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When art talks: Curating the magic of Magnum

You could say the invention of photojournalism began in 1947. That was when photographers Robert Capa, George Rodfer, David ‘Chim’ Seymour and Henri Cartier-Bresson established the cooperative “Magnum’. The idea behind it was to help their peers record what they saw as accurately and truthfully as possible, without working the agendas of magazines and newspapers.

Decades later, the agency is now responsible for some of history’s most iconic images, from Jeff Widener’s photo of ‘Tank Man’ in Tiananmen Square, to Steve McCurry’s haunting green-eyed ‘Afghan Girl’. It has also since broadened its remit to include a fine selection of contemporary artistic work. “If you want art on the walls and you want it to be real, you need Magnum,” says master curator Elaine Groenestein.

“The photographers are not just artists in the way that they don’t just take a pretty picture,” Groenestein explains. “They tell stories, sometimes really impactful ones, as most are still documentary photographers, and they have a message to tell. To be a Magnum photographer, first of all you need a strong stomach. And you also need a good backbone because they are a feisty family, and they push each other.”

Spanish artist Cristina de Middel’s gutsy photography certainly fits the bill. Her work, which explores uncomfortable topics from sex work to migration, often plays with artistic elements that blur the difference between reality and fiction. She also has a long history with Ibiza (since falling in love in 2001 with a scuba diver who played chess. But that’s another story). Storytelling, she says, is central to her craft: “Each photograph is a word in a sentence,” she explains. “Each has a specific purpose, but you can combine them with others to create a collage of meanings. Photography has that power.”

Like her journalistic predecessors, de Middel is often traveling. “I carry a lot of props in my suitcase that I play with, such as the plastic dolphin, which I used for the ‘Excessocenus’ project with Green- peace. I used brightly coloured, exaggerated images rather than gritty photojournalism to make people stop and think about excessive consumption,” she continues. “Some images I took at my home in Brazil, to document the clash between nature and culture, like the floating spiritism book. I kept the book after. It’s beautiful. The red balloon was for a project called ‘Midnight at the Crossroads’ which I shot in Benin, to redefine clichéd representations of African spirituality. There are images I shot in Ibiza last year, such as the donkey ears and lemon at Sa Caleta beach.” De Midel’s work highlights human drama, and many were taken at serious moments, but they are also playful, and show beautiful composition and light.

“Magnum is a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually.” Henri Cartier-Bresson

 


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