Don’t Second Guess Us: What are Magnum Photographers Looking For?
A 30-year-old letter to photographers submitting their work to Magnum
The entry process into Magnum is a long and difficult procedure that begins with an application, followed by portfolio reviews and then, for some, nominee membership. With such diverse styles and practices, Magnum photographer-members cannot be second-guessed when it comes to what they are looking for in the work of submitting photographers. A letter to candidates from circa 1986, from the Magnum membership, warned prospective magnum nominees, “don’t try to second-guess us”.
“There is no clear-cut definition of the qualifications necessary for Magnum membership. We take for granted that you are already, or that you have the evident potential for being, a photographer of perception and accomplishment, that you are committed to photographic freelancing and that, to the degree necessary in any cooperative, your own objectives and needs in photography can be fused productively and creatively with those of the existing membership. We expect also that you have large amounts of energy and endurance in this time of changing markets for photography.”
"In the end, your own belief in your work and in your future as a photographer matter more than anything else"
“[…] don’t try to second-guess us or what you think we want to see. Submit the work that you care for the most, regardless of whether it is suitable for the marketplace or not. While we are always glad to know that you can make a living from your photographs we are, at this stage between us, more interested in understanding your photographic vision and your view of the world through your pictures. […]
What happens after this step depends on how your work is received by the members. As you know, reaction to photographs is highly subjective and varies from one person to the next. But no matter what the reaction to your work turns out to be, you can be certain that it has been looked at seriously and with attention.
In the end, your own belief in your work and in your future as a photographer matter more than anything else. Only with this belief in working order will you survive and succeed in photography, within Magnum or without. We wish you much success.” *
* Letter to photographers submitting their portfolios, c. 1986, Magnum Foundation, New York.
This excerpt is from Magnum Manifesto, published by Thames & Hudson. A note from the publisher:
Magnum Manifesto is the landmark book celebrating the 70th anniversary of the world’s greatest photographic agency, Magnum Photos. Offering a fresh and insightful view of the agency’s history and archive, it takes an analytical look at the work of Magnum’s photographers, and provides an understanding of what it is that makes Magnum Photos so different, so special and so great.