Magnum Manifesto: History through photography

Magnum Manifesto at Rome's Ara Pacis Museum
RUSSIA. Altai Territory. 2000. Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies. Environmentalists fear for the region's future due to the toxic rocket fuel. © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos/Contrasto

The Magnum Photos on display at Rome’s Ara Pacis Museum

The famous images and historical reports of the largest photojournalism agency in the world have arrived to Rome for their 70th anniversary. But the Ara Pacis exhibit takes us beyond photos. It allows us to peak into some of the great minds that have captured our world’s history. Magnum Manifesto seeks to not only have pictures speak for themselves, but unlike the usual photography exhibit, the photographers speak to their work as well. Its aim is to capture the aesthetic and overall mindset behind the creators of each collective.

From the beginning you are introduced to the pillars of this cooperative, Magnum, and its birth; dating back to 1947. It is from this point that you embark on your journey through history. Often times, through photography that is capable of capturing the little corners our eyes never bother to wander to, makes us realize not only how big this world is, but how small we are.

Magnum Manifesto at Rome's Ara Pacis Museum
USA. Washington DC. 1967. An American young girl, Jan Rose KASMIR, confronts the American National Guard outside the Pentagon during the 1967 anti-Vietnam march. This march helped to turn public opinion against the US war in Vietnam. © Marc Riboud/Magnum Photos/Contrasto

This exhibit does just that.

As you walk through the first set of galleries dedicated to “Human Rights and Wrongs,” then through “An Inventory of Differences” and read the descriptions and locations of each photo, you cannot help but feel.

Feel, not only for the person or thing in this photo.

Feel, not simply for this crazy messed up world we live in.

But, feel, for the first time for many, for the onlooker.

Magnum Manifesto at Rome's Ara Pacis Museum
USA. New York City. 1953. © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos/Contrasto

Often when walking through galleries such as this one, we may question the photographer’s ability to witness such horrors and joys from such a detached distance. What makes this exhibit the gem that it is, is that we no longer have to wonder! Or at least not as much as we had to before. Finally, we are gifted with glimpses into not only the minds of these artists and their mental processes while developing these collectives, but in some cases, their hearts.

One collective in the section “Stories about Endings” featured a woman named TJ who was a drug addict and prostitute. In the anecdote for these photos the photographer talks about how he tried to be a guardian for her and wanted to help her so badly. And for many observers, such as myself, this was the first time that not only was the photo itself observable art, but the words behind it as well.

Magnum Manifesto at Rome's Ara Pacis Museum
USA. Barton, Vermont. Shortie, 1974
© Susan Meiselas / Magnum Photos/Contrasto

We commend these artists for capturing some of the most essential, heartbreaking, and breathtaking moments in history, known and unknown. But what we should also be commending them for, and what this exhibit illuminates, is their remarkable ability to live through these moments and not only capture the emotions of the contexts but of themselves, of the onlooker.

Till 3 June

Museo dell’Ara Pacis

Lungotevere in Augusta

Open everyday from 9.30am – 7.30pm

Entry fee: €9-11

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