Trent Parke, Man vomiting, Gerald #1 2006. From the series Welcome to Nowhere, Type C print. 52 x 65cm, edition of 5 + 2 AP, 114 x 143cm, edition of 5 + 2 AP.
By Robert McFarlane
After six decades, the legendary photojournalism co-operative Magnum has reinvented itself. As magazine markets decline and fine art photography booms, its members now aim as much for art gallery walls as the printed page.
As evidence of this change, young Magnum photographer Alec Soth’s recent New York exhibition successfully sold his colour prints for five figures, with the price of a single print almost equalling Magnum co-founder Robert Capa’s entire fee for his 1947 assignment photographing postwar Russia.
New Blood at Stills Gallery, Sydney, features Soth and four other new members of Magnum Photos, including Trent Parke, the first Australian invited to join the agency. For Parke, membership of Magnum adds further momentum to an already incandescent career.
“This year has been amazing,” he says. “When new members were announced at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (where Magnum was founded 60 years ago) a huge cheer went up and photographer Jim Goldberg tipped a magnum of champagne over me. It was a great moment in my life I’ll never forget.”
“Magnum now has this cultural power. It’s an inspirational place to be where everyone has a new book out and you become very tight with them. They’ve become lifelong friends … a kind of photographic family, I suppose.”
Did Parke pursue membership in Magnum or was he invited? “A bit of both. When Magnum veteran Elliott Erwitt was in Australia he saw my book DREAM/LIFE in a bookshop and left his business card for me. I wouldn’t have had the guts to contact him. The bookshop lost the card but we eventually made contact.
“The good thing about Magnum is that it comes down to the individual. I only take on work that will benefit my style … I can pick and choose and don’t like to go out of my zone, which is Australia – the only place I’m interested in.”
Visitors to Stills Gallery expecting probing, decisive moments with the humanism for which Magnum is famous may be disappointed. Instead, each photographer offers new, very contemporary visions. Soth’s Niagara Falls presents razor sharp social satire, observed not with a Leica but a cumbersome large format view camera. Antoine DAgata pursues his familiar, agonised eroticism while Parke further extends his magical conduit to space, light and luck with an elegant picture of four emus wandering through a caravan park.
Parke appears entranced by such moments. “When they come you know it will never happen again. I jumped out of the car and followed the emus for an hour before they ran into the scrub.”
Of the other photographers, Jonas Bendiksen’s surreal moment as men scavenge through toxic Russian space junk amid a cloud of butterflies was memorable while Mark Power’s ultra-sharp pictures possess delicacy of detail and colour worthy of Paul Klee.
New Blood. Magnum Photos 60th Anniversary is at Stills Gallery, 36 Gosbell Street, Sydney (Paddington), until September 22.