Magnum Foundation’s programming provides space for socially engaged and community-based image-makers to meet, exchange ideas, and learn about emerging digital tools and platforms for increasing the impact of their work. Through grantmaking, mentorship, events, and hands-on laboratories, we see how collaboration greatly expands the potential for photography as a medium and what it can achieve.
Experimenting across disciplines
Over the past year, we've implemented an experimental pilot program exploring collaborative approaches to visual storytelling. As a part of this program, we made production grants to five interdisciplinary teams of photographers, writers, academics, and creative technologists to work together on the topic of religion in Iran, France, Mexico, Palestine/Israel, and the United States. A crucial part of this program has been intensive workshopping, where the grantee teams have gathered together in New York to work with advisors, mentors, and invited experts. With process at the forefront, the stories have taken on such varied forms as public installations, archival web platforms, and interactive multimedia sites.
Three of the teams presented at a full-day public symposium we held in June. Centered around the theme of collaboration, we had over thirty creative practitioners leading presentations and discussions exploring collectivity, authorship, and participation in documentary practice. They inspired deep thinking on what it means for photographers, organizers, and activists to partner with other makers, their subjects and constituents, and the public. What emerged from the day was a theme of reflecting on and reevaluating historical frameworks and long-held, dominant narratives.
Fostering communities of support
Last year, against the backdrop of increased xenophobia and sectarian conflict, our Photography and Social Justice fellows approached us with an urgency to point to instances of people coming together. Seeing an opportunity for a collective project, we brought together nine former fellows from across the six years of programming to work in concert on stories in their home countries of Iran, Ukraine, Slovenia, Syria, India, Ecuador, China, and the Philippines. Each fellow looked to local examples of bridge-building among communities that are often seen in conflict with one another, which together offers a visual entry point for tackling issues of global relevance. Using photography, video, and audio, the multimedia, the What Works stories live together as one video that can be screened anywhere with an educational toolkit that the fellows also collaborated on. The project has been shown in Ecuador, Egypt, Ukraine, China, and Cambodia, and was exhibited at the Bronx Documentary Center just after the United States presidential election.
In addition to extending project development support for our grantees and fellows, we put on concept-driven laboratories for a wider group practitioners. We produce these labs in partnership with other organizations and institutions that can offer specialized expertise and invite facilitators and advisors that span the fields of academia, technology, policy, and beyond.
On such themes as data security, digital interventions, and augmented reality, participating photographers are able to work closely with coders, designers, and engagement strategists to most creatively and effectively push their projects beyond the still image. Oftentimes, these labs are a catalyst for new collaborative projects and partnerships.
Inviting participation and engagement
As a part of our development laboratories, we often lend more formal support to second-stage projects, helping to produce exhibitions or opportunities for public engagement. Last fall, investigative reporter Lisa Riordan Seville and photo editor Zara Katz brought together photographs, text, video, and data to paint a picture of the female family members who must pick up the pieces when a loved one is incarcerated. As a part of their process, they held gatherings and workshops with women who travel great distances across Pennsylvania to maintain ties with their brothers, fathers, boyfriends, and husbands. When we exhibited Women on the Outside at a festival in 2016, the women featured in the project made the trip out to Brooklyn to experience their stories through the lens of the public. “It feels so good to see everyone reading our stories,” they exclaimed. At the Magnum Foundation, we encourage grantees to be thoughtful and intentional about who the work is being made for, and where and how it will be seen.
Magnum Foundation believes in making photography accessible. Through public, visual interventions, we can transform the streets from spaces of passivity and transit to sites of engagement. For the COP21 Climate Change Summit in Paris, we collaborated with the grassroots photojournalism collective #Dysturb to challenge the stereotypical notions of what climate change looks like and deepen perceptions of its implications. Together, we curated 25 images from 17 countries around the world and adhered them to public facing buildings and facades throughout the city. Deferring to climate experts, we invited researchers from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies to draw from their work on climate resilience, environmental justice, and urban governance, and to distill their findings into facts to be matched with each image. Each pasting also included a prompt for a text-messaging interaction developed by students and research residents at the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at NYU Tisch, which triggered a phone call for viewers to hear the story behind the image directly from the photographer.