Magnum at 70: 15 emotive photos from the vaults

17 May 2017

The legendary Magnum agency is celebrating 70 years of award-winning photography with a season of international exhibitions. Capturing major events and minor moments from the modern world, Magnum shows that the secret of a great photo lies as much in the heart as the eye.

Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Misfits. Reno, Nevada. 1960 © Inge Morath / Magnum Photos: “In an interview with director Gail Levin for her documentary, Making 'The Misfits' (2002), Morath recalled the difficulty of photographing actors such as Monroe, who ‘knew all the tricks about how to pose.’ The photographer’s task was to capture how they worked, the element of surprise that they delivered to a scene, without getting in the way. What she wanted, Morath told Levin, was to photograph ‘the unposed person,’ so she watched and waited for the actor to expose his or her vulnerability.” John P. Jacob, Inge Morath: On Style, Abrams, 2016.

For 70 years the Magnum agency has represented some of the world’s most renowned photographers.

Formed in 1947 by four near-legendary talents, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, George Rodger and David Seymour, Magnum’s diverse roster of photographers have chronicled the full range of what the 20th Century had to offer – from wars and famine, to beauty and tranquility.

From shepherds in Africa to teenagers in Paris, each image displays a strength of connection between subject and the eye behind the lens

Throughout all of this work, and absolutely core to the vision of Magnum, has been the importance of the empathy between the photographer and the subject.

Celebrating this legacy of the founding members, a new collection, Conditions of the Heart: On Empathy and Connection in Photography, presents a back catalogue of images from some of the agency’s finest photographers.

Depicting people and places, famous names and random strangers, desperate tragedies and lighter moments, each photo is markedly different. All of them without exception explore what it is to be human.

From shepherds in Africa to teenagers in Paris, each image displays a strength of connection between subject and photographer that is a hallmark of Magnum throughout its long and distinguished history.

Ghana, West Africa. 2007. © Mikhael Subotzky/ Magnum Photos: “I met Kwabla and Yaovi Ahotor while on assignment for Colors Magazine in 2007. The Ahotor brothers are both blind and make a living as fishermen, working alongside one another in a single large canoe.”

Chiang Mai, Thailand © Steve McCurry / Magnum Photos: "I photographed these elephants and their mahouts at a rescue sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The mahouts dedicate their lives to caring for a specific elephant, spending their days and nights tending to all of the elephant's needs."

Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg in their Paris flat, 1970 © Ian Berry / Magnum Photos: "They were warm, friendly and generally terrific. I spent the whole day with them, and they were totally relaxed, obviously in a great relationship. They attempted in no way to direct or influence what I was shooting, which made my life very easy.”

French teenagers on a boat on the River Seine, Paris, France, 1988 © David Alan Harvey / Magnum Photos: "I chose one group of Parisian teenagers who formed a sort of gang. A nice gang. Friends. I became part of their group for several weeks. I went to school with them, hung out everywhere with them, saw them succeed, saw them fail. Judith, pictured here with the cigarette, was the leader. There is always a leader."

Fisherman and family. Bahía Honda, Cuba. 1954.© Eve Arnold/ Magnum Photos: “Magnum dispatched [Eve Arnold] to Cuba and Haiti to take pictures for magazine projects that [Robert] Capa had arranged. In both countries, she was confronted with destitution on a level she had never seen, beyond even the migrant farm workers. A Cuban family she was photographing begged her to adopt their nine-year-old daughter, Juana, to save her from a life of poverty and prostitution, and she was so moved by them that she cried when she left.” Janine di Giovanni, Magnum Legacy: Lives Behind Photographs – Eve Arnold, Prestel, 2015

Untitled. Bogotá, Colombia. 2003. From Dog Days Bogotá, Steidl, 2007 © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos: “In 2002, my wife and I adopted our baby girl, Carmen, from Colombia. While the courts processed her paperwork, we spent two months in Bogotá, waiting to take Carmen home. I used that time to explore the city and contemplate my daughter’s birthplace. During my long walks I regularly encountered homeless children. Seeing these kids was a profound part of my experience, but I couldn’t bring myself to make pictures. I suppose my feeling of connection with my new daughter overwhelmed my desire to be a photographer. As a substitute for the kids, I photographed the city’s many homeless dogs.”

Savoy Ballroom. Harlem, New York City. 1939 . © Cornell Capa / International Center of Photography / Magnum Photos: "The Concerned Photographer produces images in which genuine human feeling predominates over commercial cynicism or disinterested formalism."

Sheepherder with Mount Mikeno. North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo. 2016 © Michael Christopher Brown/ Magnum Photos: “Though much of my work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo depicts dire circumstances, I remain optimistic for the country; it is not only one of the most beautiful places, but also filled with incredible people.”

Helicopter crash in Mount Sinjar, © Moises Saman / Magnum Photos: "About two hours before taking this photograph, an eternity in my mind, we had survived a helicopter crash in Mount Sinjar that had killed four passengers, including one of the two pilots. We were now aboard a second helicopter, an even older-looking replica of the one that had just gone down, being flown across ISIS territory to the safety of Kurdistan."

Man walking in Wall Street, New York City. September 17th, 2001 © Bruce Gilden / Magnum Photos: “I had just arrived in Surrey, England to print my book Coney Island when I was told by the cab driver that two planes had hit the World Trade Center. I was concerned for my family for we lived less than a mile from the towers. This photo was taken the day Wall Street reopened. To me this image reflects how everybody felt in the aftermath of the tragedy.”

Children playing at the Berlin Wall in Wedding. Berlin, Germany. 1963. © Thomas Hoepker/ Magnum Photos: “Two years earlier the East German government had erected the ominous Berlin Wall, which divided the two German States. Walking along the wall and the barbed wire, I noticed that children on the western side used the ugly edifice as a playground. They climbed up to take a peek of the other side or bounced their football against the bricks. At another point, I could see a soldier from the East German army, who held his Kalashnikov rifle on his shoulder while he played with his little boy.”

Gen X boy, Gunnar Moe. Norway. 1951. © Robert Capa / International Center of Photography / Magnum Photos: "Twenty-three year old Gunnar Moe has made his world a big one. He has had only seven years of schooling, but he is extremely well informed, politically aware and conscientious. He believes that the future of Norway is industrial, through development of natural resources, and hopes for an eventual Scandinavian Union. Though the task is huge, he believes in the United Nations, calls it “the world’s biggest chance if sincerity and honesty are allowed to rule negotiations.” Robert Capa, Holiday magazine, March 1953.

Adam and Eve pub in Hackney.1976. © Chris Steele-Perkins / Magnum Photos: “All of my working life I’ve been drawn to subcultures, small worlds which have the whole world in them. The Teddy Boys (Teds) were a major subculture in Britain in the mid 50s and had a revival in the late 70s, at which point I photographed them. I didn’t want to be like them, but I identified with their energy, their aggression and their style. I was interested in them. I wanted to know more so I hung out, had a few drinks, and soon enough they were not bothered to pose for me."

USA. 1968. Robert Kennedy funeral train. © Paul Fusco / Magnum Photos: “I took this photograph from the train that brought Robert F. Kennedy’s remains from New York to Washington, D.C. The train tracks were lined with up to two million people who came to witness the passage. The crowd represented all kinds of Americans; Bobby Kennedy’s fight for racial reconciliation made him, to many, ‘the most trusted white man in black America’. The people in this photograph had a meaningful connection with Kennedy and an appreciable reason to build a sign, stand in the heat and say goodbye to the man who had once offered them hope.”

Magnum at 70 is a season of international exhibitions celebrating the long, distinguished legacy of the agency and its contribution to photography.

This article has been updated and republished. The originally version was published on 2 November 2016.

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