PhotoEx Symposium Kicked Off with a Challenge and a Call to Action

Susan Meiselas, Magnum Foundation president, speaks to imagining, collaborating and continually growing in her opening remarks.

“You’re going to hear the word ‘impact’ a lot today,” said Amy Yenkin of the Open Society Foundations, beginning the weekend of rule breaking, standard-challenging and value-reinforcing ideas and conversations at the Magnum Foundation’s 2nd annual Photography, Expanded (PhotoEx) symposium with a call to action.

“It’s a vague term, and it’s also scary, because it suggests that we should be able to prove that something changed because of something you created. That’s not realistic,” she said. “Try to understand the contributions you’re making to larger social movements, and understand that progress takes time, and rarely moves in one direction. Set clear and attainable goals, figure out what near-term success would look like, identify who you’re trying to reach specifically, and then determine the best way to reach them.”

Impact, as multiple presenters of the day would attest to, is the core of the work they do. From the guerilla photojournalism of Benjamin Girette and Pierre Terdjman’s #Dysturb project to Thenmozi Soundararajan’s cross-media crusade against caste-based sexual violence in India and Nonny de la Peña’s cutting-edge and controversial immersive journalism via virtual reality, the presenters at PhotoEx inspired an important dialogue with each other and with the crowd that would carry throughout the weekend. 


#Dysturb case study presentation

Anticipating some of the major themes that would arise over the presentations, case studies and Q&A’s to follow, Yenkin went on to stress that while digital media has undeniably presented a multitude of opportunities for people to tell stories, a true challenge is to identify which platforms carry a story in a way that truly resonates. 

“Technology is dramatically changing and collapsing these processes of sourcing, producing and disseminating stories,” said Tim Marshall, of the Parsons New School for Design, which hosted the event. “This presents a great opportunity for photographers and others to have greater impact in terms of collaborating closer to the source of the work that they’re doing, rather than just feeding images upstream and seeing what’s made of them.”

Magnum Foundation launched Photography, Expanded in 2012 to bring the ever expanding world of visual story tellers and creative technologists together to tackle, as a team, the most pressing challenges and prevalent concerns amidst a constantly fluctuating media landscape. Wendy Levy of the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture and the official symposium moderator said that by embracing the idea of cross-media collaboration, and fostering an environment where the story dictates the story-telling techniques, photographers and other visual documentarians could gain a deeper, more fluid understanding of their own place in the field and how to best position themselves to make the changes they saw in the initial development of their projects materialize in real-time.

Susan Meiselas, President of the Magnum Foundation and a practitioner herself who has personally faced many of the challenges that the PhotoEx consortium turned out en mass to discuss, reinforced the early themes of the event, and ended with a simple, yet powerful agenda for the audience to tackle.

“We are a growing community of dedicated photographers, but we also know how much more perspective we need. We’re growing and expanding, and we know how meager the support is to sustain the commitment we need,” she said. “Today is about thinking together, imagining more, and being inspired.”

This is the first post in a series that will recap and reconsider the issues and ideas presented at PhotoEx. Our next post will feature highlights from Case Study Presentations by Pierre Terdjman and Benjamin Girette, Zohar Kfir, Elaine McMillion Sheldon, and Nonny de la Peña.

Written by Krystal Grow

Krystal Grow is an arts writer, photo editor and producer based in New York. She has written for TIME LightBox, the New York Times Lens blogVocativ.comStranger Than Fiction, and the DOC NYC film festival. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale.

Simone Salvo