Glass in Exile: Magnum x Canon at Visa Pour L’Image, Perpignan

“DON’T fidget, get moving!” Robert Capa’s advice for fellow photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson to do away with surrealism and attend to what matters led to the birth of Magnum about a hundred years ago, and has left its imprint on the group ever since. The world as it was had enough absurdity to offer in 1947 and unfortunately things have not changed for the better since.

Today, Magnum must be seen as the world’s collective visual conscience, and where it points its lenses at it hurts a lot. True to its inaugural pragmatic mantra, Exile, Magnum’s presentation at this year’s Visa Pour L’Image Canon space in Perpignan bears no embellishment or pretension. Instead, a well-lit tour the force parades the darkest corners of our world in a few neat rows. And these corners are quite literally those of our living rooms, independently from where that geographically may be.

Le Campo Santo at Visa Pour L'Image, Perpignan 2016 © Mazen SaggarLe Campo Santo at Visa Pour L’Image, Perpignan 2016 © Mazen Saggar

Migration has been part of the human story from its very beginning and it is with sadness, anger, outrange or despair when the world tries to come to terms with the fact that the greatest suffering is induced to those who got moving, by those who fidget about in misguided attempts to prevent them to cross borders, designed to keep the suffering on the other side of the fence. As an unintentional epigraph to Paul Fusco’s reportage about displaced Mexicans on the run in Altamirano, Donald Trump announces to deport millions in his first hours in office, following a visit to Mexico coinciding with the gathering in Perpignan.

With his aggressive rhetoric Trump joins the long row of villains who scapegoat migrants in political manoeuvres, the absurdity and recklessness of which couldn’t become more obvious than against the backdrop of the images submitted by Chris Steele-Perkins of food lines with thousands of refugees waiting for food distribution in the Jordan desert, or the fragility of refugees in a village shelled for several weeks by security forces in Macedonia and a displaced family in a camp in Sleptzovsk, Ingushetia, as documented by Thomas Dworzak.

Exile as a whole is a cold shower to the political hothouse the international debate about migration has become and the publication of Magnum’s book Europa – An Illustrated Introduction to Europe for Migrants and Refugees later this year should make for an equally chilling read.

South Sudanese displaced. Most of the malnourished children are too weak to walk the 300m to the feeding center and have to be carried there. Kosti. Sudan. 1988 © John Vink_Magnum PhotosSouth Sudanese displaced. Most of the malnourished children are too weak to walk the 300m to the feeding
centre and have to be carried there. Kosti. Sudan. 1988 © John Vink Magnum Photos

The positioning of the entire display within the technical showroom of Canon’s latest gear prompts the question about the aesthetic qualities and impact of images in a world swamped by visual material of ever advancing digital finesse. It is tempting to take the presence of John Vink’s overwhelmingly powerful imagery for an answer here. Reporting from Kosti, Sudan, in 1988, Vink tells of the human tragedy of malnourished children too weak to walk the way to a feeding centre.

Horror and grace in equal measure are distilled into one striking image that you will not forget in a lifetime. Rivalling everything else in the entire festival in terms of composition and story telling, the image is as subtle and unobtrusive as one can only wish for – not even a face is shown – while its analogue craftsmanship free from digital gloss carries all the force and grit.

Sleptzovsk, Ingushetia, Chechnya. 03_2002 © Thomas Dworvak _ Magnum PhotosSleptzovsk, Ingushetia, Chechnya. 03_2002 © Thomas Dworvak Magnum Photos

This is not to say the contemporary runners up are made of much weaker stuff either. Far from it. Pretty much every where you turn the high quality of the presentation rivals the profound sadness of the underlying subject. Anastasia Rudenko is the winner of the Canon Female Photojournalist Award 2015 and her documentation of visits to institutions for mentally dysfunctional patients in Russia, and those “likely to run away and get lost”, is certainly so hard to take in that it appeared a brave thing if Elle Magazine, who support the award, have let it loose onto their readers. They might have done so, but the utter hopelessness wrapped in candy colours of a fairy tale gone wrong appears more surrealistic than Cartier-Bresson could have asked for before co-founding Magnum Photos.

Juan Arredondo has been awarded the Humanitarian Visa D’Or of the International Committee of the Red Cross this year for his investigation into the displacement of people during the armed conflict between army and rebel groups in Colombia. His exhibition more than anything else brings home the devastating truth that it is the children again and again that pay the bill in these stupid games of politics and war. What does a peace process, incidentally coming into power on the day of the opening of the exhibition, do to and for those child soldiers Arredondo depicts in small format monochromes? One glance shows you that they have been through more than a thousand pictures can tell already.

A Syrian with his two children struggling to disembark after crossing from Turkey. Island of Lesbos, September 24, 2015. © Yannis Behrakis _ ReutersA Syrian with his two children struggling to disembark after crossing from Turkey.
The Island of Lesbos, September 24, 2015. © Yannis Behrakis Reuters

The suffering of the most vulnerable and young is what lends this encounter in Perpignan its sombre tone. It is a story corroborated by Yannis Behrakis’s picture of a Syrian father struggling to carry his two young ones off a boat after the dangerous passage from Turkey to the island Lesbos, knowing that their real ordeal is only beginning now that they are on supposedly secure land. And by Peter Bauza, whose look into the environment of 12-year-old Eduarda outside of Rio de Janeiro and away from the public gaze manages to ask a whole catalogue of questions only days after the Olympics have closed.

Cuba, 1963. © Marc RiboudCuba, 1963 © Marc Riboud

Seeking consolation in the the now classic scoop of Marc Riboud’s visit to 1963’s Cuba on the eve of Kennedy’s assassination is not really a way of dealing with the haunting flood of imagery from the here and now that makes this festival such comprehensive warning against the imminent future. But it is at least something.

by Oliver Krug

About The Author

Oliver Krug is environmental editor at The Glass Magazine. His other topics include contemporary art, literature and photography, music, film and politics. As a travel writer he is interested in sustainability and ecology, and as a keen sailor aims to spend as much time on the water as on land. He is co-founder of Wavelength Foundation, an international circle of journalists, scientists, academics and cultural leaders who aim to advance the environmentalist agenda through the channels of arts and culture.

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