From its earliest days, photography has been associated with the unexpected: documentation of under-explored issues, reporting of events unfurling in far-flung locations, or single frames capturing split seconds of levity.
Over seven decades, Magnum photographers have reported on and witnessed events around the world which changed societies, nations, and peoples in unpredictable ways. Stuart Franklin’s image of an unarmed man stepping in front of a tank during the 1989 government crackdown on student protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square was an “unexpected act of defiance”. Paul Fusco’s series of images taken from the moving train that bore Robert Kennedy’s body across the United States created a candid portrait of that nation’s inhabitants at a moment in American history. The work also saw him experimenting with the practical limits of his photography. Raymond Depardon’s photograph of a youth sat astride the Berlin Wall on November 11, 1989 embodies the end of an historical era. Susan Meiselas, covering the 1979 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, photographed Pablo ‘Bareta’ Arauz launching a molotov cocktail at a National Guard HQ. This image became an unexpected symbol of revolution, which resonated with a generation and has been reproduced on t-shirts, matchbooks, murals and magazines across the world.
The stories behind the making of images can present unexpected elements. Blind shares a selection of these photographs alongside the photographers’ words.
Abbas: Tokyo, Japan, 2000.
White doves are kept at the Shinto Yasukuni shrine, dedicated to military personnel killed during Japan’s wars. They are considered to be spirits of the departed. Tokyo, Japan. 2000.
“Sometimes I don’t shoot: I linger: I choose the frame in my viewfinder, including all the elements — walls, trees, pylons, spaces — that will provide the desired mood or character, and I wait patiently for the theatre of life to surprise me with people, animals, shadows.”
Antoine D’Agata: Virus series. Paris lockdown. France. March 17, 2020.
“2020. Unexpected events and imperatives, related to the urgency of survival, transformed lived experience into the object of invisible fears and revolts. Humans rediscover dissatisfaction, carving out their own destinies to become protagonists of History.”
Eve Arnold: Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses by James Joyce.
“This image was made by Eve during her first shoot with Marilyn Monroe. Monroe had shown Eve her down-to-earth, relaxed personality as they worked together. But the photographer had yet to really witness the actress’ candour. The following is an excerpt from a passage in Eve’s book, In Retrospect, in which she recalled meeting with Marilyn a second time, in order to show her the photographs she had taken:
She met me at the door in a diaphanous black negligee. She had a hairbrush in her hand. Would I mind sitting through an interview for a European magazine—then we could talk? Almost immediately the reporter showed up. Marilyn greeted her, and while the woman had her head down, looking in her purse for notebook and pencil, Marilyn asked if she minded if she (Marilyn) brushed her hair during the interview. No, of course not. When the woman raised her head, Marilyn was brushing her pubic hair.
Due in no small part to Monroe’s laidback temperament, the two were to become close over the months that followed.”
– Michael Arnold, Estate of Eve Arnold
Nikos Economopoulos: Women watching the dancing during a local feast. Avlona, Karpathos, Greece. August, 1989.
“A circle of elderly Karpathos women, and an unexpected dog, overseeing a dance performance at Saint John’s feast.”
Elliott Erwitt: New York City, New York, USA. 1955.
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place. I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
Stuart Franklin: ’The tank man’. Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China. June 4, 1989.
“In June, 1989, following the Beijing massacre, a man stepped into the path of a row of tanks leaving Tiananmen Square and into the history books. It was an unexpected act of defiance. Courageous too. More than thirty years on there’s still a great deal we don’t know: what became of the man, why he was carrying two shopping bags, and the nature of his exchange with the tank driver. One day I hope we’ll know more.”
Paul Fusco: Robert Kennedy funeral train. USA. 1968.
“Shooting with film, Paul never knew exactly what he had captured until it was developed. The circumstances of shooting from the funeral train, while in motion, were very unusual and the results Paul achieved were unexpected. He wrote of the work: ‘I was taking photographs of people and I was trying to show what it meant to them there, what they were feeling. I was very concerned that the movement would ruin every shot. I began to concentrate on tracking the subjects in every photo to lessen the effects of the train’s motion, hoping that I would be lucky enough to get a few usable photos. When I started to edit the film in New York I was very excited and optimistic about the subjects and quality of the photos. It didn’t take long to get very strong emotional reactions from the photos.’”
– Marina Fusco Nims, Estate of Paul Fusco
Bruce Gilden: New York City, USA. 1990.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the expressions on the faces of these two seemingly related women as the younger one was pushing the other along Madison Avenue in her wheelchair. Whatever the reason, her mouth was wide open. The scene spoke to me about the mother-daughter relationship: I imagined that the daughter had had enough and was perilously pushing the older woman over a cliff.”
Richard Kalvar: St. Emilion, France. 1977.
“Why is this big ugly dog suddenly stalking me???”
“What is this little cat doing in the family basket???”
Harry Gruyaert: Gao, Mali. 1988.
“In 1998, I was working on an assignment in Mali. I was staying in a little hotel in Gao, a small town on the River Niger. It was terribly hot in the hotel. Looking for some air, I went to the room on the top floor. There was an opening in the wall which perfectly framed the landscape outside, while the light coming from another opening was cutting a sharp geometric pattern in the surrounding shadow. The air was perfectly still. And just as I started shooting, a sudden draft blew the curtain hanging on the right to a perfect angle. For me, photography is all about trying to be lucky.”
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It’s open from Monday, March 22, 1AM PST to Sunday, March 28, 11:59 PM PST.