how to study street photography for the price of a yearly netflix subscription
With contributions from the likes of Martin Parr, Susan Meiselas and more of our generation's most esteemed image-makers, The Art of Street Photography is Magnum’s first-ever online photography course.
USA. New York. Foot, ice cream popsicle and guitar on West 3rd street. 1970 © Richard Kalvar / Magnum Photos
Of all the creative industries, photography is perhaps the most notoriously difficult to break into. And it’s no surprise. Who among us hasn’t, at one point growing up, picked up a disposable camera, pointed it at a disused phone box or lacerated wall of fly-posters, and thought to themselves (anime butterfly-style): is this my true calling?
But the transition from 2-4-1 disposables to critically and commercially successful photographer can seem so unrealistic -- so Hollywood actor, Premier League footballer, Grammy-winning artist -- that the dream often dies upon the row of plastic chairs next to the Boots same-day photo development darkroom.
A new course from Magnum Photos is hoping to help bridge this gap a little. Priced at $99, The Art of Street Photography is a 10-part video programme that goes through the different technicalities, techniques and ideas necessary to hone your skill, regardless of your starting point. Offering an education in street photography that might benefit those without access to traditional means of photography education, it’s interspersed with advice from seven of the world’s leading street photographers: Bruce Gilden, Martin Parr, Susan Meiselas, Richard Kalvar, Carolyn Drake, Peter van Agtmael and Mark Power.
It’s the first online education course from Magnum, and a natural step from the photography cooperative that has thrived in the digital age -- making its world-leading imagery more accessible via social media. Launching next week, we spoke to Anne Bourgeois-Vignon, Magnum’s Global Digital Director, and Shannon Ghannam, Magnum’s Global Education Director, who spearheaded the programme, about what they hope to achieve.
Can you tell us a bit about the idea and motivation behind this course?
Anne Bourgeois-Vignon: Over a short few years, Magnum has grown an audience of over 5.2 million followers on social media, and we’re passionate about transmitting and sharing our knowledge and experience of photography, whether that is through telling stories online, or connecting more deeply with the next generation of image makers through this online education course.
Shannon Ghannam: Our community is spread across the globe and it is not always possible for them to attend one of our workshops. In this way we can share the expertise of our photographers with the widest possible group. In the age of Netflix we also really wanted to create cinematic storytelling about our photographers and their practice to share with the world. We are thrilled with the results.
How accessible do you think the photography industry is? Specifically for a documentary/ street photographer?
Shannon: Like many industries there is an urgent need for greater diversity within the photographic industry. We are committed to developing and giving a platform to diverse voices and perspectives through our educational programming around the world. We have just wrapped up a five-week visual storytelling course with our partner Create Jobs, an employability programme for young Londoners from backgrounds underrepresented in the creative industries. We know the photography industry is highly competitive and only the most committed will make it. Thankfully there are many more outlets for the work than ever before. By helping them find the confidence to tell stories that matter to them, we hope to equip emerging artists with the tools to develop their own audiences, and to continue to disrupt traditional publishing models.
Does the course seek to reach potential students who might not otherwise have the resource or encouragement to pursue photography?
Anne: This passion project enables us to connect to Magnum’s audience in a meaningful and democratic way. The course is aimed at photographers and visual artists of all levels, and anyone interested in the culture, theory and practice of the medium.
We seek to create a sense of community and opportunity around the practice of photography and will also launch dedicated social media channels to support the work of those students who take part in our courses. We also offer lots of advice from industry experts and photographers through our (free!) articles.
What key skills do you hope inexperienced students of this course will gain?
Shannon: Students will learn the mindset required to be a successful street photographer, understand framing, how to photograph people, discover alternative approaches, and how to create meaning with their images through the editing process. Students will be able to watch intimate and honest interviews with photographers in their studios and follow them on the street, all of which will help them improve their photographic practice.
Is this a classic approach to street photography or does it incorporate the developments in digital photography brought on by phones, social media and editing apps?
Anne: Our aim is to support a wide dialogue around photography, one that is rooted in telling the stories that matter and finding your photographic vision. Street photography, in the Magnum sense of the term, is a very diverse field, that can provide insight into many different forms of documentary storytelling. From Susan Meiselas’s long-form community approach to Martin Parr’s vision, we wanted to transmit both very specific knowledge and universally applicable takeaways through the work and the artists featured in The Art of Street Photography. Therefore the series presents both classic and contemporary working practices, with a focus on personal development, rather than on the merits of equipment -- though the course does, of course, also offer hands-on advice!
Given how much classic, analogue photography informs what we think of street photography, what do you think the future of the craft looks like?
Anne: Street photography is a very broad church: from documenting your neighbourhood every day, as Mark Power assigns in the course, to building a relationship with someone on the street, as Carolyn Drake recommends, and photographing streets in areas of conflict, as Peter van Agtmael has done, the definition of street photography is hugely expanded. Really it is about finding out what the street means to you as an artist, and how it becomes part of your practice (or not!)
What characteristic do you think the world’s most successful street photographers share?
Shannon: We explore this in detail in the course but the key thing for me is having a curiosity for the world, finding something that intrigues you, that one thing you are so obsessed with that it will keep you pounding the pavement, day in, day out for years.
Do you think that, given our malaise of bad news and hyper-awareness towards much of the world’s devastation, the kind of photography people want from Magnum has changed?
Anne: In short, we don’t think there is one kind of Magnum photographer, but rather that Magnum, as a collective of artists, is the home to some of the most noteworthy photographic artists, all engaged in telling varied and important stories. Each has their own authorship and point of view, and all collectively share in a tradition (sometimes subverted!) of documentary storytelling.
The fact that our audience has been growing so fast over the past few years tells us that there is a deep appetite for finding points of reference for photographic excellence in a world so deeply dominated by the millions of images made and published every day. We hope we can provide that.
The Art of Street Photography is the first online course from Magnum Photos. Find out more at learn.magnumphotos.com