Picture perfect

Magnum Squares: some of the world’s most renowned photographers reveal their obsessions
Art | 10 June 2019

Copenhagen, Denmark. 2010. © Jacob Aue Sobol/Magnum Photos

It’s that time of the year again, when Magnum Photos sell off works by some of the world’s most renowned names in photography for a bargain price of $100.

Pick up those jaws and pay attention. This year’s sale centres around the concept of obsessions  – an essential trait for all prolific photographers. From images of Andy Warhol in his NYC Factory to Mardi Gras revellers through anti-war protestors, here we spotlight a selection of the images on sale alongside while the photographer’s behind the images explain their work and why it connects with the theme of obsessions.

Daleside, South Africa. 2018. © Lindokuhle Sobekwa / Magnum Photos

Lindokuhle Sobekwa / Daleside, South Africa (2018)

“My obsession with photography has made me penetrate places and spaces I thought I could never have access to. Daleside used to be a predominantly white area where my mother was employed as a domestic worker. On days when I used to go with her to work, I was not allowed to enter the house, and would sit outside and wait for my mother to finish working.

The only time I was allowed to go inside was during school holidays, when I would work on the garden in the back. My mother recalls a time when I was just six months old. Her employer still did not want me in the house, so she would wrap me in so many blankets that I wouldn’t catch a cold, and would put me outside on the lawn where she would be able to see me from the house.”

Andy Warhol in his “Factory” at Union Square. New York City, USA. 1981. © Thomas Hoepker / Magnum Photos

Thomas Hoepker / Andy Warhol in his “Factory” at Union Square. New York City, USA (1981)

“Encouraged by youth photo-awards from ‘Photokina,’ influenced by Otto Steinert’s ‘Subjective Photography,’ impressed by a visit to an Edward Steichen exhibition, to which Fritz Gruber took me on a first trip to New York, inspired by first publications in Twen, which had just been founded by Willy Fleckhaus, I began to doubt more and more the meaning of my studies in art history. In museums and on trips to Italy, I realized that I was more interested in the people standing before the art, than the masterpieces they were looking at. When the Münchner Illustrierte offered me a photographer contract in 1960, I finally had my job.”

Mardi Gras. New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. 1993.© Constantine Manos / Magnum Photos

Constantine Manos / Mardi Gras. New Orleans, Louisiana, USA (1993)

“This picture was made in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, 1993. It was part of a long term project to make color photographs all over the USA, which ultimately appeared in two books, American Color and American Color 2. The mission of the books was not intended to be documentarian, but was meant to capture unique moments that were AMERICAN. For me, as a photographer, these were obsessive projects, which I undertook on my own time at my own expense. I believe that obsession is a powerful force that motivates creative people.”

MYANMAR. February 19, 2010. Chaungtha Beach, popular for Burmese people and foreign tourists.

Chien-Chi Chang / Chaungtha Beach, popular for locals as well as foreign tourists. Myanmar (February 19, 2010)

“Of all human obsessions, one of the strongest, purest and most universal is chasing a ball—or watching others do it. The most elemental of shapes complement our own elemental needs. Ball play builds teams. It allows the lonely to hope that they can bounce back. It defines and refines skills, propelling bodies into joyful movement through space. It can also propel the poor out of poverty, sometimes not only for the moment but forever. Everywhere I have traveled, from the grimmest of war zones to the temples of the mighty, I have seen a human with a ball, like this Burmese boy scribing a graceful arc towards the Bay of Bengal, while, not far away, was genocide.”

Sun City, Arizona, USA. 1980. © David Hurn / Magnum Photos

David Hurn / Sun City, Arizona, USA (1980)

“I am not sure I have ever felt the need to use the word ‘obsession’–for me, it feels intrinsically unhealthy. But I do like passion, or maybe more accurately, enthusiasm. Whenever I travel I instinctively photograph, so I never have ‘holidays’ as such. However, some events are so uplifting that parts of these happenings become a sort of holiday. I enjoyed the early morning efforts in Sun City of seniors determined to keep fit, it was totally inspiring. I have photographed the ‘pursuit of health’ many times. It has always put a smile on my face, and a feeling of delight, whilst doing it.”

Door to Hell. Darvaza, Turkmenistan. 2009. © Carolyn Drake / Magnum Photos

Carolyn Drake / Door to Hell. Darvaza, Turkmenistan (2009)

“The enigmatic qualities of photography are a continuing obsession in my work. I made this picture while working on my Two Rivers project in Central Asia. The site is locally known as the ‘Door to Hell.’ The 69-meter-wide crater has been burning natural gas since 1971 when Soviet petroleum engineers, concerned about contaminating the air after an excavating accident, tried to burn off the remaining gas by lighting it on fire. The picture doesn’t show any of this, though. The scale of time and space remain a puzzle in the image, pointing to the difficulty of perceiving the scope of human impact on the planet.”

Copenhagen, Denmark. 2010. © Jacob Aue Sobol/Magnum Photos

Jacob Aue Sobol / Copenhagen, Denmark (2010)

“To me, the camera has always been a tool to find and depict love to a point that it became an obsession. How close can I get to a love that feels true in my images? Is this the love I have been searching for myself these past 20 years? Is this the love of my life?

I photographed young couples in love across the planet to remind us that we are all the same, to remind us that what we have in common is greater than what separates us. That young couples in love from Beijing share the same love as young couples from Moscow, Paris or New York. And, even after this obsessive search for love came to an end, I found Martin and Pernille in my own neighbourhood in Copenhagen.”

USA. Illinois. Chicago. Anti-war protestors confront Federal troops in Grant park. 1968. © Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos

Raymond Depardon / USA. Illinois. Chicago. Anti-war protestors confront Federal troops in Grant park (1968)

“It is the Democratic Convention, the crowd invades the park … There is a feeling of festivity above all directed toward protesting the Vietnam War. A young woman walks toward the soldiers of the National Guard, who protect access to the convention. I had just enough time to make this photograph.”

Harlem Street Scene. New York City. 1987 © Eli Reed / Magnum Photos

Eli Reed / Harlem Street Scene. New York City (1987)

“My obsession is looking at life as it is instead of what it should be.”

A boy plays in the Rivière des Galets. Réunion. 1991. © Bruno Barbey / Magnum Photos

Bruno Barbey / A boy plays in the Rivière des Galets. Réunion (1991)

“When traveling and photographing, you have to establish human contact while remaining discreet. Luck sometimes plays a role too. This boy was cleaning his bicycle in a spring and playing with it; my luck was that he wore green shorts matching the color of his bike. The result is a strange and surreal setting in which the boy seems to ride his bicycle under water.

Photography is the only language that can be understood anywhere in the world.”

‘Obsessions’ Magnum’s Square Print Sale runs from 9AM EST Monday 10th June until midnight EST Friday 14th June 2019.

Signed and estate stamped, museum quality, 6×6” prints from over 100 artists will exceptionally be available for $100, for five days only, from here.


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