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Magnum Agency was created in the 1947 just after Second World War .Agency was formed by photographers themselves Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Capa, George Rodger and David “Chim” Seymour. They created Magnum to show their independence as photographers but also as a people who highlighted not only what was seen but the way one sees it. After the destruction to the world as a consequence of the War they were scared but full of believes that the world survived and that is still more to be explored out there (Magnum in motion website).
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Furthermore the history of documentary photography show us the most accurate records of events that we have in the past and the documentary photography was used to capture almost everything such as terrorism and war, world events right to documenting people’s lives. Early stage of documentary photography focused on urban settings, industry and often artist used photography as a tool for social reform. For example Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange created images for Farm Security Administration (FSA) who documented workers and their lives in America and also how the depression had an impact on them. Lewis Hine exposed horrors of child labour, homelessness and immorality. These photographs helped to pass the Child Labour Law in America. In addition a lot of images produced during World War II were captured by Magnum photographers. Magnum ability of storytelling and to work in series drew a line between documentary photography and photojournalism. Often attached with a moral position on the artist who belief to show the viewer the best understanding of his subjects live. Altogether this kind of photo essay or series of images are more powerful to conveying the message then the single image.
Sebastiao Salgado probably the best documentary photographer joined Magnum agency in 1994 creating artistic meaningful documents of cultures, world issues and places that would be better remember before human take their action. Salgado has earned his high reputation from his black and white photographs of places and people from all over the world. His work is about showing the world the war effects, poverty, disease and famine. His work was evidence what was happening on our planet. However the Martin Parr photographs strongly contrasts from work of Salgado. Parr humorous images document contemporary society, for example the image of the tourist in Mexico show us a woman in pink shirt taking a picture of something that we cannot see. Martin Parr takes the over dressed tourist one step up. The woman is a contemporary simple person who aimed her camera the wrong way. Ancient pyramid full of cultural and historical significance becomes an excuse just to be there. Parr demonstrate lack to cultural values and intellectual pursuits. Also he contrasts form, colour and scale of the woman on the washout stone pyramid to depict society little interests and intellectual curiosity.
In 1938 the British magazine “Picture Post” announced Robert Capa the “greatest war photographer in the world”, mostly based on his photojournalistic work in the Spanish Civil War and on the war in China. Capa’s photography is all about being there, close, telling a story about events he witnessed. It was him who made blurred, visceral images of the D-Day invasion that became its symbols. (Magnum Stories, p.67-73). On the other hand Henri Crtier Bresson had a different point of view ,interested in finding a visual agreement that he later called ‘the organic coordination of the elements seeing by the eye'(In Our Time: The World as Seen by Magnum Photographers).His photographs mostly emphasized the complexity of whole piece seeing itself and often avoiding a narrative. Furthermore he was creating a broad essay concerned with a country’s past and present during a period of rapid social change. Also he was fascinated by Gandhi and India. Bresson written notes about Gandhi dead and they reveal a narrative writer, eloquently involved with negotiating the issues of India’s society and history. Even though he was denying his interest in the formulas of photojournalism Bresson was nevertheless engaged with what the photo story involved (Magnum Stories, p.74-75).
Today people love snapshots in USA alone we take 7 billion images a year but it is a sad fact that in most of them people are photographing each other. In a way we submit to anonymity for example names of builders of Notre Dame or the Cologne Dom were lost in that age of faith. However the 21th century is exact opposite because we are possessed by overweening sense of self. Every moment is captured and posted in albums, every wedding are choreographed and videotaped for future generations. Another rising distinction between a picnic shoot and a great photograph is not subtle. You can look at the image and stay passive while art photograph engages you and force your instincts to participate. Photographers often deal with harsh, ironical material that’s why sometimes their scepticism is shown in their work. Nevertheless we were and we will be enriched by their vision, by the strength of the world that they stalked, searching for decisive moments. Some photographers adapted techniques from great Magnum artists and using them today. Although documentary photography today does not trying to improve the situation of people or help resolve problems is just trying to get best shot and it is nothing else behind while 60 years ago it was life changing profession. Today photojournalists barely are present at the events they cover. The function changed from realism to consequence. Also what we seeing today for example in war photography is meant to show us the impact of war not its devices. I would point out that days of ‘ war photographer ‘ are long gone because nowadays photojournalists are fulfil with their own imagination of telling a story for less than a large conflict or issues.
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Images move from one category to another over period of time for example press photography of crime in the 1940s has moved to the art books and museum, as also Dorothea Lange’s documentary photographs of migrants in depression era and Robert Capa war images. Therefore all that definitions are just the schematic and act as a help for descriptions. I believe that documentary photography emphasizes in depth ongoing story on the long term basis. Documentary projects often lasts for years and focus on social issues rather than news. Again documentary is mostly assumed to be subjective because photographer has a point of view on what he is about to photograph. Not only had that it also believed to be honest reporting from witnessed event. As Henri Cartier Bresson said ‘as far as I am concerned, taking photographs is a means of understanding which cannot be separated from each other means of visual expression. It is a way of shouting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one’s own originality. It is a way of life’ (Masters of Photography Aperture, p.8). Other, art photography is more about creating and expressing personal points of view which is done to be sold or hang in galleries. Nevertheless some of its art may deal with issues but they are usually already covered by photojournalism and documentary, such as famine and war. At the end of the day of course all photography is an interpretation of what is in front of the lens.
Summarising, for today’s generation of young photographers there is much more complex awareness to what is or is not possible to explain. Today, “if you pictures aren’t good enough you might be too close then not close enough”, as Capa said (Time article, 2002). All those years Magnum promoted abstracted generalized narratives about human condition and their photographs often aim to the almost iconic status to represent themes about humanity. Magnum and its members had a political impact; they were interested how they can use their cameras to examine political and social issues. They showed examples of suffering and human dignity, brutality of war and photographer braveness in witnessing. This raises an important thought of what can be learn from images is still important and Susan Sontag wrote in her essays that “The knowledge gained through still photograph will be some kind of sentimentalism, knowledge at bargain prices a semblance of knowledge and wisdom”(On Photography,p.23-24). Today we are still learning how world changed since Capa found Magnum. From its beginnings which truly marked the advent of photojournalism legendary figures like Bresson and Capa aimed to record the truest and most essential stories, moods of our time. The drama of war and despair in Eastern Europe, the wounded and the dead in brush fire wars around the world. Finally, the greatest change over taking stills images is an introduction to computer technology which allows to generate imagery that appears to be as realistic as photograph, without using a camera.
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