BY GARETH SMIT
“There’s no standard way of approaching a story. We have to evoke a situation, a truth,” wrote documentary photography pioneer Henri Cartier-Bresson, “this is the poetry of life’s reality.”
The visual poetry of Cartier-Bresson, one of the founders of Magnum Photos, is featured beautifully in this agency’s latest collection of photographs, A Year in Photography. This 700-page square format pictorial features a curated selection of 365 photographs made by nearly 70 photographers – one for each day of the year.
It would be impossible to pin one kind of aesthetic on such a diverse group of people, but the photographs that emerge from this cooperative generally bear some resemblance. Since its inception, Magnum has provided an international clientele with iconic images that define their eras. A commitment to the process of documentary photography, the agency photographers “chronicle the world and interpret its peoples, events, issues and personalities.”
South Africa’s own Mikhael Subotzky is featured prominently in the book. Subotzky, who was nominated to the prestigious photographic cooperative in 2007 at the age of 26, has consistently been producing impressive bodies of work.
I suppose that once your images appear alongside those of Robert Capa, David Seymour and other photographic giants of history, as his do in this collection, you’re in good company. The confrontational style of his obsession with the ordinary lives of South Africans speaks powerfully about the realities of South Africa.
The spacious and simplistic layout of the book allows each image to speak for itself – a single picture for each double spread avoids clutter. The images collectively span a period of over sixty years and include photographs from all over the world. While, of course, these pictures are incredibly moving, the sequencing seems random. It is unclear what significance is meant by the arrangement of pictures to calendar days; this relationship between date and image seems to be at best arbitrary. Furthermore, very little caption information is provided for each image.
A Year in Photography certainly makes for a beautiful diary, albeit a bit bulky for your briefcase.
Gareth Smit is a photojournalist and AERODROME’s consulting photo director.