This article appears in The Photo Issue 2015
We live in a world where millions of images are being made between the moment you started this sentence and the moment you'll finish it. Most of these photographs will be made in the same way. Someone will take a camera out of his pocket and point it in front of him, creating a visual document of his life to share with a few friends. There's an anxiety in professional photography over this glut of new pictures—a fear that all these shareable, disappearing images of daily life somehow devalue the medium. But the truth is that this documentary practice has long been part of the photographic tradition. The purpose of these pictures is not just to show our friends what the world looks like to us but to tell them what it feels like to live our lives and to convey our stories.
The images in this year's photo issue, produced in collaboration with Magnum Photos, all came into the world through the same social documentary impulse. When Magnum was founded, in 1947, two years after the end of the Second World War, its four original members—Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger, and David "Chim" Seymour—were motivated by a curiosity about what it looked like to live in the remains of the war's atrocities and destruction. The cooperative was established as a community of photographic authors, allied in an effort to fully chronicle the world and interpret the way that people inhabited it.
Legendary MoMA curator John Szarkowski once compared photography to "the act of pointing." In this visually overwhelming world, it's the pointers who help us make sense of the overload of imagery by guiding our precious attention. It's photography—a silent and still medium of lessness—that has served as one of our great coping mechanisms for reality's messy too-muchness. So, with a staggering amount of new visual data coming into this world every day, we actually need skilled pointers more than ever. That is, the more photographers there are, the more we need good photographers. At Magnum's core is a loose band of skilled pointers united by a common instinct to spend their lives curating reality, silently yelling, "Look!"
The artists in this issue—Magnum members Bruce Gilden, Alec Soth, Bieke Depoorter, Peter van Agtmael, and Mikhael Subotzky, as well as Magnum Foundation grantees and a handful of VICE's favorite young photographers—all work at the crossroads of photojournalism and art. Their approaches are diverse, but they share a knack for capturing the images that exist as resonant frequencies amid the cacophony. Their pictures, about their hometowns, how we inhabit our homes, the silent presence of our political leaders, the lived experience of state violence, are illustrations of the enduring power of using a camera to understand the stories of our lives.
—Gideon Jacobs and Matthew Leifheit
Half of the copies of this issue were printed with a cover photo by Mikhael Subotzky, the other half with a cover photo by Dru Donovan. Donovan's photo is part of her series Positions Taken, which re-creates scenes of police arresting men in the Bronx. Subotzky's cover photo comes from Deep Hanging, a work he produced with fellow South African photographer Lindokuhle Sobekwa.
Cover by Mikhael Subotzky
Cover by Dru Donovan
Ronny, the man in Donovan's cover photo, says about his arrest: "I had just moved to New York, and I was driving with a friend back to my apartment. I was new to the area, and I accidentally turned the wrong way down a one-way street. Just as we made the turn, three cruisers pulled up with their guns out. I stopped the car with my hands on the wheel, and the cop yelled out, 'Hands up! Hands up!' So I put my hands up. And then somebody else yelled, 'Put your hands back on the wheel!' In my mind I was thinking that I could probably die over the stupidest thing, like putting my hands in the wrong place."
—See more in Dru Donovan's Positions Taken
Below are four group shots—one by each of Magnum's founding members. These pictures are spaced throughout the print issue to remind us of the history of great photographers who have contributed to Magnum's legacy.