Magnum Photographers On Their Most Empathetic Image
USA. Wisconsin. 2007. Raymond plays with Star Wars lightsabers with his sons Brady and Riley. © Peter van Agtmael/ Magnum Photos.


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Magnum Photographers On Their Most Empathetic Image

From Bruce Davidson's picture of Coney Island's fireworks to David Alan Harvey's French teenagers smoking and kissing, each tells a story about a moment of connection.

Magnum Photos is the most prestigious photo agency in the world. It's now almost 70 years old, an upcoming birthday it celebrated by giving us a bunch of photos their photographers had taken at "the perfect moment."

For its Square Print Sale this week, "Conditions of the Heart: On Empathy and Connection in Photography"—where you can buy signed and stamped prints from Magnum photographers at $100 a pop—their artists were asked to pick a photo from their own body of work that exemplifies empathy and connection.


From Bruce Davidson's picture of Coney Island's fireworks to David Alan Harvey's French teenagers smoking and kissing, each tells a story of the empathetic moment they captured. Below are a few of the photos in the series.


Qikiqtarjuaq, Canada. 2004 © Jonas Bendiksen / Magnum Photos

"I took this picture in Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, a small village in Northern Canada. At the time, in 2004, I was on a photography assignment for a German magazine. While the location itself was magnificent, a surreal piece of urbanity dropped into vast white wilderness, the story the magazine was running was quite dark. Along with a journalist, I had been sent to try to understand the community's many social issues. Different generations were struggling to understand one another, as the emergence of the internet, TV, substance abuse, and general feelings of isolation challenged traditional practices such as hunting and fishing.

"During the two weeks I was there, I struggled with my role as a complete outsider, as I had been sent to observe what felt like very private matters. At the same time, I was enamored as I watched the rituals of daily life unfold amidst all the stark and awesome beauty around us."

– Jonas Bendiksen


Coney Island July Fourth Fireworks. New York City, U.S.A. 1962 © Bruce Davidson / Magnum Photos

"Sometimes they don't tell stories, they simply speak as images. They express feeling, increase knowledge. Photographs can draw passion, beauty, and understanding. And then there is love."


– Bruce Davidson


USA. 1968. Robert Kennedy funeral train. © Paul Fusco / Magnum Photos

"I took this photograph from the train that brought Robert F. Kennedy's remains from New York to Washington, DC. The train tracks were lined with up to 2 million people who came to witness the passage. The crowd represented all kinds of Americans; Bobby Kennedy's fight for racial reconciliation made him, to many, 'the most trusted white man in black America.' The people in this photograph had a meaningful connection with Kennedy and an appreciable reason to build a sign, stand in the heat, and say goodbye to the man who had once offered them hope."

– Paul Fusco


Marieke in Venice. © Harry Gruyaert / Magnum Photos

"We were spending the Christmas holidays in Venice, staying in an old palazzo. That particular morning my daughter, Marieke, who was ten at the time, had trouble getting out of bed: She was in a sulky mood. I have been taking pictures of my two daughters since they were born, always shooting in black-and-white because I felt it was more direct and would enable me to focus on them more than on their surroundings. But on that day, the general atmosphere, the mood of the moment, and the light made me choose color."

– Harry Gruyaert


USA. Wisconsin. 2007. Raymond plays with Star Wars lightsabers with his sons Brady and Riley. © Peter van Agtmael/ Magnum Photos

"I met Raymond Hubbard in the fall of 2007, in Washington, DC. At the time, he was recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Centre, after having lost his left leg in Iraq the previous summer. I had been covering Iraq and Afghanistan intensely for nearly two years and needed a break. I was attracted to Raymond's intelligence and charisma, and we began hanging out. I was a bit shy of photographing him at first. After a while, he snorted, rolled his eyes at my transparent hesitation, and invited me to photograph what I wanted, how I wanted.


"We began spending a lot of time together. A few months after we met, he was discharged from the hospital and moved back to his small hometown of Darien, Wisconsin. I joined him out there a few weeks later. We partied together, smoked too many cigarettes, and talked intimately. One day he asked for a family portrait. He loved Star Wars and wanted to pose with his sons and lightsabers. We went to a nearby cornfield at dusk and took a few photos. I wish I had taken more. Sometimes I mark time through this photograph."

– Peter van Agtmael


French teenagers on a boat in the River Seine. Paris, France. 1988 © David Alan Harvey / Magnum Photos

"I was commissioned by National Geographic for a piece for their special issue on France. I decided I did not want to present historic France, but rather modern, young France. French teenagers. So I did what I always do: reduce the scope. I chose one group of Parisian teenagers who formed a sort of gang. A nice gang. Friends. I became part of their group for several weeks. I went to school with them, hung out everywhere with them, saw them succeed, saw them fail.

"Judith, pictured here with the cigarette, was the leader. There is always a leader. I was especially happy with this shot. It was taken on their graduation day on the Seine in front of Henri Cartier-Bresson's house. I was always referential to Cartier-Bresson, even when I shot in color during this era. Clearly I bonded with these young French people. We were like family when I had to hug them goodbye, which for them was goodbye to their childhood."


– David Alan Harvey


USA. New York City. 1976. Little Italy. Dee and Lisa on Mott Street © Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos

"I remember the day I met the Prince Street Girls, the name I gave a group of young Italian girls who hung out on the nearby corner almost every day. This is Dee and Lisa posing for me—or maybe for themselves. They were great friends, born the same month; they just clicked. Growing up in Little Italy, they were always together, at school and on the street—and onward. A friendship that's now spanned 50 years.

"Back then, I was the stranger who did not belong, but these girls would see me coming and yell, 'Take a picture! Take a picture!' For years, I was their secret friend, and my loft became a kind of hideaway when they dared to leave that corner, which their parents had forbidden. It was important for me to keep on photographing them as they grew up, especially when I came back from abroad where I had been photographing wars. Looking at these pictures now reminds me of how difficult it was to integrate my two lives—family and friends at home, and my life as a photographer on the road. It was often a painful separation, though not one I regret having chosen."

– Susan Meiselas


Child with mask. Ciudad Juarez. Colonia Zaragoza. 2009. © Jerome Sessini / Magnum Photos

"In many ways, I have a close connection with Mexico, which has drawn me there recurrently over the past ten years. As I wrote in my book, The Wrong Side: Living on the Mexican Border (Contrasto, 2012), in which this image was included: 'Disturbing landscape, grey world of the workers in the maquilas. Concrete blocks. Seaside without the sea… Silent children, strangled by the hoods of their anoraks, heads down. They drag themselves like old men along the path home.'"


– Jérôme Sessini


USA. Indiana. Fairmount. In 1955, James Dean visited the town where he had spent his youth. It was just after he'd made 'East of Eden,' but the film was not yet released. He stayed on a farm belonging to his uncle Marcus Winslow with his relatives. © Dennis Stock / Magnum Photos

"In a way, this image of James Dean is a story about not belonging. This portrait of Dean shows the future icon at a transitional moment: The glamorous profile in the photo seems incongruous against the background of his boyhood Indiana farm. There is a moment when we are not quite sure where our place in the world is, though we all must undertake the search to find it. Dennis has captured this moment. Perhaps this is why this photograph was one of his favorite images of James Dean; in fact, he often said it was his best-composed photo."

– Susan Richards, wife of Dennis Stock


"This picture was made in an ice cream parlor in Miami Beach in 2003. I went in to buy an ice cream cone and found this man taking a nap in a quiet corner of the shop. It struck me as a beautiful and quiet situation."

– Constantine Manos

Magnum's Conditions of the Heart: On Empathy and Connection in Photography square print sale runs until Friday, November 4, 2016, at 6 PM EST. Signed and estate stamped, museum quality, 6x6" prints from more than70 artists for $100 for five days only, available on its webstore.