Founded in 1947 by legends Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David (Chim) Seymour and George Rodger, Magnum Photos was founded as an agency by and for photojournalists to provide them artistic freedom and control over the rights to their work. In the years since, the collective has amassed archives of over half a million images, constituting a repository for many masterpieces of the 20th century. Named after a famous and influential exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in 1989 and an associated photobook, In Our Time at the Magnum Print Room, London, is a testament to the work, resonance and continued relevance of the agency over the past 70 years.
The show will have on display over 30 photographs taken between 1936 and 1987 – often considered to be the “golden age” of photojournalism – and these will include some of the most poignant, historically significant and well-known images of the last century, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photograph of a Gestapo informer at Dessau transition camp (1945), Elliott Erwitt’s simple but powerful depiction of segregated drinking fountains in North Carolina (1960) and candid shots from Susan Meiselas’s Carnival Strippers (1973). Images from this crucial 50-year period are drawn from both the original exhibition and a selection of vintage period prints used in production of the book, and provide fascinating and invaluable insights into one of the most rapidly changing periods in cultural history, as well as into the journalistic medium that came to dominate its documentation. The collection of photographs here, as historian William Manchester put it in the foreword to the original volume, as well as “presenting our times in all their elegance, squalor, courage, hope, betrayal, agony, sacrifice, heroism and majesty, is as unsparing of its audience as it was unsparing of its photographers … These pictures demand involvement.”
In the age of the internet, smart phones and citizen journalism it appears that engagement with the world around us can be more direct than ever before, and yet the 24-hour news cycle and proliferation of mass media mean that myriad important events fade out of our collective consciousness as quickly as they come. As we seek to grapple with these new technologies in a rapidly changing world, it seems as relevant as ever to reflect on the history of an agency whose focus has been to help photographers create lasting images, and on their content.
In Our time opens at Magnum Print Room, London, on 21 September. For more information: www.magnumphotos.com
1. Dennis Tock, Ernest Miller nicknamed Kid Punch Miller trumpet player and singer returning home at 6 am. New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, 1958. © Dennis Stock, Magnum Photos.
2. Eve Arnold, Marilyn Monroe, Bement, Illinois, USA, 1955. © Eve Arnold, Magnum Photos.
3. Bruno Barbey, More then three million people arrived from all over Egypt to attend the funeral of President Abdel Nasser at the Kubbeih Republican Palace. Egypt. 1970. © Bruno Barbey, Magnum Photos.