Book Review : Magnum Magnum
Here is the popular yet complete edition of the hugely acclaimed Magnum Magnum which was an instant sellout on first publication in 2007. It celebrates sixty years of the vision, imagination and brilliance of Magnum photographers in over 400 photographs by the acknowledged greats of photography in the 20th century and the rising stars of our time. Each photographer is represented by six of their works as chosen by, and including a critical text by, another member. Including biographies of the featured photographers, a history of Magnum Photos by Brigitte Lardinois and a bibliography of Magnum books, MagnumMagnum Medium makes available to a wider audience one of the greatest photography anthologies of recent years an essential book for anyone interested in photography or the world depicted by it.
I was lucky enough to be given Magnum Magnum as a present by a friend. And what a great present it is too.
Let’s deal with the basic physics first. This is quite a big book. Heavy and entirely not suitable for taking on a train. You’d call it a coffee table book provided you had a really strong coffee table. It is also fabulously well made. You pick it up, you open it, you touch the pages. All screams of quality. When they made this book they wanted to make sure that nothing detracted from the photos. And they succeeded.
Magnum Photos is an international photographic cooperative owned by its photographer-members – photojournalism’s elite – and, when you open the book to the index page, names like Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Steve McCurry immediately leap off the page as people whose worked I have pored over.
And because this is selected works of each photographer, it seems that those doing the selecting have deliberately avoided the iconic/signature images they could have chosen (Capa’s Spanish Civil War Soldier or Omaha Beach are not here, neither is McCurry’s Afghan Girl). This provides a wider retrospective (but is also handy because I’ve already got those in other books.)
What I also gain from this book is a long list of new names to go hunt down their other work. My Amazon Wish List is filling up rapidly.
Much of the book evokes Robert Capa’s “get closer” maxim and this is no better shown than in his brother Cornell’s shot of Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe.
Do I have a favourite? Well, it is very hard to choose by René Burri’s “Men on Rooftop” in Sao Paulo is Brazil is probably it. But really there are too many to mention.
Above all, what this book does for me is to tell me not to always look for the ‘perfect’ stock-ready shots. Since I started mucking about with stock stuff, I have become a little too precious about the wrong things. The photos contained in this book are immense but work in a much looser way with attention to the technicalities diminshed and a far greater emphasis on movement, on the moment, on the mood. ( I don’t mean they are technically bad – far from it – they are just not ‘stock’ – which is as it should be ). In many ways, the apparent ‘imperfection’ only adds to the shot. What that boils down to is that this book help with your overall appreciation of what is a ‘great’ photo.
And that is just to consider it as a work of photography. Perhaps more than anything, this book captures history. There are famous people, famous events, famous moments. Which is where I’ll stop before I disappear up my own, well, you know…
I can’t recommened this book highly enough. People who bought this book also bought – a strong coffee table.