IIf you told the story of photography through the Magnum agency, you could compare the famous photos of families picnicking on the banks of the Marne by Henri Cartier-Bresson, taken in 1938, with this image by Harry Gruyaert , of families eating in the sun in Extremadura, Spain in 1998. Cartier-Bresson set the black and white documentary tone for the agency he co-founded for several decades. His picnickers had a solidity of belts and straps, seemingly timeless workers and women on Sunday leave. His camera gave them seriousness and a sort of idealized humanity. In Gruyaert’s painting, the social history of the families themselves seems of little interest; his eye is entirely for the play of light and color. He could be inspired by Gerard Manley Hopkins: “Glory to God for the speckled things!
Some of Magnum’s oldest statesmen attempted to block Gruyaert’s election to the agency when his work was proposed in 1981. They had never admitted into their democratic cabal a photographer who worked primarily in color. , which they associated with advertising images and not with photojournalism. Cartier-Bresson had said that color images were “something indecent, the negation of all the three-dimensional values of photography” – and here is a man, Gruyaert, who had partly made himself known by photographing screens of state-of-the-art color television.
In the 40 years since, Gruyaert, 79, has himself become a senior agency statesman. This image, now part of a Magnum print sale, with its almost psychedelic delight in the contrasting colors, its dotted reds and greens, could be an illustration of his belief that “there is no ‘story “in his pictures,“ it’s just a matter of shapes and light. ”The longer you look, however, the more you let your eyes adjust to the fabulously impressionistic palette, the more domestic tales you might find among abstract and distracted couples and families in the woods.
The Way for Escape themed Magnum Square print sale will run from Monday, July 12 at 6:00 a.m. PST to Sunday, July 18 at 11:59 p.m. PST