Gallery Review: Magnum Manifesto at International Center of Photography
“Magnum is…?” That’s the big question behind the Magnum Manifesto exhibit set up at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in NYC. The exhibit commemorates the 70th anniversary of the collective started by some of the most famous names in photography history including Robert Capa and Henri-Cartier Bresson. Magnum Manifesto is also a book–a pretty thick one at that–which delves deeper into the psychology behind some of the photographers but also finds ways to unite them all under the single voice of Magnum. For example, there are handwritten notes from the photographers inside the book that the photographers often wrote to one another. These and much more are in the archives, and it surely a sign of the times when you consider that we may need to get screenshots of the texts the photographers have back and forth today.
The Magnum Manifesto exhibit is designed to work hand in hand with the book and is split into three sections just like the book is. According to the press release for the book:
Part 1, Human Rights and Wrongs (1947-1968), views the Magnum archive through a humanist lens, focusing on postwar ideals of commonality and utopianism. Part 2, An Inventory of Differences (1969-1989), shows a world fragmenting, with a focus on subcultures, minorities, and outsiders. Part 3, Stories About Endings (1990-present day), charts the ways in which Magnum photographers have captured—and continue to capture—a world in flux and under threat.
So when you step into ICP’s exhibit, you’ll notice there are three specific sections of the exhibit with the two biggest ones upstairs and the lower level having some of the more modern and commercialized/personal work that the various photographers have created over the years. Each section of the Magnum Manifesto exhibit at ICP is designated by colors. The first section has a very deep aquamarine in the opening section which then becomes a light shade of baby blue. The second is orange but eventually transitions into a light peach. The third is all white. This is how ICP and Magnum maintain a form of consistency and separation between each section of the exhibit a bit better than just giant headers, descriptions, and the photos themselves.
The exhibit opens up with a number of photos from the various photographers in all black and white but melded together into what eventually appears to be the creative vision of one photographer until you move to the side to find the credits of each photographer. Magnum states that they did this to show off that there are many individuals within the agency, but they’re all one cohesive unit. From a marketing perspective, it’s pretty brilliant. While many photographers out there often quote the gospel of Bresson, they don’t really preach the entire testament of a photographer like Susan Meiselas amongst a number of others whose work is honestly just as important to both the identity of Magnum and to modern fine art photojournalism.
As you travel through the exhibit you’ll find the work of many photographers including Paolo Pellegrin (whose Mediterranean Sea project is absolutely brilliant), Martin Parr, Raymond Depardon (San Clemente), Richard Kalvar (Senator Fred Harris Campaigning), and a special project that is a collaboration between Werner Bischof and Bresson in regards to 20 year old adults and their contrasting lives during the time after the second World War. There’s a whole lot that speaks about the specific history of the photographers and the work that they’ve done.
One of the stars of the entire exhibit is this one negative projector that is set up to look like a Vegas Style slot machine. When you pull the crank, it brings up random images from the archives. Apparently, it’s possible to get a photo of Nixon with a Dollar sign across his face on all three and then you get a “Jackpot.” It’s so fun and bound to keep people entertained for a while if you happen to bring along a friend who isn’t as much into photography.
Continue progressing through the exhibit into the downstairs and you’ll first be treated to some of the more commercial work that a number of the photographers have done over the years. Then you’ll see more of the modern stage of work and you’ll end with a super wide projection on a wall.
The exhibit is honestly one of the best I’ve seen at ICP, though I personally would have enjoyed seeing a larger selection of physically bigger images or just a bigger selection of images from each project they put forward. It would make the entire process of going to a gallery, letting yourself intake and become vulnerable to the images a more fulfilling experience. I could surely be biased though: as I’ve studied a lot about Magnum after interning there a number of years ago and becoming a paying member of ICP. Something else that I also would have loved is a bit more into what we can expect from Magnum Photos in the future. In the age of Instagram everyone is a photographer, but not everyone is a Photographer. So I think it would be interesting to know what kind of conversations are going on internally with Magnum Photos in regards to supporting the work of the hobbyist photographer who has something very specific to say about a world issue and who is able to create work that falls in line with Magnum’s standards. The agency is very specific about who they work with though, and what that results in is consistency.
Though this is more of a subtle thing that other journalists won’t truly realize, something that makes me very happy is how the prints are lit. Yes, there are reflections on some of them, but not a whole lot. The lighting is very specific and shows that ICP and Magnum did the best they could to do justice to the images.
Magnum Manifest is on display at the International Center of Photography until September 3rd 2017. But I recommend rushing over to see it as soon as possible.