Lee Grant – Photography Blog

Magnum @ 60: where are all the ‘chicas’?

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I’m posting a link (HERE and scroll to the bottom of page) to an interesting interview about Photographing Conflict with two Magnum photographers whose work I admire, Alec Soth and Jonas Bendiksen from the Leonard Lopate Show in NY, USandA. (Sorry folks, tried to figure out how to embed an mp3 but alas, my ability to understand martian or geek is at an all time low…..zero!). Seems a little odd to me that they titled the show as such, given that Soth is mostly an art photographer and not a lot of what Bendiksen shoots is conflict – at least in the tradition of Capa, Nachtwey, McCullin et al. Nevertheless it’s an interesting listen and the female radio host does bring up the issue of gender balance (or lack thereof) within the collective. The responses by the Magnum members are embarrassed at best and let’s face it, it’s pretty ridiculous. There is hardly a lack of brilliant women photographers out there who work both within and out of the Magnum tradition! To be fair though, it isn’t just Magnum. The majority of agencies whose sites I visit online have a tendency to be male-centric. Is it because women are partial to working independently and therefore don’t get the profiling/marketing that photographers with agencies or collectives do? Or is it simply as parochial a point as being left at home to tend to the domestic demands of family and home? What are some other reasons?I’m not sure, but if anyone out there has any thoughts I’d love to hear them. Despite the heated debate this issue seems to inspire (read this thread on the Magnum site to see what I mean), I don’t think it’s one that should go away. At the end of the day, it seems strange that when ‘hiring the best person for the job’ the majority seem to be male. The split is simply so unbalanced that it almost defies belief. Mmmmm……

Just for a moment think about this photograph by James Nachtwey (previously a Magnum member but now a founding member of VII); the impact that an image can have on it’s audience and the power to persuade it’s viewers into action. Photojournalism at it’s most powerful:


Rwanda, 1994 – Survivor of Hutu death camp.

Talking about Magnum, the collective celebrated it’s 60th birthday recently (which one would presume involved quaffing copious magnums of champers!). The NY office also held it’s first Portfolio Review. It was a first in best dressed affair where a number of the collective’s photographers advised and reviewed people’s work. Alec Soth discusses the process and links to some of the websites of those he reviewed. I found it an interesting exercise to visit these photographers’ sites to see what kind of work is being presented to an agency like Magnum (one of the heavies of the industry). I was frankly quite surprised at how eclectic the mix was. It was also interesting to check out the blogs of those reviewed who also had their own takes on the review process. I had to giggle at the thoughts of one photographer when she mentioned Trent Parke‘s reaction to her work (I could just imagine his sardonic Australian response!). To be fair, I think I had to side with Trent on this one. It seemed a strange submission to be making to an agency known for it’s serious reportage, including war photography. But hey, different strokes for different folks hey!?

Written by Lee Grant

June 26, 2007 at 10:15 pm

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