georgia, USA. 1995.“Rosa Parks helped to establish the right of Black Americans to be treated as human beings at a flash point in the Civil Rights Movement. Parks accomplish (...)
Paolo Pellegrin Civilians arrive in Tyre after fleeing their villages in southern Lebanon during Israeli airstrikes. Tyre, Lebanon. July, 2006.“I was in Tyre, a town in South Lebanon, during the 2006 Israel – H (...)
Micha Bar Am Teacher – Soldier. Ma'abara (refugee camp), Kfar Saba, Israel. 1958.“The subject of this photograph, Sarah, was a teacher to soldiers, born in the Kibbutz Shefayim. Sarah became, and remains, a c (...)
Steve McCurry Girl in a Chinese coat. Xigazê, Tibet. 2001.“I photographed this girl in her new Chinese-style coat in Xigazê, Tibet's second largest city. She wore it with pride.I like to get in close when (...)
Moises Saman Photograph of Mohamad Mashour while in jail. Mashour was released in 2011 after serving a 10-year sentence for being an Islamist. Ismailia, Egypt. April, 2011.“To me proximity is not only physica (...)
Diana Markosian An Afghan woman bakes bread in the border town of Badakhshan. Afghanistan. 2011.“I often find myself alone on the road, away from the familiar, searching for a place to call home. A few years bac (...)
Herbert List Lemonade Stand. Capri, Italy. 1932.“Herbert List was no ‘chasseur d’images.’ Headline news did not motivate him to take the camera. His approach from the get-go was more artistic than journalist (...)
Dennis Stock Miles Davis. USA. 1958.“I had a passion for jazz. I had listened and attended many jazz sessions from a child on. So I went out for three years and explored the world of musicians all across the (...)
Chris Steele-Perkins The Teds. Great Britain. 1976.“Capa’s advice to ‘get closer’ can apply to both physical and psychological proximity.In this case I was physically close, but the Leica M 35mm lens I was using di (...)
David Hurn The Beatles during filming of A Hard Day’s Night. London, England. 1964.“‘Getting closer’ can have at least two definitions: In the case of The Beatles, the most important issue was less distance (...)
Cornell Capa The Bolshoi Ballet School. Moscow, Russia. 1958.“When you look at my work, you will notice the absence of still lifes and landscapes. I am interested in human beings, their lives, their habitats (...)
Rene Burri Hungarian refugees fleeing the national insurgency are received at a center before departing to their new Swiss home. Trogen, Switzerland. 1956.“Everything that happens in life is in motion;Mot (...)
Harry Gruyaert Tour de France. France. 1982.“In 1982, I was commissioned by Elf Aquitaine, the oil company that was sponsoring Bernard Hinault, to cover the Tour de France. Although I was not a fan of the highl (...)
Matt Stuart A Closely Observed Leaf. London, England. 2013.“As someone who spends his life in urban surroundings photographing people, I can't quite recall why my attention fell upon this little, inconsequen (...)
Michael Christopher Brown Goma, Congo. December 14, 2012.“What interests me about the photographic process is the relationship between distance and honesty. As one moves closer to their limits, they often become more hone (...)
Newsha Tavakolian Suzdar, 21, from Qamishli, joined YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) four years ago. Rojava, Syria. 2015.“Closeness cannot be measured by distance. For me, it's understanding and empathy that create (...)
Thomas Hoepker Billboard and passengers on bus. New York City, USA. 1963. © Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos
Chien-Chi Chang Vienna International Airport. Austria, Vienna. 2010."Getting closer is a revered maxim for all of us. It is also an art. And at the heart of that art is patience. An honest portrait requires more (...)
Erich Hartmann "It was October 1979 and we were together in France, when Erich saw two weeks ahead without assignments. We bought train passes, each packed a small suitcase, and set forth eastward from Paris with (...)
David Seymour Peggy Guggenheim at her palace on the Grand Canal. Venice, Italy. 1950.“If you look at many of Chim’s photos, and ask yourself what happened in the 3 minutes before that photo was taken, you’ll m (...)
Alessandra Sanguinetti Cecilia. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 1995.“Back in 1993 I lived on a third floor, in an old building, on a narrow street, in downtown Buenos Aires. My bedroom had a little balcony that faced straigh (...)
Sohrab Hura “He went about his business unmindful of all the other cats, licking at the last of the fish bone that he had managed to salvage from the garbage at the back of the restaurant next door. A couple o (...)
Gueorgui Pinkhassov Market. Tashkent, Uzbekistan. 1992.“‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,’ Robert Capa said. ‘Or not far enough,’ I would add. There's such a notion as a 'decisive moment (...)
Inge Morath Pablín, nephew of Picasso, strums guitar next to a portrait of his uncle painted by Picasso's great friend, Sebastià Junyer. Barcelona, Spain. 1954.“Inge’s interests in exploring different region (...)
Jean Gaumy Dune of Pilat, Arcachon Bay, France. 1987.“I was on a Jeanne Labrune film (La part de l’autre, 1987), with Maïté Nahyr, one of the actresses in Fellini's film City of Women (1980). I asked her, b (...)
Alec Soth “I’ve always believed that the fundamental ingredient in my pictures is distance. For me, photography is as much about my separation from the world as it is about my connection to it.Making work (...)
Richard Kalvar Twin flowers during a carnival. La Louvière, Belgium. 1979.“Two Belgian flowers of the same family. With all due respect to Bob Capa, if I had gotten any closer I would have been photographing th (...)
Patrick Zachmann Beijing, China. 1982.“I took this picture during my first trip to China, in 1982, when Deng Xiaoping had started to open the country to the free market and, little by little, his people to the ou (...)
Bruce Gilden Cemetery. Port-au-Prince, Haiti. 1988.“When I first started photography, I remember reading the Robert Capa quote: ‘If it's not good enough, you're not close enough.’ These words have remained wi (...)
Guy Le Querrec Conakry, Guinea, Africa. Thursday, September 1, 1988.“I often imagine that, even with images taken on the spot, subjects are accomplices and can intuitively participate in the resulting photograp (...)
Raymond Depardon Phalange Christian. Downtown Beirut. November, 1978.“The fighter asked me to come closer to him. When our bodies were close enough, we ran as fast as possible to the other side of the intersectio (...)
Wayne Miller Strike captain during a protest of packing house workers. Chicago, Illinois. USA. March, 1948.“Somehow or other, people accepted me, they didn’t feel I was trying to take advantage of them…I was (...)
Paul Fusco The California Grape Strike. USA. 1968.“Capa’s famous quote, ‘if your images aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,’ is meaningful to me because my favorite lens is a 35mm, as it is the clo (...)
Peter Marlow USS Kearsarge. Balkans War. 1999.“As Europeans, we thought war was a thing that occurred elsewhere in the world–that our world was intelligent, wise, the grand master of diplomacy, of peace. It w (...)
Erich Lessing Budapest, Hungary. October-November, 1956.“The turning point of my career as a photographer came when I was reporting on the Hungarian Revolution in late October, 1956. The wildest rumors began (...)
Susan Meiselas "Mano Blanca," the signature of a death squad, left on the door of a slain peasant organizer. Arcatao, Chalatenango, El Saldvador. 1980.“‘Closer’ often means going toward what one fears most.T (...)
Bieke Depoorter Sète, France. 2014.“The relationship I have with the people I photograph has always been very important to me. It strongly influences my photography. In my earlier work, I found it crucial to rel (...)
Thomas Dworzak Capa’s Minefield. Hanoi, Vietman. June, 2015.“In the summer of 2015, traveling back from New Zealand through Asia, I had the opportunity to stop for a night in Hanoi. I decided to try to find th (...)
Max Pinckers The Horse to be Sacrificed Must be a Stallion. (“Will They Sing Like Raindrops or Leave Me Thirsty,” 2014).“The man on the white horse in the middle of this image is clearly the center of attenti (...)
Mark Power Kryspinów, Poland. August, 2009.“This picture was made toward the end of my long-term project, ‘The Sound of Two Songs,’ a response to Poland’s first five years as a member of the European Union. (...)
Constantine Manos Daytona Beach, Florida. USA. 1997.“I took this picture in Daytona Beach, Florida, in 1997 during Bike Week, an annual event that draws thousands of motorcyclists for a week of revelry. In those d (...)
Burt Glinn Members of the Seattle Tubing Society in full float. Seattle, Washington. 1953.“From 1950-55, Burt Glinn was a young photojournalist based in the Northwest United States, living in Seattle. In 19 (...)
Hiroji Kubota Mass games for Kim Il-sung's birthday celebration. Pyongyang, North Korea. 1982.“Bob (Robert Capa) and his younger brother, Cornell, must be giggling at the choice of my picture. Is it close eno (...)
Lorenzo Meloni Inside the historic town of Palmyra, retaken from IS by the Syrian Arab Army. Victorious Syrian Army soldiers stand on top of rubble in front of a section of a portico–all that is left of the ancie (...)
Jérôme Sessini Ajdabiya, Libya. March 24, 2011.“I don't believe that the closer you photograph a subject, the closer you are to approaching the truth. Conflict images very close to the subject are more spectacu (...)
Ferdinando Scianna Christian militant during the Lebanese Civil War. Beirut, Lebanon. 1976.“In Beirut, in the 1970s, during the fierce period of clashes between Christians and Palestinians, I was impressed that rel (...)
George Rodger Portrait of Robert Capa by George Rodger during the Allied liberation of Italy. Naples, Italy. 1943.“George and Capa were good friends throughout the early days of Magnum. Their ‘closeness’ was (...)
Raghu Rai Shifting sands. Hooghly River, Kolkata, India. 2004.“Scores of men were rowing a large boat full of sand. Even while standing on the riverbank, I felt the enormous physical power being exerted t (...)
Gilles Peress "On a cold morning, his belly full of an Irish breakfast of eggs and bacon, sprinkled with milk-diluted sweet tea, Gilles took a bus and took a picture - Belfast City Centre.” © Gilles Peress | Magnum Photos
John Vink Villagers try to climb a pole covered with grease at community festivities during the Sinhalese New Year celebrations. Gampola, Central Province, Sri Lanka. April 16, 2016.“When you get close, ph (...)
Cristina Garcia Rodero “To get closer is not just about being physically near, it is also about mental and emotional proximity. It is to feel profoundly what you are seeing, what your heart feels together with others, fu (...)

Close to Robert Capa

Three Robert Capa images, presented by the International Centre of Photography (ICP) which represents his archive, define turning points in his short-lived career: one of the the six D-Day landing images is included, but also an earlier image which predates his co-founding of the Magnum agency. This photograph, of the International Brigade, was taken during the Spanish Civil War, a conflict which proved a turning point for Capa, forming his practice as a photojournalist, setting the scene for the formation of Magnum years later, and also where he lost his muse and lover, Gerda Taro. The third photograph is a playful portrait of Picasso, his wife Françoise Gillot, and his nephew Javier Villato, a vivid example of Capa’s photographic practice outside of the war zone.

George Rodger Portrait of Robert Capa by George Rodger during the Allied liberation of Italy. Naples, Italy. 1943.“George and Capa were good friends throughout the early days of Magnum. Their ‘closeness’ was (...)

Robert’s brother, founder of the ICP, and a humanist photographer by definition, is also represented in the project with a picture of the Bolshoi Ballet in Mosco ,a photograph which, in his words, he “shot what was to become the best-known picture of [his] career: dancers practicing at the bar in front of a large and elegant mirror.”

A handsome portrait of Robert Capa, photographed by George Rodger, co-founder of the agency, is included in the curation as well as a picture taken by Thomas Dworzak, contemporary Magnum photographer, who, in June 2015, revisited the site of Robert Capa’s last photographed, before he stepped on a landmine near Hanoi: “I decided to try to find the place where Robert Capa stepped on a mine and was killed on May 25, 1954, in order to pay my respects… A line of trees on the right, vast fields that stretch until the horizon. A dented landscape. I could see Capa’s last picture of French soldiers moving forward, spread out in patrol formation through the lethal field,” recalls Dworzak.

Abbas Tehran, Iran. January 25, 1979.“‘If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,’ Robert Capa famously said.1979, Tehran: The Shah has left the country. Khomeini has arrived. (...)

Witnessing history

Many Magnum photographers have captured defining moments of the 20th and 21st centuries. What has getting closer meant for them in these circumstances? Does getting closer mean getting closer to the truth?

Stuart Franklin, of his famous “tank man” image taken in Tiananmen Square, 1989, suggests humorously: “this picture of a man defying a tank is definitely not good enough. I had desperately wanted to get closer. I hate working with long telephoto lenses. But security had locked down the Beijing Hotel after a crackdown in Tiananmen Square the night before. As dawn broke on June 4th, and helicopters resupplied the troops who had replaced protesters in Tiananmen Square, tanks were preparing to move up the road. Soldiers fired at civilians blocking their path. Eventually they encountered, around noon, a lone protester carrying two plastic shopping bags. He brought the tanks to a halt and, with his singular act of defiance, wrote himself into history.”

Erich Lessing Budapest, Hungary. October-November, 1956.“The turning point of my career as a photographer came when I was reporting on the Hungarian Revolution in late October, 1956. The wildest rumors began (...)
Eli Reed Rosa Parks. Atlanta, Georgia, USA. 1995.“Rosa Parks helped to establish the right of Black Americans to be treated as human beings at a flash point in the Civil Rights Movement. Parks accomplish (...)
Nikos Economopoulos Political meeting. Yozgat, Turkey. 1990.“It was a political rally in Yozgat, Turkey. In spring. The square was packed with male supporters of Ismet Inönü’s party. There was tension, a sense of ur (...)

Abbas asks Robert (Bob) Capa, in his text supporting a photograph of young revolutionaries lynching a woman they believe is a supporter of the Shah, during the Iranian Revolution, “What do you think, Bob? Was I close enough?” while Ian Berry reveals that he has spent his entire working life as a photographer getting closer, and as a result, mainly shoots with 35 and 50 mm lenses.

Micha Bar Am, a longtime admirer of Capa, tempers, “If you’re too close, you risk losing perspective… It is not easy to be fair with facts and to keep your own convictions out of the picture. It is impossible to be both a participant and an observer, witness, interpreter,” he says. Unsurprisingly, getting closer is Bruce Gilden’s mantra, a lifelong pursuit; he admits, “I suppose the older I get, the closer I get.”

Susan Meiselas "Mano Blanca," the signature of a death squad, left on the door of a slain peasant organizer. Arcatao, Chalatenango, El Saldvador. 1980.“‘Closer’ often means going toward what one fears most.T (...)

On conflict photography

Photographs of war often involve getting very close to extreme danger. Susan Meiselas, for her picture of the ‘Mano Blanco’ on a red door, the signature sign of the death squad during the El Salvadorian conflict of 1980, defines this as “going toward what one fears most.”

Depardon describes his brush with guerrilla warfare in Beirut in 1978: “The fighter asked me to come closer to him. When our bodies were close enough, we ran as fast as possible to the other side of the intersection. We continued to run unprotected until we finally arrived at a basement filled with other fighters… Getting closer to make a good picture was, in this case, mandatory.”

Lorenzo Meloni Inside the historic town of Palmyra, retaken from IS by the Syrian Arab Army. Victorious Syrian Army soldiers stand on top of rubble in front of a section of a portico–all that is left of the ancie (...)

Yet proximity to peril can yield a fraught relationship between documentary and truth-telling, subjectivity and objectivity, with ethical ramifications that go beyond the documentation of war. Lorenzo Meloni writes: “War photography is closely linked to propaganda. In embedded journalism, many of the photographs taken are only the vehicle for a message that others want to pass on. Sometimes, the closer I get, the more I realise how far away I really am.”

Jérôme Sessini echoes, “I don’t believe that the closer you photograph a subject, the closer you are to approaching the truth. Conflict images very close to the subject are more spectacular; they show a truth, not the truth. I think distance allows more space for reflection on complex subjects, and avoids angelism and simplism.”

Bruce Davidson Subway. New York City, USA. 1980.“In 1980, the New York subway system was deplorable—unsafe, scribbled all over with graffiti. Some of it very interesting. I took it upon myself to explore the 5 (...)

The intimacy of strangers

“So I would go each day and night to a different place in the subway system to photograph people, making contact in many cases. I began to have a kind of tunnel vision, a compulsion to explore color, form, and life in this very rich and treacherous environment,” says Bruce Davidson.

Photographing strangers is an interesting experiment in the photographic process, the camera perhaps an excuse to come closer to compelling or interesting figures, as Martin Parr would do, his lens depicting sunbathers in their glorious idiosyncracy; and each new approach offering the chance of a new relationship, from scratch.

Diana Markosian recalls being taken in by a local family while hitchhiking through Tajikistan: “It made me feel at home, more than I had felt in a long time. It’s this feeling of belonging that I am searching for–whether it’s in the people I meet or the places I travel to. It’s the feeling of just being in a situation that softens me and reminds me of why we are all here.”

Paolo Pellegrin Civilians arrive in Tyre after fleeing their villages in southern Lebanon during Israeli airstrikes. Tyre, Lebanon. July, 2006.“I was in Tyre, a town in South Lebanon, during the 2006 Israel – H (...)
Diana Markosian An Afghan woman bakes bread in the border town of Badakhshan. Afghanistan. 2011.“I often find myself alone on the road, away from the familiar, searching for a place to call home. A few years bac (...)

Paolo Pellegrin describes a fleeting yet powerful emotional connection with the nameless girl in his photograph, which has left an indelible mark on him, while for Bieke Depoorter, the quality of her relationship with the people she photographs is so important that when faced with a situation where she couldn’t become as close as she wanted, she introduced fictional elements into her documentary practice, yielding a cinematic, dream-like feel to her image: ”I decided to see the people as actors… I used reality to make my own reality, my own story,” she says.

“When people ask me how I get so close, the answer is simply because I am that close. I do not know anything else, and I cannot imagine anything else,” writes Jacob Aue Sobol. Yet sometimes it is the end of the photographic process that yields the richest material. “It’s as though I need to finish taking pictures in order to really start taking pictures,” says Olivia Arthur.

Olivia Arthur India. 2017.“I had intended to make a portrait of Loren on her own, but she took me to a house she shares with other members of the hijra society–India’s ancient transgender community¬–and it was (...)

Indeed, “Closeness cannot be measured by distance. For me, it’s understanding and empathy that create a connection. Because we can stand in a pack, our lenses practically in someone’s face, we can be very close, but actually quite far. Real closeness, intimacy, comes with time, determination, and feeling the context,” writes Newsha Tavakolian.

Her words are echoed by Moises Saman’s: “To me proximity is not only physical in its nature. It can also connote a shared experience, memory, or predisposition to accept your subject without any prejudice.”

 

Newsha Tavakolian Suzdar, 21, from Qamishli, joined YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) four years ago. Rojava, Syria. 2015.“Closeness cannot be measured by distance. For me, it's understanding and empathy that create (...)
Elliott Erwitt New York City, USA. 1955.

“In thinking about getting closer, weddings come to mind... at least initially. Afterward, and down the line, all bets are off.”

— Elliott Erwitt © Elliott Erwitt | Magnum Photos
David Alan Harvey Kanwaka, Kansas, USA. 1969"After grad school, I moved to Kansas for a job as a newspaper photographer. My boss told me that the most important thing I could do was to get close to the community. (...)

Love, family and emotional proximity

Early in his career, before his accession to Magnum, David Alan Harvey took pictures for a local paper, and writes that “maintaining a closeness with the community led me down a beautiful road.”

Family, friends, lovers, are all also subject to the photographer’s lens. “In thinking about getting closer, weddings come to mind… at least initially. Afterward, and down the line, all bets are off,” jokes Elliott Erwitt.

Ruth Hartmann, widow of Erich, was photographed fleetingly as she woke one morning. She remembers, “this image is especially ‘close.’ It was early morning, and I had crept out of bed to peek through the hotel room’s curtains and assess the weather in Pau just north of the Pyrenees.”

 

Christopher Anderson Toys from my childhood that my son plays with on my parent’s floor. USA. 2009.“Even in my former life as a ‘war photographer,’ I never thought that Capa’s advice to ‘get closer’ was in reference (...)

“Even in my former life as a ‘war photographer,’ I never thought that Capa’s advice to ‘get closer’ was in reference to physical distance. To me, Capa’s words were always about emotional proximity” says Christopher Anderson.

These words are echoed by Larry Towell when discussing his image of his two children bathing in the river that cuts his farmland in two: “Capa’s notion of closeness was never just physical. It was also emotional. In the summer, I still swim in that river almost every day. The memory of our children as babies lingers here with the smell of water and vegetation.”

Larry Towell Lambton County, Ontario. Canada. 1996.“I live on the Sydenham River, which cuts my Ontario farm in half. I was brought up on this water, and we bought the farm because of it. When I was a young (...)

The personalities that define our era

Magnum photographers have both shaped visual culture as well as been close to the makers of the culture of their time, such as Dennis Stock’s long-standing relationship with jazz and his portrait, included here, of Miles Davis.

Eve Arnold on photographing Marilyn Monroe, recounts that she was “making love to my camera–or really making love to herself.”

David Hurn, on the set of the Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night, smilingly recollects, “this picture was taken on the first day of shooting. Here, closeness does in fact mean, at what distance can you get all four into the picture?”

Eve Arnold Marilyn Monroe. Los Angeles, USA. 1960.“I remember we laughed a lot, particularly at the end, when I found that although I had had a white paper cone built around us for greater privacy and conce (...)
Dennis Stock Miles Davis. USA. 1958.“I had a passion for jazz. I had listened and attended many jazz sessions from a child on. So I went out for three years and explored the world of musicians all across the (...)
Robert Capa Pablo Picasso with his nephew Javier Vilato and Françoise Gilot on the beach. Golfe-Juan, France. August, 1948.“In these images of Picasso and his family, Robert Capa stresses the everyday human (...)
David Hurn The Beatles during filming of A Hard Day’s Night. London, England. 1964.“‘Getting closer’ can have at least two definitions: In the case of The Beatles, the most important issue was less distance (...)

A Venetian portrait of Peggy Guggenheim sheds a light on Magnum co-founder David Seymour’s practice. His nephew writes, “he made a personal relationship with these people. He didn’t surprise them, he didn’t photograph them from a distance or over their shoulders… He made a close, personal and emotional relationship.”

Sara Manzoor, of the Inge Morath estate, describes portrait-making as “an emotional invitation for the viewer to ‘get closer,’ so we can observe the subject’s surroundings. Pablín sits next to a portrait of his uncle, Pablo Picasso, with a deliberate visual narrative that showcases familial closeness.”

Mark Power Kryspinów, Poland. August, 2009.“This picture was made toward the end of my long-term project, ‘The Sound of Two Songs,’ a response to Poland’s first five years as a member of the European Union. (...)

In praise of distance

Yet for Mark Power, Capa’s famous dictum doesn’t mean much. Distance is more important: “I’ve consistently looked at the world from a discreet distance. I’m not particularly interested in making a single incident, or individual, the ‘subject’ of my photographs,” he says.

Distance is also at the heart of Alec Soth’s work: “I’ve always believed that the fundamental ingredient in my pictures is distance. For me, photography is as much about my separation from the world as it is about my connection to it.”

 

Alec Soth “I’ve always believed that the fundamental ingredient in my pictures is distance. For me, photography is as much about my separation from the world as it is about my connection to it.Making work (...)

Finding a balance between truth, honesty and distance, Michael Christopher Brown states, “As one moves closer to their limits, they often become more honest. If honesty is truth, than it is in finding the limits of a photographic situation and allowing it to present itself to the camera that I am able to ‘get closer.’”

Indeed, as Peter van Agtmael writes, “to me, being ‘close enough’ is part physical, part emotional and part intellectual.”

Peter van Agtmael “Robert Capa’s adage has become one of the most ubiquitous phrases in photography. Like many iconic quotes, it’s both incredibly vague and specific; you can interpret it any way you please. The mea (...)
Michael Christopher Brown Goma, Congo. December 14, 2012.“What interests me about the photographic process is the relationship between distance and honesty. As one moves closer to their limits, they often become more hone (...)
Alex Webb Cotton Candy. Oaxaca, Mexico. 1990.“I’ve been photographing in the streets of Mexico for some 40 years, and there’s one particular city that I feel especially close to— the airy, vibrant, lyrical (...)

Connecting through photography

For many Magnum photographers, “there is wisdom in Capa’s idea outside of the frame as well. The best photographs are of the things that are close to you – in terms of what you are passionate about, what engages you,” says Jonas Bendiksen.

This sentiment is echoed by Alex Webb, describing how he photographed Mexico for over 40 years, each time discovering not just something new to capture, but something new about himself, too. “Perhaps Robert Capa’s advice about getting closer refers to the heart as well as to the feet.”

Matt Black El Paso, Texas, USA. 2015."You can be right next to something and still not see it. Or you can be across the street and connect. I think this is also what Capa meant: Don't just be there, feel it (...)

Or in Matt Black’s words: “You can be right next to something and still not see it. Or you can be across the street and connect. I think this is also what Capa meant: Don’t just be there, feel it. Dive in.”

The photographic act is about communication, something Chris Steele Perkins thinks about in his text, calling for a slowing down of our relationship with photography in a time of social media frenzy: “getting close to pictures, spending real time with them, makes the good ones that much more interesting.”

For, of course, photography is about connecting: “To get closer is not just about being physically near, it is also about mental and emotional proximity. It is to feel profoundly what you are seeing, what your heart feels together with others, fully absorbed in that which you have decided to live and transmit, recounting the truth without fears,” writes Cristina García Rodero.

Explore the full curation of the Closer Square Print Sale on the Magnum Shop, here.

Jonas Bendiksen Altai Republic, Russia. 2000. (Alternate Take)“I’ve always tried to follow Capa’s adage about getting closer. The irony is that my most well-known image of a crashed spacecraft with butterflies (...)
Bieke Depoorter Sète, France. 2014.“The relationship I have with the people I photograph has always been very important to me. It strongly influences my photography. In my earlier work, I found it crucial to rel (...)
Gueorgui Pinkhassov Market. Tashkent, Uzbekistan. 1992.“‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,’ Robert Capa said. ‘Or not far enough,’ I would add. There's such a notion as a 'decisive moment (...)
Chien-Chi Chang Vienna International Airport. Austria, Vienna. 2010."Getting closer is a revered maxim for all of us. It is also an art. And at the heart of that art is patience. An honest portrait requires more (...)