Class of 2022
Meet this year's graduates from the Creative Documentary & Photojournalism class run by Magnum and Spéos School of Photography
From Karine Bizard’s intimate portrait of HJK, a “repentant terrorist” now living in Normandy, to the abstract imagery of Chandradev Surana, “an ode to our body, with an entire universe etched in it“, we present the nine graduates from this year’s Creative Documentary & Photojournalism course, a unique master class run by Magnum Photos and Spéos School of Photography in Paris.
Over the course of the 10-month program, the students learn about all aspects of professional photography, from technical matters covering lighting and postproduction, to storytelling, sequencing and, ultimately, creating a business plan. But it’s the access to Magnum photographers, and the fact that they are embedded within the agency for their studies, which make the course unique.
“Working with an actual agency gives you so much real-life context outside of the classroom,” says one of the nine, MT Kosobucki.
The students benefit from the specialist expertise brought by Spéos, which has taught students since 1985, focusing on current market demands and opportunities within professional photography, taking a hands-on approach to teaching, working in small groups. They also meet with various Magnum staff working in different departments, from Andréa Holzherr, Global Exhibitions Director, to Giulietta Palumbo, who heads up Editorial Production.
"They don’t teach us how to take pictures, they teach us how to be photographers."
And then there are the photographers themselves. This year’s graduates met with photographers including Susan Meiselas, Jonas Bendiksen, Jérôme Sessini and Myriam Boulos, among others. “There are raw encounters with Magnum photographers who are real characters, with a unique vision,” says Bizard. “It’s an incredible chance to be immersed in their way of working.”
Juliette Jacobs, another of the graduates, puts it another way: “They don’t teach us how to take pictures, they teach us how to be photographers.”
Both she and Kosobucki created works for their graduation projects that were very much close to home, Jacobs creating a series about obsessive-compulsive disorders, while Kosobucki’s captures a diaristic account of becoming a father. Ponita Keo and Jasmine Lim have also focused on individuals, each telling a story of dual identities. Bizard’s subject is particularly complex, seeking “to question the empathy we can hold for a human who has committed acts that most of us qualify as inhuman”, spending months with the former terrorist, now in the twilight of his life.
Others focus on communities and locales: Isabel Serrano has photographed a marginalized neighborhood in southern Spain; Manan Sheth has made a photo essay on the Coal Bunder shipyard in Mumbai and the people who make a living there; Austin Hansen has worked along a highway route in his native Texas to capture wealth inequality.
Finally, there is Surana, who adopts a collaborative approach with his images, working with “people who each have different insecurities about their bodies, I intend to show them in a new light: presenting wonders instead of imperfections”.
All nine exhibited their graduate work at the Magnum Paris Gallery in May, curated by Michael Sargeant, a Creative Producer at the agency. A selection of their images, along with their project statements, are presented below.
Austin Hansen: Highway Song
Inspired by American folk songs, I set out to document glimpses of modern life that capture the feelings and struggles this music traditionally conveys. I drove across my home state of Texas following Interstate 35, one of North America’s longest and most highly trafficked highways. The interstate connects border towns to big cities for more than 500 miles from Mexico to just north of Dallas, where wide disparities of opportunity and wealth are laid bare among a melange of diverse communities and cultures.
Karine Bizard: “That time of year thou mayst in me behold”
The man immediately agreed to collaborate on this intimate project, without setting any conditions. However, it had been 25 years since I had seen him. His story had been calling me for a long time.
In 1995, I was 17 when I met him for the first time, three years before his arrest, hidden in the Normandy bocage. People were calling him Dirk, but he was elsewhere known as Hans-Joachim Klein (HJK), a repentant terrorist. Kept safe by a network of German and French intellectuals, he was working on a small farm. Even if people spoke little about his past, it was known.
In the 1970s and ’80s, Klein belonged to the Revolutionary Cells (Revolutionäre Zellen), an extreme left-wing urban guerrilla group in West Germany. He was lending support to militants of the Red Army Faction (RAF) and carrying out terrorist actions with the Bande à Baader. Following the death of one Bande à Baader member during a hunger strike in 1974, Klein turned to violent action. In 1975 he participated with the terrorist Ilitch Ramirez Sanchez, aka Carlos the Jackal, in the taking of 66 hostages in Vienna during the OPEC ministers conference. Three people lost their lives and Klein, seriously wounded by a bullet in the stomach, managed to flee with the commando to Algeria.
In 1977, HJK decided to leave terrorism and sent his personal weapon and his fingerprints to Der Spiegel, accompanied by a letter explaining his reasons for repenting. Over the years, he had become critical of antisemitism in international terrorism, and of the extreme violence of the movement. For the next 20 years, HJK lived in hiding between France and Italy. Eventually arrested in 1998, he was extradited to Germany, tried, and sentenced to nine years in prison. Released in 2003, he moved back to the village in Normandy where we first met, back in 1995. He was pardoned by the state of Hesse in 2009.
Manan Sheth: The Shipyard
This series is a visual essay on the Coal Bunder shipyard and its people. The shipyard is in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, which is on the country’s west coast. Here, the workers focus on building and repairing small-sized cargo ships while children from nearby slums search the muddy water for scrap parts.
Situated on Bombay Port Trust land, the shipyard is a part of the area that will inevitably be redeveloped by the government. The following photos serve as the first chapter of a larger project, where I aim to document the places along that stretch of land before they disappear with time.
Isabel Serrano: Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit is the name of a neighborhood in Murcia, in the south of Spain. This is where my mother was raised and where my grandparents still live. I grew up hearing all kinds of fascinating stories about this place and its people.
Nowadays, there’s a lot of crime due to the marginalization of the area. But this story is not about the illegal activity that occurs in Holy Spirit. This story is about its people, their identity and values. It explores who they truly are, not what they do to survive. Leaving behind all the stereotypes associated with this particular neighborhood, my work focuses on the people who bring it to life and are proud to be a part of the community.
Jasmine Lim: Belonging
Belonging follows Sasha’s life in Paris as she straddles her French and Chinese identities. Sasha is a second-generation immigrant, and her family is from Wenzhou, China. I met her last year in Paris and was moved by her unwavering desire for authenticity.
While certainly French, Sasha also has a fierce longing to express her Chinese self. Her journey is one of tension and ambivalence, as she sifts through the contradictions between her identities to discern what is truly her own. These photographs explore Sasha’s quest for belonging.
Ponita Keo: One Who is Content
Five years ago, Sokha was a businesswoman in Cambodia. Her days were spent away from home and on the move. She supported her husband financially too. Today, Sokha lives in France, and everything seems to be the complete reverse.
Knowing very little about her, I went into this project with a preconceived idea that when Sokha came to France, she had lost her agency. For a while, I couldn’t see beyond the monotonous life of a woman wedged between the infinite clutter of her home and the presence of her husband. I later discovered not only who she was in her past, but also who she is in the present. I began to understand why she has accepted – if not chosen – this life; a life that secures a future for her grandchildren. Resourceful, forward-thinking, and very much a matriarch in her own right, she was a decision-maker then and remains one now.
Despite these drastic life changes, she says she is content. Sokha in Khmer means “one who is content”.
MT Kosobucki: While the World Spins
Heather and I met in early October, 2020. She had landed in Colorado for seasonal work; I was simply passing through. A week later, we hit the road together and went south. Within two months, we found ourselves settled in an apartment. Shortly after a spring vacation with my family, Heather went to the clinic for a check-up — she was four weeks pregnant.
With one thing flowing seamlessly into another, time and emotions become muddled. As parents, we are now nurturing our son whilst doing the same with our blooming relationship. Amongst all of this the world keeps on spinning.
Juliette Jacobs: The Mark – The Said and Unsaid of the Erinyes
Obsessive disorders can be genetic: my ancestors may have suffered from a lack of serotonin, causing bad reception by their synapses. This deficiency contributes to the development of various obsessions, like counting compulsively, just to gain a sense of control and simulate normalcy in life.
When I was a child, I did not understand what constituted my mother’s illness. She looked healthy. She laughed and played with my brother and I. She taught me to create stories and theatrical pieces. Our life was a wonderful role play. But one day, with a serious and sorry look on her face, she told me that she was sick.
I only fully realized Maman was sick when I noticed how my classmates did things I didn’t know were possible. They opened their windows, freely walked in and out of their homes, didn’t put toys in their freezers, and wandered the streets without fear of hurting the ones they love. This made me resent my mother. But then I started counting too.
My mother, Nathalie, has been suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder since she was 20. When she gave birth to me, she gave me all the love a mother could give, but she also left me what she calls “the mark”. By the time I was 14 years old, I had developed an eating disorder. Despite being hospitalized in 2017 and starting the process of recovery at 19, these disorders are still a significant part of my daily life.
As my mother and I were taking our first photos for this project, she said “This is not what I wanted to show about myself. I wanted to be a comedian. I just wanted to do poetry.” Hoping that my work would partially reflect her wishes, these photos explore the relationship between my mother and me.
Surana Chandradev: The Universe Within
“The human body has been called the microcosm of the universe, a little world of wonders…”
– A B Simpson
This series is an ode to our body, with an entire universe etched in it, encapsulating the road map to a millennium worth of history. I’m amazed by the tiny details we often tend to overlook or even hide, since the body can also be a source of struggle, with a lot of people feeling insecure in their skin for a multitude of reasons.
Through collaborating with people who each have different insecurities about their bodies, I intend to show them in a new light: presenting wonders instead of imperfections. With each person having their own piece of the cosmos, I aim to parallel the beauty of these insecurities with the spectacle of the vast universe.
The next Creative Documentary & Photojournalism course begins in September 2023. Details are here.