In Magnum Streetwise: The Ultimate Collection of Street Photography Stephen McLaren brings us a comprehensive overview of more than 70 years of Magnum street photography from members of the world’s greatest photographic collective.
Included are images from founding members like Henri Cartier Bresson and Robert Capa, acknowledged masters such as Leonard Freed and Eve Arnold, plus more recent or lesser known photographers like Martin Parr, Gueorgui Pinkhassov and David Alan Harvey.
At the time of Magnum’s foundation – in New York in 1947 – it is not clear that ’street photography’ was a specific genre or even a term that was generally used. With its roots firmly in photojournalism the organisations raison d’etre actually lay in the desire to retain financial and creative control of imagery in the cut throat world of commercial photography. For the five founders (strangely this volume claims four) any non-commercial activity was an activity generally frowned upon.
Things soon changed. By the ‘fifties Bruce Gilden and Elliott Erwitt brought a streetwise sensibility to Magnum street photography whilst the likes of Bruce Davidson and Raymond Depardon brought colour. Branches of Magnum opened in London and Paris and the organisations membership expanded along with its creative brief. Bruce Davidson broke ground with his book Subway which used wide angle lenses and flashguns to photograph at close quarters. Martin Parr added his own style with humorous observational images of people at leisure.
Inevitably, with this transition from the more austere, black and white photo-journalistic approach to the broader spectrum of the current day, there is an awful lot of ground to cover in one publication of Magnum street photography. McLaren bravely attempts to do this by taking several approaches and interweaving them through the book.
Using a thematic approach he picks In Transit, Days Off and Playing the Market as specific aspects of ‘street photography’ not necessarily shot on ‘the street’. New York, London, Paris and Tokyo are key cities loosely labelled in a sub-category ‘How They Shot’. Finally are five groups, each of five photographers portfolios, listed alphabetically and selected as being ‘bodies of work that show a consistent approach to singular topics’.
In a somewhat confusing introduction McLaren attempts the near-impossible task of defining exactly what street photography is, whilst throwing in a discussion on being Streetwise. It doesn’t completely succeed, whilst, in suggesting that photographs might ‘present themselves’, ‘pre-exist’ and ‘be discovered’ he seems to offer an unusual angle on the philosophical nature of photography.
He is quickly on safer ground as he moves in to the chosen thematic elements and key cities. In each McLaren is not afraid to mix in legendary names like Eve Arnold with lesser known talents such as Thomas Hoepker and Mark Power. From a formidable amount of potential material McLaren has brought a discerning eye and a talent for composition. A 1974 image from Phillip Jones Griffiths of children on is presented facing a 2017 image of Holi from Shrab Hura. Flip over from a 1954 street corner from Inge Morath to Mark Power image of Prince Harry & Meghan Markle’s wedding day.
Amongst the photographers there are plenty of big names and well known shots but alongside these McLaren has excelled in presenting to us many previously unpublished images of Magnum street photographyalongside portfolios from less known members. We particularly enjoyed discovering work from Nikos Economopoulos, Jonas Bendiksen and Christopher Anderson whilst the alphabetical arrangement often threw up rapid changes in style: David Hurn followed Harry Gruyaert; Chris Steele Perkins by Gueorgiu Pinkhassov.
Overall this is a fascinating and revelatory book – McLaren’s personal take on one aspect of the organisations vast portfolio. Magnum Streetwise offers an excellent overview of Magnum street photography as well as a tantalising glimpse of what other treasures are still in store.
Magnum Streetwise: The Ultimate Collection of Street Photography edited by Stephen McLaren and published by Thames & Hudson
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Also recommended: Magnum Manifesto from Thames & Hudson. Purchase here
For more information visit www.thamesandhudson.com