I was given the opportunity to attend a one day open learning course given by Edinburgh University. The course was lead by a tutor who in this case was Tom Allberson; The course was called Magnum Photography : A Critical History and was on the Magnum photographers and their position and influences.
There were a couple of book which were required reading for this one day course.
Photography a short introduction - Steve Edwards
Magnum Photos – Thames and Hudson
As stated in another part of this blog I started to read “Photography a very short introduction” as it was required reading. The book quickly covers photographic history, the politics of observation and then goes on into photographic theory and concepts; including compositional structure and the differing types of photography concentrating mainly on the difference between art photography and documentary photography. I found that the book was a small handy size and that I could stick it in a jacket pocket and read it when I had the time as the chapters were short and simple. At the heart of the chapter on composition within the book were the short introductions to ideas like “the camera space” which considers the composition and use of empty space; this concepts then drew on perspective within composition and was very clear as it clearly defined the differing styles of perspective composition which until now I had never considered. The book also quickly covers the concepts and ideas of framing and narrative again all within the confines of art and documentary photography.
Magnum Photos is a collection of 80 photographs from a number of Magnum Photographers, the book is simply set out with a short précis on the photographer on the left hand page and on the facing (right hand) page, a photograph from that particular photographer. I was able to quickly flick through the book and when I came across an interesting photograph I would examine the image and then read about the photographer. I could see a number of differing styles within the world of photojournalism and looking at the images I can see the progress and changes in the method and style of photojournalism over the years from the beginning of Magnum to the current day. I was surprised to find that Henri Cartier Bresson was a not only one of the founding members but one of the guiding hands within Magnum. Up until the course I had not realised his scope of influence and I had never really considered Cartier Bresson neither as War photographer nor as Photojournalist and his membership came as quite a revelation. I did find a few members of the Magnum stable as a bit hit or miss and that they were either universally liked or disliked by the entire class.
The course itself was a single day’s course which intended to cover the history of the Magnum cooperative, and provide ideas on photographic theory and a sketch of Magnum and its central role in photographic culture over the last 60 years. The course had an in depth look at the questions of documentary and art photography considers photographs of conflict, commerce, loss and leisure and asked what gives these powerful photographs their meaning and importance.
The course content covered quite a bit of ground,
It started with the post WWII establishment of the Magnum photographic agency and the diversity of styles employed by its members and then went onto the birth of photojournalism and determining the meaning and significance and aspect of some iconic images from these photographers. It also covered how photojournalism presents conflict, commerce, humanism and the representation of difference. After the course was finished I sat and considered what I had been taught; I certainly had a clear understanding of the history and importance of the Magnum agency, its ongoing internal debates, its’ influence within a cultural and political context and the direction that the Magnum agency is now engaged in. I became aware of the styles used by its members and I have started to develop some key ideas which help in interpreting photographs.
I have a couple of questions after the course and I have emailed these off to the tutor who was taking the class.
1. Did the negative public feeling for the Vietnam War influence the style and subjects of the photos taken by the Magnum photographers and did the books published by these photographers have an influence on public feeling too.
2. Why was there very little photojournalism in the same vein as the Vietnam images and books during the Korean War? Was this due to the political situation in America at the time - mainly McCarthyism and a fear of communism?
3. If so was this due to the Korean War being seen as a war of Free vs. Communism and therefore a worthwhile war while the Vietnam War was seen mainly was a war of colonialism?
4. After WWI there was a rise in humanism which was particularly felt in Germany, is there any particular reason why “Humanism disappeared” and was only rediscovered after WWII?
5. With the current rise in “Citizen Journalism” and the rights grab by the publishers like the BBC, etc, is it not time that Magnum raised their voice regarding the situation, or does Magnum consider Citizen journalism a fad?
Hopefully Tom will provide some further information, during the course he handed out a number of A4 sheets with further reading on them. I’m happy to provide a scanned copy if required by anyone.