Magnum Learn Offers Photo Education with a Global Reach

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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 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 photographer Mark Power filming on the streets of Brighton for the Art of Street Photography Online Course.
Photograph © Magnum Photos


To learn more about Magnum’s global educational outreach, we recently spoke with London-based Global Director of Magnum Education Shannon Ghannam, and New York-based Consultant Amber Terranova, who is producing Magnum Education’s latest Professional Practices Workshop, in Jersey City, New Jersey, on the weekend of April 5 – 7.

Image from Gregory Halpern’s book ZZYZY, published by Mack Books. Halpern leads Magnum’s upcoming Professional Practices Workshop at Mana Contemporary, April 5 – 7.Gregory Halpern / Magnum Photos

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.

Xavier Barral, publisher of Editions Xavier Barral, doing portfolio reviews, in Paris, with Patrick Zachmann.Patrick Zachmann / Magnum Photos

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!

Video trailer from the Art of Street Photography Online Course.Magnum Photos

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.

Shoair Mavlian, former assistant curator at Tate Modern, and now Director of Photoworks, leading portfolio reviews during a Professional Practice weekend workshop.Coline Plançon

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.

People congregate outside the entrance to Mana Contemporary, Jersey City, NJ. Photograph courtesy of Mana Contemporary

JW: Magnum is partnering with the arts organization Mana Contemporary to host a Professional Practices Workshop, in New Jersey, on April 5 - 7. How did the partnership come about?

Amber Terranova: It was fairly straightforward, 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 [in Jersey City], 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.

Image from Professional Practices workshop attendee David Rothenberg’s series Landing Lights Park (2018), which puts into focus the New York neighborhood of East Elmhurst, Queens, under the whining roar and shadows of inbound jetliners landing at LaGuardia Airport.David Rothenberg

JW: Can you provide a brief overview of what Gregory Halpern and industry leaders will discuss during the upcoming workshop?

AT: Each industry leader will discuss current projects, and cover themes they are currently researching or interested in exploring. They’ll also describe the varied roles they play within their institution or publication, explain what they do on a day-to-day basis, how they identify funding sources to help support projects, and talk about the importance of collaborators to help launch projects. Lastly, they’ll touch on what inspires and excites them about photography right now, referencing examples of projects they’ve worked on and projects they admire.

JW: How will the first day be structured, and who are the instructors?

AT: There will be five instructors for day one: Gregory Halpern, Paul Moakley, Sarah Meister, Azu Nwagbogu, and Michael Mack. Each presenter will lecture for about 45 mins, followed by a group discussion at the end of the day. The idea is to demystify aspects of the industry by hearing directly from the instructors over the course of the workshop. Overall, this accessibility will allow in-depth discussions between the photographers and each leader. Participants can 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.

Two images from Professional Practices workshop attendee Caroline Goessling’s series See Don’t See, an ongoing, experimental documentary about Malden, Missouri, and an investigation of rural life in a post-Trump world.  Caroline Goessling

For example, Paul Moakley, from TIME, will share 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 [in Staten Island, NY].

Sarah Meister is Curator in the Department of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art. It will be 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. Hopefully we’ll hear about that process.

Azu Nwagbogu is the Founder and Director of the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF), a non- profit organization based in Lagos, Nigeria. 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’s 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 brings a really fresh perspective to the panel.

Book publisher Michael Mack will present 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, we have Gregory Halpern, our Magnum headliner, he’s leading the workshop. 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.

Installation view of Professional Practices workshop attendee Stefen Chow’s project Equivalence - The Ecological Footprint of Fish, 2017, commissioned by Greenpeace and created in collaboration with his wife, Huiyi LinChow & Lin

JW: How will the portfolio review sessions work on day two?

AT: On Sunday, April 7, Gregory Halpern, Paul Moakley, Azu Nwagbogu, Song Chong (PhD. Director, Mana Foto) Shannon Ghannam (Global Director, Magnum Education) and I will lead the portfolio review critique groups (Michael Mack and Sarah Meister will not be present).

Mana is so spacious we’re able to split the group of 50 into five small groups of ten. Each participant will present his or her work in two different groups that day— so they’ll get two different instructors. Participants will present for 15 to 20 minutes each, which offers a great opportunity for in-depth critique sessions. I’m preparing everyone in advance, so the participants will know to bring prints, and to consider specific questions and talking points. To get the most value out of this session, we want 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 show?

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 I don’t think we’ll look at websites, since it’s a lot of scrolling, and it can be a little challenging in a group critique.

Image from Professional Practices workshop attendee Inga Hedrickson’s series Color of Ripe; Color of Decay, which uses fruit still lives to explore the experience of time: the weight of time, and the urgency of the now.Inga Hendrickson

JW: What do you anticipate photographers will gain from this workshop?

AT: What’s exciting about this specific workshop is the bridging of both fine art and documentary practitioners, from both the industry leader side and the photographer side.

The weekend will be as valuable for the industry leaders as it is for the photographers in starting an honest dialogue; it will give everyone a platform to share their ideas and thoughts, and understand important topics within the photo community, while also providing a space to share personal thoughts, as well as challenges. For many attendees, we also hope that this may lead to tangible working relationships going forward.

It’s also 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.

JW: Tell me about the invite to Aperture’s spring party and access to the Photography Show organized by the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD).

AT: Yes, AIPAD is one of our partners, so they’re offering participants access to the opening night on Wednesday, April 3, and a one-day complimentary pass for April 4or 5. It’s a great opportunity for the participants to not only talk about their work in depth over the weekend, but also to network, and put their finger on the pulse of the art world. And for another way of welcoming everyone, we are including a ticket to the Aperture Spring Party on Friday night. We thought it made perfect sense to join forces with Aperture rather than to have our own party. And it’s all included in the workshop fee.

Detail shot of portfolio reviewsColine Plançon

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.”

The LCC x Magnum Photos Documentary Photography Course is open to 22 photographers, and applications are currently open for 2019, scheduled to run from August 1 to 21.

Course participants, Magnum photographers Stuart Franklin and Chris Steele-Perkins and LCC tutor Max Houghton on the last day of the 2018 Intensive Documentary Photography Course in London.Unai Lopez

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.

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