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Opening today: "Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age"

By Alicia Dietrich

"Russia. Altai Territory. Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies. Environmentalists fear for the region's future due to the toxic rocket fuel." 2000. © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos.
"Russia. Altai Territory. Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies. Environmentalists fear for the region's future due to the toxic rocket fuel." 2000. © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos.

The exhibition Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age opens today and will be on view through January 5.

Magnum Photos photographers have produced some of the most memorable images of the last century, shaping history and revolutionizing photography’s influence on modern culture. Founded in 1947, it was the first cooperative agency to be established and operated by photographers, thus ensuring unprecedented creative, editorial, and economic independence.

Its founders, including renowned photographers Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David “Chim” Seymour, and George Rodger, united in their pursuit of creative freedom and their commitment to sharing their images with the world. Membership in this collective empowered photographers to document conflict and liberation, revolution and reform, while preserving their own powerfully distinct points of view.

Established during the post-war golden age of the picture magazine, Magnum has flourished despite the impact of radical technological, economic, and cultural transformations on publishing and media. When television began to take over as the dominant form of mass communication in the 1950s, Magnum photographers explored motion picture and book formats. As the editorial market continued to shrink, photographers found new audiences in museums and galleries. Over the last decade, new technologies have dramatically changed the way photographic imagery is captured, distributed, and consumed. In this new environment, Magnum photographers have kept pace, experimenting with a variety of multimedia platforms to publish their work.

Organized by Jessica S. McDonald and Roy L. Flukinger, this exhibition of approximately 300 works investigates the evolution of Magnum Photos from print photojournalism to the digital age, revealing a global cooperative in continual flux, persistently exploring new relationships between photographers, their subjects, and their viewers.

Coinciding with the exhibition is the publication of Reading Magnum: A Visual Archive of the Modern World (UT Press), edited by Steven Hoelscher, Academic Curator of Photography at the Ransom Center.

The Magnum Photos Collection resides at the Harry Ransom Center courtesy of MSD Capital, Michael and Susan Dell, Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman, and John and Amy Phelan.

Beginning September 17, free docent tours will be offered Tuesdays at noon, Thursdays at 6 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.

For groups larger than 10 people, please contact the Ransom Center to make arrangements for a private group tour.

The fall calendar includes many Magnum Photos-related programs, including “Boundless,” the opening celebration for the exhibition on Friday, September 20.

The Ransom Center presents the symposium “Magnum Photos into the Digital Age” on October 25–27. This symposium brings together photographers, curators, and historians to discuss the ways in which Magnum Photos has continually reinvented itself from the moment of its founding. Twelve Magnum photographers, as well as Magnum CEO Giorgio Psacharopulo, are scheduled to appear on panels with a focus on the cooperative’s evolution and future.

In the galleries: Anna Atkins’s “Peacock Feathers” and Anna Krachey’s “Filament”

By Abigail Cain

Anna Krachey, "Filament," 2012. Courtesy of artist.
Anna Krachey, "Filament," 2012. Courtesy of artist.
Anna Atkins, "Peacock Feathers."
Anna Atkins, "Peacock Feathers."

Although Anna Atkins and Anna Krachey share a first name, Krachey acknowledges a much deeper connection. A member of Austin-based artist collective Lakes Were Rivers, Krachey came across Atkins’s work in the Ransom Center’s collections. She noticed an exploration of light, layering, and space that was similar to her own photographic practice.

Such connections form the basis of the Ransom Center’s current exhibition, Contemporary Photographic Practice and the Archive. Created in collaboration with Lakes Were Rivers, the exhibition highlights members’ works that were influenced in some way by the Ransom Center. Approximately 50 new works are displayed alongside Ransom Center collection materials chosen by the artists. The pairings illustrate how archives and cultural collections stimulate new ideas and creative acts.

Atkins, born in 1799 in England, was an amateur botanist. She is known primarily for her thousands of cyanotypes, which often featured marine botanicals and other plants and objects. Peacock Feathers offers an example of the camera-less photographic technique—one that provided a new way of recording scientific specimens, different from the traditional letterpress method.

Krachey recognizes a similarity between Atkins’s choice of subject and her own process of identifying and selecting objects for photographs. She aims to reveal the unfamiliar in everyday objects by creating tension between the natural and the artificial. In her work Filament (2012), she plays with tactility, translucency, and composition, using analog rather than digital photographic methods to manipulate objects and create illusionistic space.

Both Filament and Peacock Feathers are on display through August 4. On this Thursday, July 18, the artists of Lakes Were Rivers will discuss their work at 7 p.m. in the galleries.

In the galleries: Jason Reed’s "Motel, Terlingua" and W. D. Smithers’s "View of Study Butte, Texas"

By Abigail Cain

Jason Reed, "Motel, Terlingua," 2011. Courtesy of artist.
Jason Reed, "Motel, Terlingua," 2011. Courtesy of artist.
W.D. Smithers, "View of Study Butte, Texas," 1932.
W.D. Smithers, "View of Study Butte, Texas," 1932.

As photographer Jason Reed sat in the reading room of the Ransom Center, awaiting a box of Walker Evans photographs, he noticed a binder on the reference shelf nearby. In what he calls a “moment of coincidence,” he picked it up and discovered notes and captions describing photographs of West Texas—both the place he grew up and the area he has spent his life exploring through video and photography.

The binder contained a finding aid to the work of early-twentieth-century photographer W. D. Smithers, whose archive is held by the Ransom Center. Although 80 years separate the two artists, their work shares an uncanny similarity—take Reed’s Motel, Terlingua (2011) and Smithers’s View of Study Butte, Texas (1932) as an example.

The relationship between archives and the work of modern-day artists is the subject of the Ransom Center’s current exhibition Contemporary Photographic Practice and the Archive. Created in conjunction with the Lakes Were Rivers collective, an Austin-based group of artists working in photography and video, the exhibition highlights members’ works that were influenced in some way by the Ransom Center. Approximately 50 new works are displayed alongside Ransom Center collection materials chosen by the artists.

Smithers began his career in commercial photography when he was 15 years old, eventually working as an aerial photographer for the U.S. Army Aviation Service during World War I. Between 1935 and 1939, under a contract with the International Boundary and Water Commission, Smithers photographed the entire U.S.-Mexican Border from Brownsville to San Diego.

Reed, too, focuses on the interplay between culture and land in the Texas-Mexico borderland. By pairing his and Smithers’s works, he said, “I work to elicit historical comparison and dialogue with the past while also creating space to reflect on photography’s role as an index of place and time, its inherent limitations in telling histories, and the archive as a catalyst in forming new ways of seeing.”

Motel, Terlingua and View of Study Butte, Texas are on display in the Ransom Center until August 4. On July 18, the artists of Lakes Were Rivers will discuss their work at 7 p.m. in the galleries.

In the galleries: Alvin Langdon Coburn’s "Vortograph" and Barry Stone’s "Sky 3099"

By Abigail Cain

Barry Stone, "Sky 3099," 2012. Courtesy of artist.
Barry Stone, "Sky 3099," 2012. Courtesy of artist.
Alvin Langdon Coburn, "Vortograph," 1917.
Alvin Langdon Coburn, "Vortograph," 1917.

Although almost a century separates Alvin Langdon Coburn’s Vortograph (1917) and Barry Stone’s Sky 3099 (2012), Stone still finds parallels between the works. It is this connection between old and new that informs the Ransom Center’s current exhibition, Contemporary Photographic Practice and the Archive.

Created in conjunction with the Lakes Were Rivers collective, an Austin-based group of artists working in photography and video, the exhibition highlights members’ works that were influenced in some way by the Ransom Center. Approximately 50 new works are displayed alongside Ransom Center collection materials chosen by the artists. The pairings illustrate how archives and cultural collections stimulate new ideas and creative acts.

Widely acknowledged as the first consciously created abstract photographs, Coburn’s vortographs were taken using a kaleidoscope-like instrument that fit over the lens of a camera to reflect and fracture the image. Their name comes from the term “Vorticist,” which describes an avant-garde British artistic and literary movement spearheaded by Wyndham Lewis and influenced by Cubism.

In many ways, Coburn’s earlier technical photographic experiments mirror Stone’s current work—black-and-white digital captures of landscapes in which Stone has altered the image file’s code or machine language in a text-editing program. This process, called databending, creates visual hiccups within the otherwise unaltered image. Stone’s Sky 3099 provides an example of the technique, billowing clouds interrupted by swaths of visual static. As the artist notes, “The noise, therefore, becomes more like the signal. The anomaly or glitch is assimilated into the image and reveals not only the methods of its assembly but also a glimpse of new perceptual possibilities.”

Both Sky 3099 and Vortograph are on display through August 4. On July 18, the artists of Lakes Were Rivers will discuss their work at 7 p.m. in the galleries.