Come again? | Magnum Photos


How do you explain your shared fascination with amateur photography?

MP When I Was Young, the book by Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel proof (1977) was a revelation. The two married their own experimental images with selected images from American archives: traffic, energy, aviation, police. In the book, they were taken out of context, with no captions or dates. How could amateur photographers take such extraordinary pictures? I was very impressed by the book.

I love the principle and spirit of indigenous photography. I’m interested in the relationship between subject and photographer – it’s straightforward, unpretentious. Just the act of photographing, with no preconceived goals or ideas.

It is very difficult to take good photos of everyday life. I like to try that, it motivates me to be out and about with my camera. There’s no guarantee you’ll get a good picture, but there’s always a chance you’ll be pleasantly surprised. You have to work hard and take a lot of bad pictures before you get a good one. And I’ve taken a lot of bad ones, believe me!

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What makes a good photo?

MP A good photo is an image that tells a story, that has an energy that draws you, the viewer, in.

But like I said, it’s something that’s very hard to pin down. If I had the perfect formula, I probably wouldn’t be a photographer anymore! Good photos cannot be made to order. You cannot predict where and how a photo will come to you. That’s the magic of photography. Taking photos is not the most important thing. Anyone can take photos these days. Being a photographer means knowing how to choose an image. right, lee?

LS Absolutely. The editing process and the selection of the images are fundamental for me. Everyone is talking about the shoot, the crucial moment when the photographer captures an image. But what comes next, the selection process, is just as precious and delicate. Picking out the gems from a mountain of images is my daily work. When I choose a photo, I have no idea if it’s good because the author was a professional or because he just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

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And in the end it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re lucky enough to have the image right in front of your eyes. Creating and producing a photo depends on the meager of circumstances (like being in a good mood with a decent cup of coffee). It’s all about the moment. Martin’s closeup of the sandals is such a good photo – it’s one of my favorites. In response, I suggested an image with a much wider angle, where we see a man wearing the same type of shoes. Like two different takes from the same film: There is a sense of movement, of a story being told.

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And then again, what makes a bad photo?

MP A photo without energy! Today there are too many pretentious images based on concepts learned in art school lectures. A photo should come from the bottom of your heart.

LS Absolutely. What the purists might dismiss as a bad photo works when it authentically captures the moment. I love it when a hand, arm or object accidentally enters the frame. It’s the accident that gives the shot its energy. It doesn’t matter if it’s fuzzy or badly composed. Never try to redesign a composition by cropping it. It will lose all of its originality and spontaneity – its honesty.



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