Magnum is possibly the only photographic agency that anybody not particularly interested in photography stands an outside chance of having heard about. Formed in 1947 and focusing primarily on the human interest side of reportage and documentary its pre-digital archive has 68,000 prints covering the span from its foundation to the internet. From that vast collection three people have been asked to select images that bring out specific areas of interest. The result is this excellent exhibition at the constantly engaging De La Warr Pavilion.
Elizabeth Edwards (historian and anthropologist according to the notes) is the only one to clearly itemise her selection. We get ‘Viewpoints’, ‘Anxieties and Pleasures’, ‘Watching’ and ‘Absorption’. The distinctions are a little arbitrary and some prints could clearly be in any of the four sections. What Edwards does well is show how human passions cross the class divides of post-war Britain. That Magnum way of capturing individual and collective emotions really does come through strongly in this opening third.
The next section has been chosen by photographer Hannah Starkey. The opening image is a self portrait by Eve Arnold. Already this feels different. Arnold’s shot is not reportage in the way that what has gone before is. It is a hidden moment revealed by photography. And that, in some way, is Starkey’s motivation. She uses the archive to show a narrative of women’s era. It is a very engaging selection and perhaps the one out of the three that would reward multiple viewings.
The final portion is curated by artist Uriel Orlow. His concern is the people on the margins – best summed up by possibly the most striking image in the whole exhibition: Philip Jenes Griffiths’ shot of marines landing on a beach in Vietnam – immediately in front of three local young women who watch with various levels of interest whilst they sunbathe. Again, the standard is high, and the images beautiful in their documentary black and white way.
All in all this is a very smart way of enabling what could be a tired archive – Oh look, dear, it’s another Chris Steele-Perkins shot, I wonder if it’s Blackpool beach again – to be seen again with fresh eyes. It is revelatory. And at the bargain price of completely free it is well worth a diversion to Bexhill to see.