"When I was 22 or 23, I took a semester-long photography course. We had an assignment, and I decided I wanted to follow Santa Claus. At the time, there were all these guys around New York dressing up as Santa for Volunteers of America, and they'd collect donations outside Macy's, etc. After they'd collect, they'd head back to the volunteers headquarters on Houston Street and go out drinking. Most of the Santas were alcoholics. I took this picture because in my head, I remember thinking, Why is Santa taking the A train? Where is his sleigh? Later, I took this photograph to an editor at the New York Times, and he loved it, but said it was too late to publish for Christmas. Well, I missed the boat that Christmas, so I guess I'll catch the boat 46 years later."
Regular VICE readers are probably pretty familiar with Magnum Photos, the photo cooperative founded in 1947 by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David "Chim" Seymour, and George Rodger. We've publicly declared our love for them a few times and Magnum member Bruce Gilden sometimes drops by our office and tells us what's what.
You also might remember that back in June, the generally old-school cooperative surprised the photo world by offering signed six-by-six prints for $100. Actually, people sort of flipped and the Magnum site crashed because of traffic.
Well, now they're doing something similar, but with this time the photographers challenged each other to search old hard drives, basements, and attics for one image each that they've always liked but for one reason or another has remained in relative obscurity. The idea was to pick one photograph to "rescue from oblivion." It's a cool reminder that 99.99 percent of the work a photographer makes either stays hidden or even gets thrown out. But you know what they say: "One man's trash..."
The cooperative doesn't edition these signed prints by limiting quantity, but instead has created an edition of sorts by only offering them a few days. So if you want one, you gotta grab it before November 14 at 5 OM EST. Here are some of the excavated photographs that we liked.
At a car wash in the suburbs of Paris, I saw this poor woman locked in a car just as the giant rollers were about to swallow the vehicle. She looked familiar: She was, in fact, my wife. I could never put this picture with my personal work, because there was a certain complicity between me and the subject. To maintain my credibility, my photos must be 'found,' which wasn't quite the case here, so the picture has remained lonely and neglected. But I like it anyway.
This photograph was taken during my first visit to the United States for the project I Am About to Call It a Day. I had just finished working on the series Ou Menya in Russia, a project made by asking people I met on the street to spend a single night in their home. This was my way of entering into the intimacy of their family. With this, I finally felt comfortable taking photographs of strangers. But I wanted to use the same approach in a country where I could speak the language; I wanted to see if it would still work even then. So while shooting in the US I got stranded in a little town in Louisiana. I couldn't find a place to stay, but an old man wanted to show me "the only beautiful museum in town." The exhibits were buried under dust and the dismal, lonely atmosphere was remarkable. This is not an image I wanted to use in my book because it's totally different than any of my other photographs. And to be honest, I actually still don't know if I like this image! But somehow, for some reason, the photograph keeps popping up in my mind. So, maybe it's best that it doesn't get lost in an undefined digital archive. Maybe it's best that it isn't just forgotten with time.
This was photo was taken on the set of L'important c'est d'aimer by Andrei Zulawski in 1974. It was my first film set. I had only one year of professional photography behind me, and I was just finishing university. With Kinski, there was also Romy Shneider, Jacques Dutronc, Fabio Testi, and more. All these prestigious figures made me feel quite intimidated as a beginner, but I was so fascinated, watching in silence what was unfolding in front of me. I discovered amazing intricacies that existed between the mood of the film and the inner psychology of the actors during the shooting. I ended up unable to truly be able to emotionally differentiate what was happening in the fictional film and what was happening with the real-life actors. Andrei Zulawski has always excelled in handling this kind of situation. The film crew and producers had given me almost full carte blanche. I was left alone with the actors. Kinski fascinated me most—his sudden moods swings, from very calm to incredibly violent. He was struggling with his demons and playing with the struggle. With me, he was attentive and kind. It was while the crew was setting up the lights that Kinski began to improvise this moment, began to play. It weighed on me, the mood he would inhabit a few moments after this frame was made. After the take ended, he got up and walked away slowly toward the bedroom window. He cried. We stayed both silent.
When I began photographing the women who performed striptease at carnivals in the early 1970s, I had two Leicas: one for color, the other black and white. I did portraits with a medium format camera. As I immersed myself further into the world of the Girl Show, I realized that the ASA of color film at that time couldn't handle the exposure I needed. Daylight was fine, but by night I ended up shooting handheld at low shutter speeds and still had to push the black-and-white film to 1600 to render the interiors of the dressing room and performances. This door was the entrance to the tent for "Men and men only, no ladies, no babies." Being excluded provoked me to sneak in disguised as a young man. I'm now just beginning to rediscover the color buried in my archive, which makes me think about how different the work then would be with digital today.
When I look at my shelves, I see dozens and dozens of folders with negatives. Published projects like Sabine and Tokyo, sit alongside those still unpublished: The Gomez-Brito Family, Bangkok, and Home. I take down a folder from Home. There are hundreds of rolls, maybe thousands from the last five years, most of them unseen, most of them never to be published. I turn the pages. Images of people I have met, places and buildings appear in a constant flow. This is what I saw that day, this is how I felt. I then recognize the skin: Onse and Axel. I will never forget this day, the day I met Onse and Axel, and the love they shared. Axel is 90 years old. "You have to meet my girlfriend," he said. "She is ten years older than me!" He tells me about Onse and how they fell in love on a holiday in Bangkok. He invites me to visit them at Onse's house. Onse is 100 years old and lives alone. She has never been married. She used to be a photographer and traveled all over the world. She still dreams about it. They live apart, but every weekend Axel comes to visit. On this saturday in spring 2010, they invite me in. I photograph them hugging and caressing each other. Onse has many wounds on her body, so Axel is tender when he touches her. I hear Onse express her comfort, whispering groans of joy. Axel tells me that until two years ago, they still made love, but now Onse has a special bed from the hospital with no room for Axel. "But we still kiss," Axel says. And so they start kissing. The first image feels right. Before I start thinking. Before I start framing. Before I ask them to do it again. The first kiss is the best.
-Jacob Aue Sobol
Order these signed prints from Magnum for $100 each. They'll look good in your apartment, and they're also a piece of photographic history.