The Unexpected: The Magnum Square Print Sale
The March 2021 Magnum Square Print Sale brings together images that celebrate the role that unpredictability plays in photography, and life
Until Sunday, March 28, 12PM PST, more than 90 signed or estate-stamped, museum-quality 6×6” prints by Magnum photographers are available for $100, £100, and €110.
These museum-quality prints are accompanied by statements from the photographers and estates, reproduced on archival-quality labels on the reverse of the print. You can see all the images in the selection – and their corresponding texts – in the slideshow above, or on the Magnum Shop, here.
From its earliest days, photography has been associated with the unexpected: documentation of under-explored issues, reporting of events unfurling in far-flung locations, or single frames capturing split seconds of levity.
Over more than seven decades, Magnum photographers have reported on and witnessed events around the world which changed societies, nations, and peoples in unpredictable ways. Stuart Franklin’s image of an unarmed man stepping in front of a tank during the 1989 government crackdown on student protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square was an “unexpected act of defiance”. Paul Fusco’s series of images taken from the moving train that bore RFK’s body across the United States created a candid portrait of that nation’s inhabitants at a moment in American history. The work also saw him experimenting with the practical limits of his photography. Raymond Depardon’s photograph of a youth sat astride the Berlin Wall on November 11, 1989 embodies the end of an historical era. Susan Meiselas, covering the 1979 Sandanista revolution in Nicaragua, photographed Pablo ‘Bareta’ Arauz launching a molotov cocktail at a National Guard HQ. This image became an unexpected symbol of revolution, which resonated with a generation and has been reproduced on t-shirts, matchbooks, murals and magazines across the world.
Some images are in themselves surreal, toying with the machinery of the medium or manipulating light and framing to create surprising abstractions. In René Burri’s image, wilting lotus flowers mirrored in Beijing’s Kunming Lake become abstract black scrawls more reminiscent of charcoal on paper than of a photograph. Colby Deal’s image of a silhouette seen through an erratically spray-painted window confuses the viewer. Fellow 2020 nominee Yael Martinez chose an image from his project Firefly, in which he pricked photographs with a pin to allow dots of light to intervene upon the images. Werner Bischof’s cascading snail-shells recall the words of his famed tutor Hans Fisler: “Bischof’s endeavour is to isolate law and regularity from the apparent chaos of the accidental.” Cristina de Middel’s image — from her series The Afronauts — experiments with recreating a little known historical space program, utilizing costume and staging to flex the limits of what ‘documentary’ photography can be.
Sometimes life simply throws up scenes of incongruity that a fast acting photographer needs only to record: elephants marching in front of the Eiffel Tower, a serpentine procession of tractors, a lone cloud seemingly mirrored as it floats over a bleached outcrop, or an outrageous expression on the face of an elderly passerby. Martin Parr’s image made in Pyongyang toys with the typical portrayals of stony-faced North Korean soldiers by capturing a paternal moment as one carries a small child. Olivia Arthur’s print, depicting well-wrapped skiers about to descend a pristine slope was created in the arid heat of Dubai.
The stories behind the making of images can present unexpected elements. Famed subjects can surprise those assigned to photograph them. Dennis Stock recalled that Audrey Hepburn was “indifferent to her (or anyone else’s) celebrity”. Eve Arnold’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe depicts a side of the superstar alien to most: pensive, withdrawn, and down to earth. For Thomas Hoepker, the surprising aspect of his portrait of Muhammad Ali was that it existed at all: this shot of the fighter’s left fist was re-discovered in 2015 as the photographer delved into a vast collection of negatives.
This collection of 90+ prints is available for one week only in this format. It represents the breadth and variety not only of the practices and outlooks within Magnum’s membership, but also of what photography can convey and capture. View the full selection here, on the Magnum Shop.