Magnum Streetwise is one of the most exciting street photography books of 2019 and one of my workshop students, Neil Goodwin, has kindly written a comprehensive review of it. I was very lucky to have received a copy of this as a Christmas present and can’t wait to get stuck into it. In the meantime, here’s what Neil has to say about the book . . .
Described as the definitive collection of street photography from
Magnum Photos, this book examines the approach and work of
thirty photographers, explores four international cities as photography
venues and offers lots of opinion and comment. Magnum reminds us that we
are currently enjoying a second golden age of street photography,
following that of the 1950s and ‘60s. We’re also reminded that street
photography hasn’t stood still, and Martin Parr and Bruce Davidson are
quoted as photographers who rebelled against the old order established
by Magnum founder Cartier-Bresson. And if we want to explore the
constant reinventions of street photography over the last forty years
then we should start with Parr.
The book raises questions that we often debate in StreetSnappers, for example why do street photographs have to be taken on the street (they don’t); should we crop (yes, for artistic reasons); and is the debate about colour vs black and white in street photography relatively new (no, apparently Cartier-Bresson viewed colour as vulgar and commercial whilst Bruce Davidson discusses his use of colour when photographing Welsh mining towns in 1965).
The emotional or empathetic aspects of photography is discussed. As Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian, who became a Magnum nominee in 2015, said, ‘As I developed… I realised that I was really interested in trying to capture people’s emotions’, what other photographers describe as capturing the human condition. There is also reference to film vs digital. Alex Webb comments that although he switched completely to digital, he still responds to the world in the same way he did with film, with the same spirit and techniques; reflecting Cartier-Bresson’s view that, ‘It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera… they are made with the eye, heart and head.’
The book emphasises the importance for street photographers to be streetwise, which isn’t just about being safe on the streets but also developing an intuitive sense of the immediate environment and the people in it. It’s argued that for the truly committed street photographer, acting suspiciously is an occupational hazard, rewarding gamblers and those with sharp elbows!
The four great world cities that have dominated street photography and the history of Magnum – Paris, New York, London and Tokyo – are discussed to identity the themes that have attracted photographers to them over the decades. But this is not a book about the technical approaches to street photography. What it shows through the collection of images is how those approaches have been used, stretched, challenged and sometimes overturned. And in that regard, it’s a book for both the novice and the experienced photographer; both can learn from the book’s extensive collection of black and white and colour pictures.
In their own way, each photographer’s work will make you think, reminding us that exploring the work of others is as important as getting out on the streets. There’s lots to analyse, to appreciate, to learn from and perhaps above else, to conclude that the standards set by these great Magnum photographers are within our own grasp if we’re prepared to put in the time, effort and practice.
You can find out more about Neil and his work here:
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