The theme for the latest edition of the Magnum square print sale is ‘Obsessions’. From René Burri’s study of his friend Luis Barragán to Alec Soth’s surreal, mysterious Japanese portrait, here are the ten we want most
Photography powerhouse Magnum’s twice yearly square print sales offer the opportunity to buy a piece of photographic history for just $100. The biggest names in photography, as well as the medium’s rising stars, each contribute one image to the sale, the theme of which this time is Obsessions. Here are ten of our favourite shots.
1. Constantine Manos (above)
Taken from a long-term personal project that resulted in the publication of two photo-books, Constantine Manos’ image for Obsessions was taken during Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 1993. “The mission of the books was not intended to be documentarian, but was meant to capture unique moments that were AMERICAN,” he says. “For me, as a photographer, these were obsessive projects, which I undertook on my own time at my own expense. I believe that obsession is a powerful force that motivates creative people.” New Orleans’ legendary Mardi Gras celebrations incorporate dancing, music, costumes and food and have been honoured since the 1800s, marking one of the most important annual events for the Louisiana city.
2. René Burri
The Casa Luis Barragán in Mexico City is an icon of Modernist architecture, its namesake architect having made innovative use of colour, light and shape in designing the house and studio. Swiss photographer René Burri was taken with Barragán and his work, and photographed the architect many times throughout the 1960s and 70s during which time the two became friends. The clean lines and compelling use of colour that Barragán became known for are encapsulated in this 1976 shot by Burri, which featured in the photographer’s book on the Mexican architect, published in 2000.
3. Bruno Barbey
A rippling, slightly distorted image seen through the clear water of a river on the French island of Réunion shows a boy cleaning his bicycle. Taken by French photographer Bruno Barbey in 1991, the shot is a fleeting, surreal study of youth and nature. “When travelling and photographing, you have to establish human contact while remaining discreet. Luck sometimes plays a role too,” the photographer says. “This boy was cleaning his bicycle in a spring and playing with it; my luck was that he wore green shorts matching the colour of his bike. Photography is the only language that can be understood anywhere in the world.”
4. David Hurn
British photographer David Hurn’s satisfying contribution to the sale was taken in 1980 in Sun City, Arizona. “I am not sure I have ever felt the need to use the word ‘obsession’ – for me, it feels intrinsically unhealthy. But I do like passion, or maybe more accurately, enthusiasm,” he says. “I enjoyed the early morning efforts in Sun City of seniors determined to keep fit, it was totally inspiring. I have photographed the ‘pursuit of health’ many times. It has always put a smile on my face, and a feeling of delight, whilst doing it.”
5. Jim Goldberg
American photographer Jim Goldberg describes feeling compelled to stop “at this strange but evocative bus stop” while travelling Turkey on his honeymoon. There’s a hint of surrealism in the shot, with the stark orange lightbulb hanging down unexpectedly in front of such an extraordinary landscape. Goldberg admits to being “strangely drawn to the banality of the places where people wait”, and finds he has arrived at and photographed bus stops all over the world throughout his career.
6. Sohrab Hura
Indian photographer Sohrab Hura recently collaborated with London-based designer Kiko Kostadinov on a T-shirt and hoodie printed with two of his photographs, released to coincide with Photo London in May. Hura takes photographs in his home country, and has created captivating studies of regions and villages and their inhabitants. Travelling through Kashmir, the photographer and his friend helped to free a bird trapped in snow during a harsh winter. “Photographing animals and birds, along with people, helps me to build a more layered story that I might not be able to express otherwise,” he says (an image of a half-hatched bird was printed on a T-shirt for the Kiko Kostadinov collaboration). “I believe that as much as we affect the environment around us, the environment also affects us back and it is this complex state of being that I’m interested in.”
7. Wayne Miller
American photographer Wayne Miller was married to Joan for 70 years, and though he was widely known for his searing photographs of African-American life in the middling decades of the 20th century, the Millers’ daughter Jeanette comments that Joan was his favourite subject: “Wayne was not obsessed with photographing Joan, his wife, but was compelled… She once said ‘Wayne never did think he did a good job of shooting me’.” The intimate portrait of Joan chosen for Obsessions, taken in 1955, is one of many beautiful shots of Joan by Miller.
8. Alec Soth
Alec Soth’s contribution to the sale is from a trip to Japan undertaken because his favourite photo-book is Ravens by Masahisa Fukase. The hazy portrait depicts the reflection of the Japanese assistant, who did not speak English, that Soth hired for the journey to Hokkaido, the details of her face obscured by lights on the other side of the window. “I was curious to see what would happen spending so much time alone with a person with whom I wasn’t able to communicate,” the photographer says. “She and I took 13 trains together in Hokkaido, but I barely learned anything about her. Looking at pictures of her now is like remembering a dream.”
9. Elliott Erwitt
“I am obsessed with dogs – because they remind me of people but with more hair,” says Elliott Erwitt. The photographer has been capturing dogs throughout his career, honing in on their idiosyncrasies and interactions with humans for decades – he has published five books of his images of dogs. This irreverent shot, taken in Erwitt’s hometown of New York, perfectly encapsulates the spirit of fun with which the photographer has long turned his lens to dogs and their owners.
10. Steve McCurry
Photojournalist Steve McCurry is known for his striking portraiture taken all over the world (his photograph Afghan Girl, taken in 1985 for National Geographic is one of the most recognised shots of recent decades). Having travelled extensively in Tibet, McCurry’s book The Path to Buddha formed a study of Buddhism and the devotion of Tibetans to their religious beliefs, which has remained through immense turmoil. With her intricate outfit and accessories, McCurry’s subject, who was a villager taking part in a traditional horse festival, captures the vibrancy of the Tibetan culture.
Obsessions: Magnum’s Square Print Sale runs from June 10 – 14, 2019. Signed and estate stamped, museum quality, 6x6” prints from over 100 artists will exceptionally be available for $100, for five days only.