War photographer Robert Capa famously said “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Those words would influence generations of photographers, including the members of Magnum Photos, the cooperative agency that Capa cofounded.
70 years later, the prestigious agency’s photographers are reexamining their own work and reflecting on what it means to “get closer.”
Some of the photographers take Capa’s advice literally — Martin Parr’s images are defined by a brazen, uncomfortable proximity to his subjects.
Other artists prefer to think of “closer” in terms of intimacy, contributing work around highly personal subjects and long-term connection. Chien-Chi Chang notes that “An honest portrait requires more than proximity. It requires trust, which takes time.”
Even photographers who take the maxim to heart admit that sometimes the closest image is not the best — Jonas Bendiksen’s distant photo of boys ripping parts from a crashed spacecraft gains its otherworldly quality from his telephoto lens compressing dozens of butterflies into the frame.
And sometimes getting closer means cleaving away context and perspective. Reflecting on combat photography, Jérôme Sessini says, “I think distance allows more space for reflection on complex subjects, and avoids angelism and simplism.”
Of course, when on assignment, closeness is also matter of practicality. While photographing the Beatles, one of David Hurn’s chief concerns was “at what distance can you get all four into the picture?”
For five days only, June 5-9, Magnum is holding a square print sale of images chosen by photographers around the theme of “closer.”
For $100, people can purchase signed or estate-stamped 6×6 inch archival prints of over 70 different images from the Magnum archives.
Some of the images from the sale can also be seen in person at Magnum Manifesto, a comprehensive retrospective of the agency, on view at the International Center of Photography in New York through Sept. 3, 2017.