Magnum Photos: The Gold Standard for Photojournalism

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Magnum Photos: The Gold Standard for Photojournalism
A photojournalist’s job is to tell a story with pictures, articulating the truth with images captured with a camera. The first person to prove a picture was worth a thousand words was Roger Fenton (1819-1869), who pioneered photojournalism in the field during the Crimean War (1853-1856). He is recognized as the first official war photographer to gather images for the Illustrated London News, visually conveying the horrific effects of military conflict to a mass audience. During the American Civil War, Matthew Brady captured images of camp and battlefield life for Harper’s Weekly. By the early 1920s technological advances allowed social documentary photojournalism to flourish, enabling candid photographs of daily life to be depicted by some of the most formidable talents of the day, such as Jacob Riis, Margaret Bourke-White, and Dorothea Lange. Between the 1930s to the 1970s photojournalism reached its apex. Technology and public enthusiasm, combined with innovations like light sensitive film, the flash bulb, and the compact 35mm camera, made photography more portable than ever. Photo-driven periodicals such as LIFE magazine employed large staffs of photographers and used the photo essay as a means of telling important stories about contemporary society. It was in Paris, in 1947, that photojournalists Robert Capa, David “Chim” Seymour, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and William Vandivert founded Magnum Photos. Photographer Robert Capa during the Spanish civil war, May 1937. Captured by Gerda Taro. Photo credit © Wikipedia, public domain The story of Magnum begins with Robert Capa (1913-1954), born Endre Friedmann on the Pest side of Budapest, Hungary, into a middle-class, Jewish family. At the age of 18, he was forced into exile for his leftist beliefs and settled in Berlin. Forsaking his journalism studies at university, he found work as a darkroom assistant, teaching himself to take photographs with a Leica camera. Capa’s first big assignment was to photograph Leon Trotsky at a lecture in Copenhagen. The Trotsky images were part of a magazine story that earned him his first photo credits. His photographs of the exhausted, troubled-looking Trotsky were stand-outs. With the rise of Hitler’s Nazi party, Capa was once again forced into exile, moving to Paris in 1933. It was at the café Le Dôme in Montmartre that he met David “Chim” Seymour (born David Szymin), a Polish photographer working for Paris Soir and Regards, who later introduced him to the artist-photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Capa and his partner, Gerda Taro (a Swiss photojournalist who fled Germany the previous year), Chim, and Cartier-Bresson brought their cameras to the frontlines of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Capa’s “The Falling Soldier” is one of his most iconic photographs and remains an unsurpassed image of war. A Spanish government minister of the 1990s described it as “…a universal icon… on a par with Picasso’s Guernica.”  While Capa traveled back to Paris for work in July 1937, Taro died tragically when the car she was traveling in was crushed by a tank. She is considered the first female photojournalist to die while covering a war. In 1938 Cartier-Bresson traveled to London on assignment for Ce Soir to cover the coronation of King George VI, and in 1939 Chim moved to Mexico on assignment for Paris Match.
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Lead photo credit : A picture of refugees taken by Capa. Robert Capa - International Center of Photography / MAGNUM. Photo credit © Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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Sue Aran lives in the Gers department of southwest France. She is the owner of French Country Adventures, which provides private, personally-guided, small-group food & wine adventures into Gascony, the Pays Basque and Provence. She writes a monthly blog about her life in France and is a contributor to Bonjour Paris and France Today magazines.

Comments

  • Chip Corley
    2021-01-20 10:22:14
    Chip Corley
    Hi Sue, Stumbled into this catching up on Bonjour Paris. Very interesting as usual! Anything more coming? Bonne Annee Chip

    REPLY

    • Susan Aran
      2021-01-21 04:19:29
      Susan Aran
      Thanks for taking the time to read the article, Chip. It's always a pleasure to hear from you. Bonne année aussi avec grosses bises à tu et Marti.

      REPLY

  • Lauren Golden
    2021-01-11 04:37:03
    Lauren Golden
    Fabulous article. I was mesmerized by the photos. Thank you.

    REPLY

    • Sue Aran
      2021-01-12 06:53:01
      Sue Aran
      Hello Lauren, thanks for your comments. Have you looked at the Magnum website? There are more wonderful photos there. Kind regards, Sue

      REPLY

  • Fern Nesson
    2021-01-09 06:36:27
    Fern Nesson
    A lovely article, Sue. So glad to encounter another take on photoraphy in Bonjour Paris!

    REPLY

    • Sue Aran
      2021-01-12 06:53:59
      Sue Aran
      Thanks you Fern! I'm delighted you liked the article. Best, Sue

      REPLY