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Rafal Milach 2018 Nominee Magnum Photos September 15, 2018

Posted by bohdan.warchomij in : Bird in Flight, Magnum, Metaphor Online , comments closed

Rafal Milach from Black Sea of Concrete

“A key focal point of my current artistic practice is the clash between non-heroic gestures and ostensibly neutral spaces, which are in fact set against a political background of current events. The oppressive nature of the areas I investigate is reflected in architecture, objects, and suitably formatted social structures.”

- Rafal Milach

I first met Rafal Milach in Perpignan at Visa Pour L’Image circa 2005 when he was practising photojournalism and interested in conflict.

In 2004 he met Agnieszka Rayss and Jan Brykczynsk. Two years later they founded Sputnik Photos. They were all from central-eastern Europe and wanted to tell stories from the region they came from and could relate to. Another common denominator was the experience of transition from communism to so-called democracy. Milach and his cofounders somehow felt that their voice would be stronger as a group. After ten years of collaboration they have became one organism. Sputnik is handled from Warsaw, though they have international members, with photographers from Belarus, Slovakia and Czech Republic. About this time he became more interested in the art of resolution and in art per se. Both he and Sputnik have grown into an international force in photography. He has travelled on from the nostalgia of “Black Sea of Concrete”.

Rafal Milach on his development:

Rafal Milach

‘— I always thought that I started photographing late but now I think that was a perfect time. I was a student of graphic design at the Academy of Fine Arts. This is where I met a great teacher and photographer, Piotr Szymon, who assured me I had some photographic talent.

When I graduated from the Academy, I started working on personal projects. It was around this time I started to travel east. A majority of my family comes from what today is Belarus and Ukraine. I have some Russian roots as well, with some relatives living near Lake Baikal. In the beginning my background was very much a pretext to go there. I knew that I had relatives in Eastern Europe and Russia but till 2004 I wasn’t so interested in it. It came with the interest in photography. For me it was a good opportunity to go and experience something that was beyond the eastern border of Poland. On my first trip to Russia my ultimate goal was to meet my relatives but while there I got interested in the entire region.’

I was thinking about the idea of borders and how abstract and fragile they had become in recent years, especially for this region.

I started to work on Landmarks during heightened tensions between Russia and other Eastern European countries. After the annexation of Crimea and war in eastern Ukraine, the Baltic States seemed to be next target. Russia was reported to have been regularly violating the airspace of Baltic countries at the time. I started to think what the borders meant for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. I was thinking about the idea of borders and how abstract and fragile they had become in recent years, especially for this region. Despite solid proof of their existence they can be easily removed, changed or simply ignored.’

Rafal Milach

Rafal Milach is a visual artist, photographer, and author of photo books. His work focuses on topics related to the transformation in the former Eastern Block. Graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice, Poland, and the ITF Institute of Creative Photography of the Silesian University in Opava, Czech Republic (currently lecturer at ITF).

His award-winning photo books include The Winners, 7 Rooms, and The First March of Gentlemen. Rafal Milach has received scholarships from the Polish Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Magnum Foundation, and European Cultural Foundation. Finalist of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2018 and winner of the World Press Photo competition. Co-founder of the Sputnik Photos collective.

His works have been widely exhibited in Poland and worldwide, and can be found in the collections of the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, the ING Polish Art Foundation, Kiyosato, the Museum of Photographic Arts (Japan), and Brandts in Odense (Denmark).

Rafal Milach

Milach joined Magnum as a Nominee in 2018.

The Plight of the Rohingya: October 15, 2017

Posted by bohdan.warchomij in : Magnum, Patrick Brown , comments closed

Chris Steel Perkins Magnum Photos 1992

Less than five years ago, President Barack Obama stood in front of cheering crowds at Rangoon University and hailed Myanmar’s “remarkable journey” to democracy. But while he praised the Southeast Asian nation’s desire for reform, he also referred to communal violence between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in the western state of Rakhine that had left more than 100,000 people displaced that year. “The flickers of progress that we have seen must not be extinguished,” the American president warned.

This summer, those rays of light rapidly dimmed. On August 25, a Rohingya insurgent group launched attacks on a series of security posts that killed more than 100 people. It sparked brutal “clearance operations” by the military, which—according to survivors— has included burning entire villages to the ground, as well as mass rape and murder. Since then, more than half a million ethnic Rohingya Muslims have fled the Buddhist-majority country and crossed into Bangladesh. That’s close to half of Myanmar’s entire Rohingya population. Tens of thousands remain displaced within the country, lacking access to vital humanitarian aid.

It’s not the first refugee crisis to affect the region. As Magnum photographers have documented for more than 25 years, the Rohingya have long faced discrimination and violent repression.  Since independence in 1948, successive governments, including the military junta who ruled from 1962 to 2011, have viewed the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. (In fact, some Rohingya can trace their roots back centuries, when thousands of Muslims came to the former Arakan Kingdom, while others arrived during British colonial rule in the 19th and early 20th centuries.)

Under civilian rule, the Rohingya’s plight has only worsened and they are now one of the world’s largest stateless populations.  Effectively denied citizenship since 1982, the Rohingya have steadily been stripped of basic rights, facing restrictions on their movement around the country, their education and employment, as well as on marriage and family planning.

Tensions between the Bengali-speaking Muslims and Buddhists have erupted periodically. Between May 1991 and March 1992, more than 260,000 Rohingya fled the country following human rights abuses by the Burmese military, including forced labor, torture, rape and murder. With the help of the United Nations and NGOs, the Bangladeshi government sheltered the refugees in nineteen camps—but planned to repatriate them as soon as possible. (Then, as now, Bangladesh was not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention.) In 1992, Burma-born Chris Steele-Perkins photographed these refugee flows, which bear a striking similarity to the images coming out of the region over the last year. Most crossed by land into Bangladesh but as with the more recent refugee flows, hundreds have drowned in boats trying to reach Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Chris Steele Perkins Magnum Photos 2104

These Magnum photographers are not alone in documenting the crisis. Australian photographer Patrick Brown, long time resident of Bangkok has added his voice to the crisis.

Photo Patrick Browne

Photo Patrick Browne

Magnum Manifesto June 15, 2017

Posted by bohdan.warchomij in : Magnum, Metaphor Images , comments closed

NEW YORK, NY (APRIL 21, 2017) — The International Center of Photography (ICP), the world’s leading institution dedicated to photography and visual culture, continues its designated “Year of Social Change” with Magnum Manifesto, which celebrates the 70th anniversary of the renowned Magnum Photos collective. Premiering at the ICP Museum (250 Bowery, New York, NY) on May 26, the landmark exhibition underscores ICP’s long-standing connection to concerned photography and the social and historic impact of the medium as a whole.

“When you look through the Magnum archive, you cannot help but feel a mixture of jubilation and vertigo.

The vast collection of images and information amassed over the seven decades since the creation of the cooperative—the great events of the day, together with the commonplace facts and deeds of everyday life, the laughter, the violence, moments of magic or of symbolic signi cance, and even representations of abstract thought—potentially it contains all the histories of the world,” says Chéroux. “Magnum Manifesto points to how vast the exploitable elds covered by the collection are. It offers a small reconstruction of the entire range of human experience and shows that Magnum is a world in itself.”

The exhibition is organized into three main parts:
• Part I: 1947–1968: “Human Rights and Wrongs” views the Magnum archive through a humanist lens, focusing on post-war ideals of commonality and utopianism. A centerpiece of this section will be the Paul Fusco series, RFK Funeral Train.

• Part II: 1969–1989: “An Inventory of Differences” shows a world fragmenting, with a focus on subcultures, minorities, and outsiders. This section features images from a range of photographers, including Danny Lyon and Susan Meiselas.

• Part III: 1990–2017: “Stories about Endings” charts the ways in which Magnum photographers have captured—and continue to capture—a world in flux and under threat, from Thomas Dworzak’s images of the Taliban to Donovan Wyle’s Maze series, and very recent photos such as those from Alessandra Sanguinetti in the aftermath of the Nice terrorist attacks.

CZECHOSLOVAKIA. Slovakia. Zehra. 1967. Gypsies.

Magnum Manifesto features group and individual projects and includes more than 250 prints and 300 projected photographs, as well as more than 130 objects—books, magazines, videos, and rarely-seen archival documents. Among many others, it incorporates the work of Christopher Anderson, Jonas Bendiksen, Henri Cartier- Bresson, Cornell and Robert Capa, Chim, Raymond Depardon, Bieke Depoorter, Elliott Erwitt, Martine Franck, Leonard Freed, Paul Fusco, Cristina Garcia Rodero, Burt Glinn, Jim Goldberg, Joseph Koudelka, Sergio Larrain, Susan Meiselas, Wayne Miller, Martin Parr, Marc Riboud, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Eugene W. Smith, Alec Soth, Chris Steele-Perkins, Dennis Stock, Mikhael Subotzky, and Alex Webb.

ICP’s presentation of Magnum Manifesto is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Prestigious Photo Agency Magnum to Receive Outside Investment June 15, 2017

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Prestigious Photo Agency Magnum to Receive Outside Investment

Jun 13, 2017
A year ago when photographers with Magnum Photos met in London to select the new members, associates and nominees who would be joining the prestigious agency, they also approved a new plan and structure that would bring—for the first time in Magnum’s history—a capital injection from outside investors.

The investment—the exact amount of which is undisclosed—comes from Nicole Junkermann and Jörg Mohaupt, two media experts who have financed over the years various technology ventures. The pair will join the board of what will be named Magnum Global Ventures, alongside Magnum CEO David Kogan and four members of the agency.

Magnum Global Ventures will be a subsidiary of Magnum Photos International, the cooperative owned by the agency’s 91 photographers and estates. And while the photographers will retain control over their intellectual property (including the copyright over all of their work), the new structure will assume control of the agency’s assets—from its offices in Paris, London, New York and Tokyo to its staff.

The deal, which Kogan started engineering in the months following his appointment as CEO three years ago, is designed to help Magnum grow in an ever-changing digital landscape. “We need to be able to experiment and take risk to do interesting stuff with our photographers,” Kogan tells TIME. “You have to keep up with all the technological changes and the means of showing the work.” But, he adds, for the last 70 years, Magnum has been a business “that’s full or risk,” with cash flow and debt issues. In the past, Magnum has mostly relied on a volatile editorial market for most of its revenues.

Less than 10 years ago, for example, the agency owed its own photographers hundreds of thousands of dollars, forcing it to sell some of its assets such as its physical archives, which were acquired by Michael Dell’s investment firm and donated to the Harry Ransom Center.

In recent years, Magnum, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary, found new ways to inject capital in the agency through its insanely popular Instagram print sales and the development of new educational events and workshops. But, Kogan says, “that doesn’t help us grow quickly enough or innovate fast enough.” To him, outside investment was the logical next step. “There’s a complete logic to trying to find other forms of financing,” he tells TIME.

Meanwhile, Magnum photographer Thomas Dworzak believes the move will preserve the agency’s independence, while at the same time “allowing outside investments that will help us to better photograph, document, the confusing world we are in now.”

David Kogan, CEO of Magnum Photos commented:

“Magnum Photos celebrates its 70th anniversary with the creation of a company that allows us to plan for the future. We are already creating new opportunities for the photographers and the business of Magnum.

“Our two new investors have stellar backgrounds in the global sectors of media, music, intellectual property and technology. We welcome them for their expertise and know that they can add a huge amount to the development of the agency.”

Nicole Junkermann said: “I will never forget seeing a Magnum photograph of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. It captured a moment in history so powerfully that it has left a lasting impression on me.

The deal was approved by all 91 stakeholders, who will vote next week for the four agency representatives to join the board of the new subsidiary.


Collecting History Now: Harriet Logan of the INCITE PROJECT and its curator Tristan Lund on building a collection of images of war, conflict and other challenging themes June 5, 2017

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Collecting History Now: A Collector and an Art Advisor Discuss

Harriet Logan of the Incite Project and its curator Tristan Lund on building a collection of images of war, conflict and other challenging themes:

With a large print of Richard Drew’s famous shot of a man falling from the World Trade Centre featuring prominently on the stairs of her home, former photojournalist, and now collector of photography, Harriet Logan wants the rest of the world to see and appreciate some of the more difficult images in photojournalism as large prints displayed on a wall. With the collection she started to build only four years ago, Logan wants to show that “photojournalism is not purely an illustration for text” and to both define and preserve important moments of history and history-in-the-making. In doing so she aims to support photojournalists producing work today. The Incite Project, run by Harriet Logan and her husband, is a private collection of issue-driven photographic prints, motivated by current political and social concerns that are still within our power to change.

Also featuring in Logan’s private collection are: a Tom Stoddart shot from Sarajevo; Josef Koudelka’s photograph of a gypsy with a horse – “that’s one of my favourites, if the house was on fire we’d take that picture,” she says; and work by Diane Arbus, Richard Mosse, Moises Saman and Robert Capa. And in her dream collection she’d like to own Koudelka’s iconic picture of a dog, which she narrowly missed out on at an auction, having stuck diligently to her set budget. Logan and the collection’s curator Tristan Lund, recently spoke to Magnum about the motivation to collect contemporary photojournalism.

Motivation to start a collection

Starting her collection with Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Logan initially focused on collecting a foundation of exceptional, history-defining, photographs, images that condense major global events into singular objects.

“I hate the word iconic, but it was about collecting the lynchpins of historical photography and documentary photography. I was immediately drawn to Koudelka, Cartier-Bresson and Capa – the ‘godfathers’ of photography, I suppose – and the people that, in my opinion, made images that defined history. That, to me, is the important part of it, particularly now when we live in a world in which everyone is a photographer and history seems to be quite blurred. I’m really interested in the images that are produced almost on a daily basis and how they define the world that we’re living in today.

What’s interesting is how a point in history becomes so defined by an image – the falling man from 9/11, everyone knows that picture. For me it’s such a key, emotive image; we have it printed huge. That moment in history has been condensed down to a single image. Like the tank man in Tiananmen Square, history stops at those still images, and the photographers that took those pictures did an incredible job of essentially isolating, for all of us, those moments of history.” – Harriet Logan

Living with difficult images

Despite the images often being quite difficult to look at, Logan is compelled to give the photographs, and the photographers who took them, a respect she feels they deserve, no doubt down to her own experience as a photojournalist in the field: “Someone has had the drive to actually get out there and show us something about the world we’re living in. I feel like not looking at those pictures is bizarre for me because I think we have an obligation to see them. They went and they made these pictures and to not look at them, I feel is wrong. I feel like the least I could do is look at them every day. The idea of these images getting stuck in drawers and forgotten about feels slightly irresponsible.” – Harriet Logan

Collecting living photographers’ work

By focusing on collecting the work of living photographers who are currently creating work, Logan is able to support their ongoing projects. “We made a decision a while ago to stop buying a dead photographer’s work unless it was something that was an obvious hole in the collection, and that we would really go after photographers who were out there today creating work that we felt was important,” she says.

Logan’s primary motivation is to support the continued work of contemporary photojournalists, and enable the production of more work. She’s supported Matt Black’s Geography of Poverty, enabling the photographer to continue to build a comprehensive document of poverty across the United States, in return for prints of his work; and she’s also supported Magnum’s Moises Saman’s acclaimed Discordia book project, a visual account of the Arab Spring, made up of work compiled over four years spent living in the Middle East, and received prints of this work to add to her collection.

Scouting and supporting new talent

Harriet Logan’s collection spans the true photojournalist heavyweights, established contemporary names, as well as virtual unknowns. She has followed the career of some photographers from emerging talents to in-demand names in the print market. As well as visiting galleries and fairs, Lund and Logan do other types of legwork of their own to find new photojournalists to collect, looking at awards, such as World Press and the Eugene Smith awards, as well as scrolling through Instagram. “We’re taking it beyond what we are offered by galleries, so we’re trying to be proactive about the way we find images and approach photographers,” says Lund.

“We definitely hope it’s encouraging for young photographers that we are coming to them directly and asking to turn their work into physical prints that will go into the collection,” says Lund. “You rarely get shown prints by a photographer now, and one of the things that we feel is really important is that photographers, particularly young photographers, learn the value of printing a set of prints and editioning and signing them – seeing the value of them as a physical object,” adds Logan.

From Instagram to wall

The photographers who have successfully caught the eye of collectors on Instagram, but who also produce highly prized print products take as much care on the fabrication and printing of their fine prints as they do curating their Instagram feed. Magnum photographer – and former printing tech Matt Black – is a case in point. Black’s bold and graphic style has earned him a huge Instagram following, while his printing, which is produced to exacting standards, creates an object that collectors are keen to own.

“The amazing thing about Matt Black’s work, was seeing his photographs as an Instagram feed and then seeing his work in a gallery. He prints really beautifully; they are such wonderful objects. I was blown away by the quality of his printing.” – Harriet Logan

Purity of the work

What appears to attract Logan to the work of the photojournalists she likes is a purity of intent in their work. She cites Magnum’s Josef Koudelka ‘s “honourable” approach as an example. “I think Koudelka is quite an interesting example of a photographer who sees the utmost importance in the physical object, who has been very controlling of what’s out there in the world,” she says. “I don’t think he’s interested in the money that his prints are worth at all. He’s interested in the home that it goes to and where it ends up, and that’s very honourable.”

Logan also sees a similar quality in Matt Black. Black, she says, “feels like a really pure storyteller, in his vision and the way that he sees. It seems like he’s been able to do that because he’s sticking to his belief in how he sees.”

Elevating the photojournalist

Through elevating single images and taking them out of the context in which they are usually experienced – on a page, next to the text of the story which they illustrate – Logan and Lund want to give photojournalists the recognition they feel is deserved. Lund explains: “We are really trying to show that photojournalism is not purely an illustration for text. Removing the text, putting the printed photograph in a frame and behind glass and treating it as a work of art definitely makes people slow down but also makes them consider that somebody went and made that work; it wasn’t just chance that the camera happened to be there at the right place at the right time.”

History through a Lens: Iconic Photographs from the Incite Project has been on at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath.





Magnum and Lens Culture Want to See your Work April 14, 2017

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Magnum Photos Wants to See Your Work!

LensCulture and legendary photography agency Magnum Photos are seeking the best in global contemporary photography for the second annual Magnum Photography Awards.

Walking on Water Photo Bohdan Warchomij

Photographers working at all levels are eligible to participate—professionals, emerging talents, students and passionate amateurs. Likewise, photographers of all ages and all cultures are encouraged to take part in this worldwide celebration of talented image-makers.

The distinguished international jury will select 12 Winners, 8 Jurors’ Picks and 20 Finalists. Awards will be given in six categories: Documentary, Street, Portrait, Fine Art, Photojournalism and Open.

Magnum and LensCulture have worked hard to make this year’s edition an unparalleled opportunity for exposure and recognition. Our official media partner BBC Culture will be sharing top submissions throughout the competition to their global audience of 3.5 million and then will publish a series of features on selected winners. In addition, all the Winners, Finalists and Jurors’ Picks will be digitally exhibited at the Photographers’ Gallery in London.

The winning photographers will also receive exclusive access to Magnum photographers’ workshops around the world and have their work shown to industry insiders online and at festivals all over the globe. These Awards aim to offer an unprecedented level of international exposure from two of the largest organizations in the photographic community. So, don’t delay, enter now!

Open to all levels in these categories:
Documentary | Portrait | Street | Fine Art | Photojournalism | Open

Competition to Celebrate 70 years of Magnum Photos May 3, 2016

Posted by bohdan.warchomij in : Lens Culture, Magnum, Metaphor Online , comments closed

LensCulture and legendary photography agency Magnum Photos are joining forces to produce one of the best opportunities for photographers all over the world to be recognized and rewarded for their talent.2017 marks a significant year for Magnum as they celebrate 70 years since four pioneering photographers toasted the conception of an independent photo agency. This landmark anniversary will be marked by a series of international events, projects and partnerships, with an emphasis on the agency’s digital presence and the photography community at large.Ahead of the anniversary celebrations, Magnum Photos and LensCulture invite you to enter our inaugural Magnum Photography Awards, an international call to discover the best photographers from all over the world. Our distinguished jury will select 12 Winners and 20 Finalists from Documentary, Street, Portrait, Fine Art, Photojournalism and Open categories. In addition, the jury will select 7 photographers as “Jurors’ Picks” and give out 5 “Student Spotlight” awards to young, up-and-coming talents.Winners, finalists and top-rated photographers will gain access to an unprecedented level of global exposure and recognition from two of the largest organizations in the photo industry, with a combined audience of over 4 million.

Celebrate 70 years of Magnum Photos!

Since 1947, Magnum has served as an important collective of the visionary photographers who captured (and continue to capture) world-famous, iconic images that define and shape our rapidly-changing lives. It is often said that if you picture an iconic image, but can’t think who took it or where it can be found, it probably came from Magnum.

Magnum Photos represents some of the world’s most renowned photographers, maintaining its founding ideals and idiosyncratic mix of journalists, artists and storytellers. The agency is strictly self-selecting and membership is considered the finest accolade of a photographer’s career.

Both Magnum Photos and LensCulture are committed to developing visual talent. With this partnership, Magnum will continue to expand its education initiatives while recognizing new, talented photographers from all over the world. Together, the two organizations will continue their mission of helping photographers move forward in their careers, both creatively and professionally.


Deadline: Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Magnum celebrates Werner Bischof Centenary February 23, 2016

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2016: The Werner Bischof Centenary

A year-long celebration marks 100 years since Werner Bischof’s birth

2016 marks Werner Bischof’s Centenary and throughout the year, we celebrate this early Magnum Member’s life and pioneering photographic practice. The first photographer invited to join Magnum Photos alongside its founding members, Bischof gained international recognition for his reportage on the state of Europe post-World War II; his practice was diverse and wide-ranging and inspired many generations of photographers after him. A very special retrospective featuring unseen material from the Werner Bischof Archive opened in Lausanne in January, whilst a monograph is set to be published later in the year by Aperture. The Magnum Photos Store is proud to launch a series of new and exclusive Magnum Collection PostersFine Collectors’ Prints, and Contact Sheet Prints, with a range of offers available until Bischof’s birthday, on April 26th.


Magnum Up Close and Personal November 9, 2015

Posted by bohdan.warchomij in : Magnum, Metaphor Online , comments closed
Magnum is selling personal work from its photographers between the 9th and 15th of November. The micro photos (6″x6″) have a note attached which gives an insight into the background of each photo. The insights are as fascinating as the photos. This is an unsponsored advertisement:  Photos can be bought individually or in a box set. See the store for details.


The note attached to the photo by Jean Gaumy

My daughter, Marie, and I discovered this beluga whale at the New York Aquarium on Coney Island. I was in fact in New York for three weeks, attending that other aquarium, the Magnum Meeting.

Little did my 11-year old daughter and I realize at the time, that this beautiful animal was in fact ‘Blanchon’, the hero of a very famous Canadian documentary film, Of Whales, the Moon and Men, directed by humanist filmmaker, Pierre Perrault. Eventually, Pierre became a dear friend. He was an incredible filmmaker, in the style of Leacock, Wiseman and Rouch.

This image is like a cocktail of intimacy, bringing together my daughter, the great animal, and subliminally, my friend Pierre, our shared passion for humanist approaches and documentary films.

I remember the guard at the aquarium was furious because Blanchon was a very curious animal, clearly happy to see somebody so close to the aquarium in a place not usually allowed to tourists. The other tourists, politely standing where they were supposed to, looked on in envy…”

Jean Gaumy SignatureJean Gaumy

 Up Close & Personal:

The Most Intimate Photographs From Magnum


Matt Black

When I photograph a place, I return and return again; I drive the same roads, walk the same trails, eat the same food, sleep in the same rooms. Over time, everything becomes intimate and familiar: the smell of the air, the color of the dirt, the cut of a certain shadow, even the lines in someone’s hand. I absorb it. Sometimes I can close my eyes, and I can still see it.”

Matt Black SignatureMatt Black
“There is war in Europe. In Switzerland, two people meet in the peaceful privacy of a photography studio — a vibrating mood. The photographer points a projector with a grid film onto the naked torso of the model. This photograph was created.The 1940 diary of my father reads: ‘A beautiful woman resembles a flower – she is beautiful in its external form, she has vibrations and harmony… But be happy with the beauty without searching for depth.’”— Marco Bischof, son of Werner Bischof

Losing the Media War: Larry Towell Magnum on Afghanistan December 14, 2014

Posted by bohdan.warchomij in : Larry Towell, LENS, Magnum, New York Times , comments closed


Losing the Media

War in Afghanistan

By James Estrin 

The war in Afghanistan has been difficult to document for even the most determined of Western photojournalists. By the time Larry Towell arrived there in 2008, most news outlets had abandoned regular coverage because of the extreme expense and danger — and a lack of interest from editors and the American public. What little visual coverage there was relied on embedded journalists.

But Mr. Towell had photographed the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and felt compelled to investigate what had happened in Afghanistan since then. So he paid his own way there.

“A journalist should be able to just go off and interview people and see for himself, but that has not been the case in Afghanistan for years,” he said in a phone interview last month. “I didn’t believe in the embedded photographer just taking pictures of things being blown up and calling that journalism, so I tried to piece it together visually.”


As people worked around him, a minister stood amid the wreckage of the World Trade Center, seemingly dazed by the events of the day. Sept. 11, 2001.

CreditLarry Towell/Magnum PhotosAs people worked around him, a minister stood amid the wreckage of the World Trade Center, seemingly dazed by the events of the day. Sept. 11, 2001.

Putting together a comprehensive view was challenging: Taliban militias made it impossible to travel through most of the country. Undaunted, Mr. Towell started his documentation by examining the aftermath of the Russian invasion, then cataloged the improvised explosive devices and the land mines that litter the country. He photographed people who were maimed by explosions, medevac units, drug addicts and a remote American military outpost where Afghan soldiers were trained.

He has combined these images, along with his photos from the Trade Center attacks and collages of snapshots by soldiers, in “Afghanistan: Larry Towell,” published by Aperture Foundation.

The book is large, but it looks like a cross between a journal and a personal photo album with Mr. Towell’s handwriting on many of the images. While the photos are masterly, it is Mr. Towell’s words that powerfully distill his experiences in Afghanistan.

“I learned that it is not possible to depict war properly because the dead live in memory and the living die emotionally,” he wrote. “Lies become truths and the contaminated become clean. The blood of war does for the wicked what the blood of Christ does for sinners but without saving their souls — war grants the authority for humans to hunt humans in self-defense, and for those in self-defense to protect themselves against the hunters. It allows them to create hit lists where everyone is suspect — and indeed everyone is suspect, because no one is neutral. Neutrality is the enemy.”


Bomb parts. Afghanistan. 2011.

CreditLarry Towell/Magnum PhotosBomb parts. Afghanistan. 2011.

Mr. Towell, a Magnum photographer, has published nine photo books, including “The Mennonites” and “The World from My Front Porch,” but his writing is central to each one. Although he is best known as a photographer, he is also an accomplished poet and songwriter.

“If you have a business card that says carpenter, brain surgeon, writer, mechanic, everybody thinks you can’t do any of it,” he said. “So it’s better to call yourself one thing.”

Besides photographer, poet, songwriter and musician, Mr. Towell’s business card could also include farmer. He was raised in a large rural family in Ontario, and he still grows his own food on a farm that is about 20 miles from his childhood home.

Farming comes in handy as he carefully walks the line between journalism and the art world, living on grants, a few editorial assignments and selling prints and books. He keeps his expenses low and bulk-loads his own black-and-white film. His wife, Ann, processes his black-and-white film. A crowdfunding campaign paid for the final trip to Afghanistan in 2011.

While some people may want to forget the Afghan war, Mr. Towell says he believes that it is vital to examine what happened there despite the lack of news media interest.

“I understand journalists. I’m one of them,” he wrote in his Afghanistan book. “We are particularly vulnerable to the shrinking market, consisting mainly of gratis information, no assignments, and fierce competition from all quarters, especially for freelancers. But people are being sacrificed in America’s name, and we have the duty as human beings to help avoid the shedding of blood. We have the added obligation of scrutinizing the intentions of our political leaders. Our job is to hold them accountable. The danger, therefore, lies in thinking like the military. We need to keep a safe mental distance. We are not in the same war. Ours is a war on reality. The real war is the media war and we are losing the battle.”