Founded 75 years ago, Magnum Photos is steeped in photographic tradition, and its members are particularly recognized for their documentation of daily life from many angles, from seemingly mundane street scenes to areas of very busy war.
Foam in Amsterdam, which organizes a Magnum photography exhibition, is the first to admit that even members of the cooperative rarely promote the commercial side of their practice, although most of them engage in this world at some point. given of their career.
Sure, there are the likes of Martin Parr, who gleefully leans into the brash qualities of consumerism and commerce, but overall the aura of prestige that surrounds Magnum may seem at odds with the world of commissioned labor. , a byproduct of the perceived inferiority of paid commercial projects since photography was recognized as an art form.
The exhibition, titled Open for Business – Magnum Photographers on Assignment, brings together members’ commissioned work from the 1950s to 2019. Not only does it dig into Magnum’s vast archive for lesser-known photographs, it also sheds light on the relationship between the two worlds.
Alongside fashion magazine editorials are assignments for government bodies and NGOs, illustrating that a commission can lead photographers into equally serious or poignant territory, and that indeed boundaries are often blurred. between how we receive an image depending on the circumstances that led to its existence.
Can a work still be qualified as documentary photography if an image creator arrives with a diary? Does an independent project inherently make more sense than a commission, even if both deal with exactly the same subject? And how does the artistic sensibility of a photographer evolve according to the context of the image? This is the question raised by Bruce Gilden in turning his infamously ruthless flashgun approach to Gucci models rather than the vulnerable people on the margins of society who typically populate his work.
These and other questions are raised by Foam’s exhibition, which examines the complexity of the photography industry today, as it becomes increasingly difficult to separate its different categories and most photographers have to accept commercial work to survive. .
Magnum: Open for Business takes place at Foam, Amsterdam from May 27 to September 7; mousse.org