Sunday, May 11, 2008

No Pictures at Magnum 60 years!

Apparently, and most of all ironically, if you are caught taking photographs at the Magnum 60 years exhibition at the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum you are likely to incur in serious sanctions, ranging from verbal abuse up to immediate expulsion from the exhibition or indeed the prohibition of ever visiting the museum again. I am of late increasingly angry at the growing photo prohibitionism that seems to be spreading out over the country. More often than ever security people of all kinds approach me and prevent me from doing my work - perfectly innocent unobtrusive architecture or city views in large format - on some legal pretence. Needless to say, such an attitude would have made most of the Magnum photos on display impossible, maybe even mean the kiss of death for all candid photography and photojournalism. You can't have it both ways: either you accept photographers and let them go about their business and get the pictures or you don't and put a blindfold on the medium. You can always punish the "bad guys" later. If you feel that some photographs shouldn't be published take the authors to court, by all means. But now there is a witch hunt atmosphere out there that I find very frustrating, worse than any censorship: we are prevented from working to start with, presumed guilty by suspicion. The camera, especially when on a tripod, is a thorn in the eye of the security man. Now I think that the very censors would be hard put to name what evil exactly could we perform with our photographs, but this doesn't seem to quench their thirst for regulations and limitations nor sooth their rampaging paranoia.

Of course I am aware that the point of the prohibition at the museum is to prevent visitors from taking unauthorized reproduction shots of the work on display, and is therefore meant as a protection of the author rights. Still there is in that respect nothing in there to reproduce, because in a way there are no pictures at the exhibition (!).There are no fine or vintage prints on display, but the all set up is more a multimedia style presentation on huge screens, with beamer projections that could be rewarding in the size of the image, were it not for the clearly visible pixels that make up the photos. Furthermore anyone can see or download every photograph on the Magnum site from his PC at home, much of the work is so well known and widely published that most of us are likely to own a copy of each photograph in some art book already. No, there is nothing to shoot in there, but maybe the visitors, or parts of the set up, or some funny combination that would be interesting and perfectly in the spirit if not at the level of the very Magum heroes that are being celebrated.

Magnum is an institution, part of the history of photography. As Martin Parr puts it, it is a temple (one that he has rocked with his work, being at the same time proud to be a part of it while allegedly himself an agent of its decadence). Problem is, temples are places of worship, and worship is by definition not critical while progress is always to be found in a challenging attitude of research and renewal. Capa and the other founding fathers were in their time adventurous, I suspect nowadays it is a form of conformism that motivates photographers to join. They want to be sacred and established, while I am convinced that young photographers should found their own new agencies and move on boldly. Do not constantly look for granddad’s approval, not even when he was called Cartier Bresson. Respect the past, and move on.

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