So I’ve been meaning to post for a couple days now, since attending the Magnum @ 60 seminar on Saturday at the New York Public Library, part of Magnum’s 60th anniversary festival. The panel discussion was a pleasure, as it put in conversation four of the agency’s best respected and most eloquent photographers–Susan Meiselas, Larry Towell, Gilles Peress, and Phillip Jones Griffiths–along with documentary film maker Keith Beauchamps who valiantly held his own as the lone panelist who was younger than 40, not white, not a photographer, and not a member of Magnum. It was so enjoyable to hear them debate because, although they tackled topics that have been thoroughly hashed over on every photography forum–the photographer’s responsibility, the malleability of digital images, the changing role of agencies–they tackled them with the combined knowledge of a century of image taking and nearly that much time sitting around discussing exactly these points with other photographers.
The thing that finally drove me to write, though, was something that Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey said at tonight’s Magnum Festival event, Drinks with Magnum at The Half King in Chelsea. It’s all about authorship, was Harvey’s easily put but infrequently achieved advice. “You have to have something to say.” And that got me thinking, again, about Larry Towell’s complaint that during the open portfolio reviews Magnum held last weekend, he saw way too many photographers who didn’t know how to tell a story. “There was no thread, no consistency, and very little purpose,” was his assessment…much like the “avalanche of images” that the Magnum photographers also complained about. The AP, Towell told the audience, sent NO photographers to the affected areas when the tsunami hit Indonesia. Instead, it handed out digital cameras to people on the ground (if anyone can verify this, I’d love to know more about it). “There were lots of pictures,” he said. “But I don’t remember any of them.”