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Personal Files: Magnum Photographers On Never Seen Before Works

Eliott Erwitt, Eli Reed, Christopher Anderson and other Magnum Photo Members showing their never seen before photographs and telling their stories


Magnum Square Print Sale“, organized by Magnum Photos last week, was designed to rescue old images from oblivion. The agency asked its 37 members to search their archives and select one photo which they really liked, but was never published and to tell its story. Selected images were put up for sale: one printed photo for $100 and the whole collection for $2,500. Bird In Flight publishes some of the work accompanied with the authors’ comments.


Bieke Depoorter


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This photograph was taken during my first visit to the United States for project “I Am About To Call It A Day.” I had just finished working on “Ou Menya” in Russia, a project made by asking people I met on the street to spend a single night in their home. I found that 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 U.S., 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 museum’s exhibits were buried with 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.


Christopher Anderson


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I took this picture of Marion in Croatia around 2003. We were having breakfast the morning after a quarrel, and her eyes are puffy from crying. At the time, it was a journal entry or a way to remember a moment. It did not cross my mind that pictures of my personal life would become so much a part of my work. Years later I would photograph my family in color and that would become my book, SON. While making that book, I looked back through my archives with new eyes, and pictures like this seemed charged with new and richer meaning than I was able to recognize at the time.


Sohrab Hura


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The rustling of the wind flickered in the broken shadows on his face. Ronald had hidden away under the shade of a solitary tree with Julia by his side but even in the embrace of that tree their leathery moist skin shone brightly in the glare from outside. It was a hot day and their young faces were exhausted but they were happy. They had met in Broome Town a year earlier on the last day of the year of 2011 and had managed to stay together since then; and neither could think of being anywhere else at that moment. Two Mile, Port Hedland (South), The Pilbara, Western Australia, 2012.


Thomas Hoepker


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This is one of many photographs I’ve taken of Muhammad Ali, some of which are well-known, some unknown. This particular image is from 1966, while Ali was training for a fight in London. Honestly, I can’t recall much more than that, except that when Ali worked the speedball he punished it.


Eli Reed


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I was asked by the first scheduled director of American Gangster to photograph the modern day Harlem as if it was Harlem in the 1960s to help get the crew get a feel for the time period the movie was supposed to take place in. On the first day, I found myself walking down a sidewalk and passing three African American men who were wearing stocking skull caps sitting on a stoop. I said hello and kept walking. I had walked only a few feet when I stopped and realized that I was seeing a memory.

In the sixties, men wrapped their heads with actual stocking, but at the time I made this photo, you could buy the skullcap from any corner drug store in Harlem. I turned back and explained to the men about the movie and what I was looking for. I asked them if I could photograph them, and they said “Okay.” They seemed to be concerned with more serious issues that had their attention. I did not ask, but I felt the weight of poverty on their shoulders because I had carried that weight myself. I made the photograph and then moved on down the street. It was the very first photograph that I made on that assignment.


Elliott Erwitt


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In 1946, I was 18 years old and certain that I would become a professional photographer. While still in public school, I managed to save enough to buy my first serious camera Rolleiflex with which I shot all my pictures for several years at belly level. Eventually, I moved up to eye level, shooting where I still am with modern cameras. Recently, while looking in to my old proof sheets and seeing pictures I had taken over 60 years ago, I was pleasantly surprised at what I shot while still a teenager. The picture of a window washer taken 68 years ago is one of those “found” images and a small part of a rescue from the depths of my archive.


Olivia Arthur


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I took this picture when I was working on my project “The Middle Distance.” There was a boat that was sitting out in the Caspian Sea on the coast of Azerbaijan. The project was about women and I was researching and working on lots of different little stories about women in the region. But in between working on those stories, I would also just wander and explore with my camera. I made so much work from that trip, so there are a lot of images – like this one – that I’ve always liked but didn’t obviously fit into the subject.


Jacob Aue Sobol


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When I look at my shelves, I see dozens and dozens of folders with negatives… projects like “Sabine,” “Tokyo”… and still unpublished, “The Gomez-Brito Family,” “Bangkok,” “Home.” I take down a folder from “Home” – hundreds of rolls, maybe thousands from the last 5 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 Onses’ 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.

That Saturday of 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 expresses 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.


Alessandra Sanguinetti


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I took this photograph, “The couple,” in the summer of ’92. That was long ago when everything and everyone still felt endlessly fascinating and mysterious and when photography was the only way I could take it all in. I’d left Buenos Aires to spend the summer in Brooklyn with my grandfather and spent every day roaming the city taking pictures and hurrying back home at night excited to develop the film in the blacked out laundry room. I distinctly remember uncurling the wet film this frame was in, seeing it and being in awe at how a portrait could transcend anything I had seen or intended.


Stuart Franklin


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The picture was shot in Jaipur in 2000 during the annual kite festival. Thousands of people on the city rooftops parry with fighting kites: the aim to cut the string of feuding kites. The strings are dipped in a mixture of glass shards and glue. Truly, this is a photograph that I had forgotten I had taken until quite recently. I recalled the event and the assignment, but not this particular touching moment. I really don’t know how many photographs I have taken. It makes me wonder how many “touching moments” I’ve captured that I’ve somehow forgotten about.


David Alan Harvey


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Most of the photographs I make are personal pictures and never end up in print. Even the magazines I shoot for on assignment publish very few of the actual selects. Sometimes these personal pictures will end up in a book of my work. Oftentimes, however, they are simply photographs which I hope resonate, yet rarely find a publication home. I do a lot of personal work in Rio de Janeiro, and this of a parkour artist making a jump on Ipanema Beach is such a moment.


Ian Berry


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I was wandering along a beach in West Africa at dusk when I spotted this lad on the boat, either dreaming or deep in thought. I managed to squeeze off a vertical frame without his being aware of me, just as a woman carrying a bowl walked past. I also shot a horizontal frame of the scene. I had been working in Africa and in those days, if we weren’t returning to Europe immediately, we shipped the film back to Magnum in Paris. Of the two frames I made, the horizontal pic was edited, published and seen by many, but to this day, I still prefer the feeling in this vertical.


David Hurn


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In 1962, I first visited New York – the destination that all young photographers must visit. Later, looking at my contact sheets, I was surprised how many pictures had the American flag in the background. I realized the flag could be used as a link, showing visual and social changes in New York during my many future visits. This picture is taken in 2002. It is pertinent to me, a Brit, as in some way I feel it fits into the dubious tradition of the British risqué postcards. It has never been published, as the book it would appear in has yet to see completion.

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