From festive parades to bloody warzones, Magnum Photos has been capturing iconic images since 1947.
Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt’s home in New York City is on the route of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and every year as many as 100 people fill his place.
Although photographing the parade out the window is not heavy lifting, Erwitt does switch from leisure to work mode and photograph his family and friends watching the floats at his annual holiday gathering.
“I’m a photographer – I take pictures,” he said.
Being a photographer is not what it used to be, in a digital age where every smartphone takes pictures, and magazines and newspapers are shrinking and shutting down.
But despite the grim outlook in the industry, Magnum – one of the first and most recognized photographer cooperatives in the world – has stayed busy and relevant.
Editorial manager Karen Probasco said the photo glut of recent years hasn’t hurt Magnum’s commission work. In fact, she said, the opposite has happened.
“The more people begin to engage in photography, their level of appreciation is enriched,” Probasco said.
But smartphone images by amateurs are not in the same league with photographs by pros, she said.
“It’s not that simple, you’re not going just get lucky,” she said. “If you want a good photograph, you’re going to need a professional.”
When Erwitt joined Magnum in 1953, the co-op’s clients were almost entirely magazines. But the photographers did whatever work somebody would pay for, whenever they could, and that is still true.
Erwitt said his clients have changed, and the places he holds exhibits or publishes his books have changed – but not his work.
“My style hasn’t changed in my entire career,” he said. “I’m still in the humanist tradition.”
Erwitt still shoots on film unless the client asks for digital images or he needs a faster turnaround.
The Internet may be wiping out print publications, but it also provides another platform for the photographers to publish their work.
Giorgio Psacharopulo, CEO of Magnum, said every project now includes an online element.
“Through the Web we can reach out to our community of users who are interested directly,” Psacharopulo said. “It was more difficult to do before.”
The greatest work flow changes are to accommodate the faster news cycle, Probasco said. Photojournalists are now expected to send images daily when covering a news event, while in the past they had more time to edit, she said.
Photography has never been an easy profession, especially photojournalism.
Documentarians have always had to find publications to buy their work, win over sources, and navigate red tape in government agencies. Conflict photographers even risk their lives for their work.
“You’re running into the war zone when all the other civilians are running out, and unlike everyone else entering, you’re not armed,” Probasco said.
Magnum provides a support system for a diverse group of photographers. No two share the same career path, therefore each member’s needs are different, she said. The co-op will manage members’ archives, make sure images are licensed properly and handle contract logistics, among other things.
Psacharopulo said the money flows through the co-op in two ways: new production and licensing of archives. The money, however, isn’t what runs the company.
“The photographers are the driving force,” Psacharopulo said. “It is a sort of merge between artistic experience and social responsibility.”
Magnum thrives because it adapts and prioritizes creativity, Probasco and Psacharopulo said.
“Magnum survived a lot of changes,” Erwitt said. “It’s a good group of people with shared interest in the human condition.”
- Lauren Russell, CNN