In the world of photography, the name Magnum has been synonymous with photojournalism and visual storytelling of the highest caliber, from the agency’s founding in 1947 to the present.
The artists of this world-renowned collective have documented global events, pushed the boundaries of visual language, and fostered photographic dialogues for more than 70 years. In addition to producing a remarkable photographic archive, Magnum Photo recently launched a new section of its website, Magnum Learn, to provide a wide range of educational and professional development opportunities to photographers and passionate amateurs, both online and through face-to-face programs of varying lengths.
Above photograph © Magnum Photos. Magnum photographer Mark Power filming on the streets of Brighton for the Art of Street Photography Online Course
To learn more about Magnum’s global educational outreach, we recently spoke with the London-based Global Director of Magnum Education Shannon Ghannam, and New York-based consultant Amber Terranova, who produced a Professional Practices Workshop for Magnum Education in Jersey City, New Jersey earlier this year.
Jill Waterman: The Magnum website describes Magnum Learn as a “new online learning platform for photography and visual storytelling.” When was this initiative launched and how long has it been in planning stages?
Shannon Ghannam: We spent much of 2018 developing the platform, and the first course “The Art of Street Photography” was launched in December 2018.
JW: How does this new Magnum Learn program compare with past Magnum-run educational efforts/photo workshops?
SG: They are obviously quite distinct offerings, one being online and the other in-person. Online education allows us to bring together the expertise of multiple Magnum photographers, offering viewers the opportunity to observe their working practices both in the field and in their studio, in a cinematic experience. Our in-person workshops allow for personalized time with select Magnum photographers, and helps participants build that crucial support network of peers.
JW: Are there established educational goals or learning outcomes for these new initiatives and, if so, how would such goals be tracked/measured?
SG: When developing The Art of Street Photography, we built out a clear curriculum, consulting with Magnum photographers—many of whom are experienced teachers—as well as our staff, who have a host of knowledge gathered from their experience in education and cultural sectors.
For many people, street photography is an entry point to the medium, therefore we try to cover as much ground as possible across the ten lessons featured in this first course—from the mindset required to push your practice forward, to learning about composition, to strategies for approaching people, to editing and sequencing, and much more. We wanted this course to offer a wide range of advice that can easily be put into practice, while also including assignments and briefs that allow students to immediately put these lessons to use.
This is a new venture for Magnum, and we are taking a phased approach. Initially, these courses are totally on-demand. Students watch at their own convenience, but they can share images made while following the aforementioned assignments via Instagram hashtags.
Ultimately, we are working to develop a community around all our educational offerings, and to foster creativity and continued learning beyond the content of an online course, or live workshops. Watch this space for new developments!
JW: Magnum Learn lists a wide range of hands-on workshops being offered by Magnum photographers in different international locations. Is this an evolving program, and is there a master list of locations where upcoming workshops will be held?
SG: We are committed to making quality education accessible and affordable to the next generation of visual storytellers from across the globe. As a microcosm of the photographic industry and with some 70 years of experience, Magnum Photos provides photographers with truly unique educational and professional development opportunities at different stages in their careers. Activities offer practical, technical and theoretical training to help participants develop their own visual language and the skills required to compete in photography’s ever-changing marketplace. A regularly updated list of our latest workshops is available on the Magnum Learn platform, or via this handy link.
JW: Are additional online courses currently being developed, covering different subjects?
SG: We are working on plans for the next course, but nothing is confirmed just yet.
JW: How long has Magnum been presenting Professional Practice Workshops? Are these a recent expansion of Magnum’s overall Educational Outreach?
SG: We’ve been running these workshops for about 10 years now, mainly out of London. They are one of our most popular offerings, so we’re very happy to be expanding the work we do with our community, and to develop this program in different locations around the world.
JW: Are there prerequisites required of participants in terms of photographic experience or an existing portfolio?
SG: The Professional Practice events are well suited to passionate amateurs, emerging professionals, and professionals alike. Everyone can walk away with practical information that will serve them, as well as inspiration to apply to their image making. Since the weekend is aimed at how to enter a particular aspect of the photography market, it makes sense that the quality of work is of a certain level, and Magnum’s education staff is always happy to advise on whether a particular course is suitable.
JW: In spring 2019, Magnum partnered with the arts organization Mana Contemporary to host a Professional Practices Workshop in New Jersey. How did the partnership come about?
Amber Terranova: It was fairly straight forward, mainly because of a woman who used to work in Magnum’s education department, Song Chong, who is now at Mana Contemporary, and just launched an initiative called Mana Photo. I met her as soon as I started at Magnum, and it was very serendipitous. I was in the process of developing my first project for the education team, and I liked the idea of a program inviting both documentary and fine art practitioners. Song teaches at NYU, and I teach at SVA, so we started talking about photography and education. Eventually, I took a short Path train ride to Mana for a tour of the space. One thing just easily led to the next, and we were able to create a partnership. Mana is particularly interesting because the building is home to all these different disciplines—painting, sculpture, photography, dance, film, sound, and performance.
JW: Where is Mana Contemporary located, and how can you get there?
AT: If you come from Manhattan, and take the Path train to Journal Square, it’s a five-minute taxi ride, or a 10-minute walk from the station. The building is an old tobacco warehouse converted into an art space. It’s exciting to visit this space, which promotes experimentation and collaboration across mediums. With its proximity to Manhattan, it’s easy to attend Mana’s many public art events, or visit the exhibition space with work by Dan Flavin on the first floor.
JW: Can you provide a brief overview of what Gregory Halpern and industry leaders discussed during the workshop?
AT: Each industry leader discussed current projects, and covered themes they are currently researching or interested in exploring. They also described the varied roles they play within their institution or publication, explained what they do on a day-to-day basis, discussed how they identify funding sources to help support projects, and talked about the importance of collaborators to help launch projects. Lastly, they touched on what inspires and excites them about photography right now, referencing examples of projects they’ve worked on and projects they admire.
JW: How was the first day structured, and who were the instructors?
AT: There were five instructors for day one: Gregory Halpern, Paul Moakley, Sarah Meister, Azu Nwagbogu, and Michael Mack. Each presenter lectured for about 45 mins, followed by a group discussion at the end of the day. The idea was to demystify aspects of the industry by hearing directly from the instructors over the course of the workshop. Overall, this accessibility allowed in-depth discussions between the photographers and each leader, enabling participants to understand more clearly what type of professional practices industry professionals look for when working with a photographer, as well as what they don’t like when it comes to working with photographers.
For example, Paul Moakley from TIME shared a bit about how he works on long form stories. He’s directed and produced compelling features such as TIME’s issue, “The Opioid Diaries,” a subject he researched for nearly two years. The magazine ended up in a Senate hearing about health, education, labor, and pensions, and it’s incredibly inspiring to see the video of this publication being presented in the Senate. Not only does Paul bring a wealth of experience from the journalism world, he also serves as caretaker and curator at the Alice Austen House Museum.
Sarah Meister is Curator in the Department of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art. It was interesting to learn about her work as a curator of photography with an art history background, since museums work years in advance to develop their exhibition calendar.
Azu Nwagbogu is the Founder and Director of the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF), a non- profit organization based in Lagos, Nigeria, and he was recently appointed as the Director of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art in South Africa. If you follow him on Instagram, you’ll see that he travels to art exhibitions, shows, and artists’ studios all over the world. It was great to have him on board because he’s not just steeped in photography. He’s looking at everything, from sculpture to painting to performance art to installation, so he brought a really fresh perspective to the panel.
Book publisher Michael Mack presented a lecture considering the role of the book form in contemporary photographic practice, by referencing the books he has designed, edited and published.
And then, of course, the workshop was led by Gregory Halpern, our Magnum headliner. While he teaches regularly at Rochester Institute of Technology, when he posted about the workshop on his Instagram he mentioned that he hasn’t taught a workshop in a while. He wrote, “Join me for the first workshop I’ve done in years. We’ll be talking about process, the nuts and bolts of work, projects, commissions, the mess, and the confusion of making work before it becomes clear and takes shape, among other things.” I think he hits on a note that’s consistent with all our thinking right now, in that we want to offer a platform for everybody to engage in an honest dialog about where they are.
JW: How did the portfolio review sessions work on day two?
AT: The portfolio review critique groups were led by Gregory Halpern, Paul Moakley, Azu Nwagbogu, Song Chong (PhD. Director, Mana Foto) Shannon Ghannam (Global Director, Magnum Education) and me (Michael Mack and Sarah Meister were not present).
Mana is so spacious we were able to split the group of 50 into five small groups of ten. Each participant presented his or her work in two different groups that day — getting feedback from two different instructors. Participants presented for 15 to 20 minutes each, which offered a great opportunity for in-depth critique sessions. To get the most value out of this session, we prepared everyone in advance about what to bring, as well as how to formulate specific questions and talking points. Our goal is always for the photographers to feel confident to immediately dive into the critique of their work.
JW: Are there specific parameters to the size of images or the number of pictures participants can present during a workshop critique session?
AT: We want participants to be able to get feedback on a current project, and not just use the 20 minutes to show all their work, so it’s about finding that fine line between presenting and getting feedback from the instructor and fellow participants. In terms of quantity, somewhere between 15 and 25 images, and for size, no larger than 11 X17”. We’ll also give participants the option to present digital images, but we generally don’t look at websites, since it’s a lot of scrolling, and it can be a little challenging in a group critique.
JW: What do you feel photographers gained from this workshop and what kind of feedback did you receive from participants?
AT: The exciting thing about this specific workshop was the bridging of both fine art and documentary practitioners, from both the industry leader side and the photographer side. The weekend was as valuable for the industry leaders as it was for the photographers in starting an honest dialogue; it gave everyone a platform to share their ideas and thoughts, and to understand important topics within the photo community, while also providing a space to share personal thoughts, as well as challenges. For many attendees, we hope that this leads to tangible working relationships going forward.
Additionally, this was a prime opportunity for us to check in as a community, for the photographers to consider what their current needs are, and how they will move on from the weekend, and produce work over the rest of this year.
We received a lot of positive feedback from the Magnum/Mana masterclass participants. They found the week-long events leading up to the workshop—the AIPAD show and the Aperture party—to provide great added value for networking with the community. During the two-day masterclass, they found the split between the lectures and critiques to be helpful. Some would have preferred lectures and reviews mixed on the same day, so that’s something we’ll take into consideration for future masterclasses.
Here are some comments direct from the participants:
“The instructors really gave their all in explaining their own field of expertise and relating it to the students. Day 2 was useful, as well. The joint portfolio review format was interesting as you take in different viewpoints and allow students to learn from one another.”
"The people! These sorts of things are really made by all the people involved. There wasn't a single moment of pretentiousness (which is not to be expected, but often comes up in a setting when learning about art). Every single person involved with leading, organizing and teaching the workshop was down to earth and approachable. Despite not being in his critique group, Paul Moakley took time in the hall to answer a few of my questions as he was getting ready to go home. This is a very specific example, but this level of generosity was offered from everyone involved.”
“I found it interesting to hear versatile feedback on my personal work from colleagues and Magnum members, it was pretty useful.”
“Having the opportunity to listen to and interact with professionals and industry experts who are currently and actively working in all the areas of photography worldwide.”
JW: Magnum’s three-week documentary photography course with the London College of Communications is now in its fifth year. Can you tell us more about this program, the type of student best suited to attend, and describe the effects it can have?
SG: The Intensive Documentary Photography Course is organized with the London College of Communication (LCC) and held every August in London. The photographers come from all over the world, and their backgrounds vary, but all should feel ready to spend an intensive three weeks learning from Magnum photographers, LCC tutors, and industry experts about visual storytelling, editing, the business side of being a photographer, as well as how to design a ‘zine and present their work to an audience.
According to Magnum photographer and course instructor Chris Steele-Perkins, “People who sign up to a course like this one should expect a lot, but not miracles. It is three weeks out of your lives, not too much, but the idea is to shake you up, make you question your assumptions, expose you to different opinions, learn from each other, not just the tutors, and go beyond your comfort zone. Hopefully what you learn will stay with you longer than the three weeks, and I was delighted to hear that three of last year’s students had gone off traveling together. We can help you to drive better, then it is up to you to find the road you have to travel.”
Stephanie Teng, 2018 LCC x Magnum Photos Documentary Photography Course participant referred to the program as, “a huge catalyst for me, both personally and professionally. It pushed me to challenge the boundaries of what it means to be a visual storyteller. Being in the presence and mentorship of such iconic Magnum photographers gave me the courage and confidence to pursue all these brewing ideas that I've kept hidden out of fear,” she adds. “Not only was the experience instrumental in rekindling my love for photography, but it also helped to redefine my approach to my work. The mark that this course has left on me has truly been invaluable.”
Capped at 22 photographers, the LCC x Magnum Photos Documentary Photography Course is fully booked for the 2019 session, but applications will be open in the fall for next year's intake.
JW: Magnum Education has also partnered with the French Photo School Spéos to hold a one-year Creative Documentary & Photojournalism Course in Paris. How does this program work?
SG: Magnum Photos and Spéos Photo and Video School have partnered to create a unique one-year master class for Creative Documentary & Photojournalism in Paris. This intensive one-year program takes place from September to July and is taught in English. Embedded within the Magnum Photos Paris office, this program allows students a unique learning experience, and features some of the best photographers in the field as tutors.
American photographer Adam DelGiudice, a 2016 Spéos student in Paris, related the following in a recent story about the program, published on the Magnum website. “Some [courses] focused on theory and history, while others might focus on the business of photography. Many were on practice and involved short-term assignments, but all most importantly involved a healthy dose of thoughtful and honest—at times perhaps brutally honest—critique, which proved to be paramount in improving my work.”
To learn more or to apply for this program, click here.
JW: Lastly, Magnum has partnered with a wide range of photography schools and organizations to produce these new education initiatives. Have you also partnered with gear manufacturers or technology companies to produce educational projects?
SG: We work with various partners, and one recent collaboration I would note is the Home project with Fujifilm. In 2017, 16 Magnum photographers were invited by Fujifilm to reflect on this universal theme, in their own style and sensibility, with the same camera, a Fujifilm GFX-50S medium format mirrorless (Thomas Dworzak used a Fujifilm X-100F). “Home,” universally known in English, was chosen precisely for its global nature, and for the inherently human sentiment that it conveys. The camera each photographer used allowed for the discreet, sensitive, and intimate treatment the subject required. We are grateful to Fujifilm for supporting us in providing free public programming in the form of masterclasses, portfolio reviews, artist talks, video presentations, exhibition tours, book signings, and Fujifilm clean and check programs connected to this world-wide touring exhibition.
This project provided Magnum photographers with an ideal pretext to explore a place they held dear, a familial landscape; it was an invitation to look both inward and outward. To some, “home” was the place in which they lived; to others, it was a welcome and peaceful return to their childhood memories. Some chose a distanced visual approach: photographing the geographical space of their home from above or from afar, through majestic landscapes, magical lights, walking through their streets in a Rousseau-like spiritual journey, or embarking on a deeply existential road trip. Others chose to focus on their family, past and future generations, taking this opportunity to draw a portrait of their babies as they were being born, of their aging parents, or their teenage children about to leave the nest. To view a selection of pictures and read more about this project, visit the Magnum website here.
Have you participated in any Magnum Education programs or workshops? If so, tell us about it in the Comments section, below.