Magnum Photos Now @ Barbican

A week ago, Hubbie asked if I were interested in going to a lecture by Christopher Anderson at Barbican. ‘Yeah, I am.’ I answered as I sipped my cappuccino.

The lecture Hubbie was talking about was one of the lecture series, Magnum Photos Now, hosted by the Barbican.

Magnum Photos is a world famous photographic agency which is owned and run by its photographer-members. The agency was founded by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David Seymour on 6th February 1947, shortly after the Second World War. They opened a magnum of champagne to celebrate the occasion and as a result, this new co-operative was named as “Magnum”. One of the co-founders, Henri Cartier-Bresson, eloquently put the esprit de corps of the artist collective as “Magnum is a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually.”

This year, the organisation had become 70 years old and as a part of the celebration, Magnum Photos and the Barbican were hosting a series of lectures.

We arrived at Barbican Centre around 6pm and had a quick bite at a cafeteria within the compound. The sold-out lecture appeared to be very popular and all the people who were milling around the lift hall – the event was to be held in Frobisher Auditorium on the fourth floor – talked excitedly about it.

After queuing for 20 minutes or so, we were finally allowed to proceed to the venue…

Our lecturer was Christopher Anderson. And the subject was about portraiture.

Similar to some of the best known photographers, such as Robert Capa and Don McCullin, Christopher Anderson established his career as a photographer in the early 2000s by covering conflict zones – Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel/Palestine and the resulting works earned him international acclaim and awards.

Since then, he and his subjects have moved closer to home. In his recent project, Stump, which was assigned by Le Monde, he documented the backstage of the 2008 presidential campaign. The result was brutally honest exposure of the American political system, epitomised by the unflattering close-ups of the Washington elites.

Around 7:30pm, Mr.Anderson emerged on the stage and started his talk by saying apologetically, ‘Bear with me until I can wing it.’ And that was exactly what he did.

Unfortunately, the lecture was a flop.

The main problem was how little he was prepared for the talk. He hardly talked anything unique other than jazzing up the sentences with phrases like “Cutting through the noise”, “Emotional quality”, etc. I got increasingly frustrated while he literally “winged it”.

And the lack of chemistry between him and his interviewer, a curator from the National Portrait Gallery also compounded the problem. Can you picture it? While this curator person, rambling away her long abstract questions with her hands flapping like butterfly wings, him, curling up in his chair cross-armed and muttering cagey answers time to time. The way they were made the occasion somehow very awkward for the audience to sit through.

As we left the Barbican, I had to confessed to Hubbie that I was not impressed with the lecture and he agreed. We both agreed that we learnt nothing.

A picture speaks a thousand words. May be Mr.Anderson should have left his photos to do the talking, not himself…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

4 thoughts on “Magnum Photos Now @ Barbican

  1. Oh how disappointing. There is most definitely a skill to lecturing/talking about your work and very, very few people can wing it successfully. And, I have to say that nearly every time I see a video clip of a ‘curator’ talking about art or photography I am amazed anybody wants to go and see the exhibition or show they are pontificating about. They are often so pretentious – and I have a Masters’ in Art History!!!! 🤨

    • We were so looking forward to the lecture! I thought the photographer had a moral obligation to entertain us if he was getting paid. That curator woman didn’t help much but in hindsight, she tried to get something out of the guy’s mouth by firing loads of questions. However, she did so in such a disorganised manner, it just didn’t work. All in all, the lecture was a flop because he didn’t take it seriously and his fake modesty was too apparent. The thing I didn’t understand was why he was so cagey about his works. We weren’t expecting him to divulge his trade secrets but some amusing backstage anecdotes and histories. But he was giving nothing away. I found him utterly disingenuous.😤

      • Maybe it’s the same as with authors these days. It’s part of the deal to get a show or get published. They have to turn up and give talks to publicise their work even if they are rubbish at it and hate doing it.

      • Yeah, you are probably right. He was told to be on the stage and to sit there so he could enjoy the adulation of his fans, etc. However, he is not that big shot (for me anyway). I would have loved to be in the same space with someone like Don McCullin or Sebastiāo Salgado because I really love their works. And I am sure they would never ever wing it like him😡

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