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By Raynald C Rivera
The photography scene in Qatar is set to get a boost with Katara and Magnum Photos, a prestigious international agency of photographers, set to jointly organise a series of exhibitions and workshops in Doha.
“We are collaborating with Katara on a cultural programme comprising a series of solo and group exhibitions of Magnum photographers with a very strong educational component because we want to encourage young photographers here to take photography seriously and show how it can be used as a significant tool for change,” Fiona Rogers, Cultural and Education Manager of Magnum Photos, told The Peninsula.
Initially, the programme is scheduled to run until October, but Rogers said they hoped it would be extended up to three years.
The series of exhibitions would run alongside photography talks and workshops, which had a good start recently.
“When we started the workshop we expected six people to come, but we ended up with 45 participants. It’s really amazing and encouraging that people here want to learn more about photography and engage with us as an agency,” said Rogers.
The five-day workshop ran alongside the recently opened ‘Magnum 65’ exhibition at Katara Gallery 1, Building 13, which features more than 5,000 photos taken by Magnum photographers over the last 65 years.
Magnum photographers Nikos Economopolous and David Hurn conducted the workshops, which were open to the public, for free.
“We are here to conduct workshops to hone more young photographers,” said Hurn, who has worked for 60 years as a professional photographer.
While Economopolous focused mainly on shooting, editing and review, Hurn delivered inspirational talks on how to tell a story through photography, citing works by Magnum photographers as well as others.
“Telling a story is an essential aspect of how our photographers work. They do not use a singular image to represent something but rather tell a story through a series of photographs,” said Rogers.
This is not the first time Magnum Photos has come to Doha for an exhibition. In September 2010, they featured in a group exhibition showing glimpses of world history from the pre-World War II period. Hosted by Qatar Museums Authority, the show was based on the book ‘In Our Time: The World as seen by Magnum Photographers 1936-1987’.
In the Middle East, Magnum Photos has produced large bodies of work commissioned by private companies and governments.
“While we have done a few commissions for some companies in Dubai, our individual photographers have covered various conflicts in the region and other tricky subjects,” said Rogers.
Some of these works are on display at the ‘Magnum 65’ exhibition.
The exhibition was created in 2007 for a festival in France to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the agency. Each year was represented by a picture that was significant for that year or for that photographer.
Year 1947 is represented by Robert Capa, who founded the agency, while 1963 is represented by Rene Burri, who took photos of Che Guevara.
There are more than a hundred photos on display at the exhibition in addition to over 5,000 large-scale projections of images by 81 photographers.
An international photography cooperative with offices in New York, Paris and London, Magnum Photos currently has only about 50 active members from different countries.
Getting membership in the group is not easy as it takes several submissions of portfolios, which typically takes about four years. The applicant first becomes a nominee, then an associate member, and then a full member, based on a majority vote by the existing members.
“One has to really want it because the effort involved in producing a large body of work is quite daunting,” said Rogers.
Contrary to popular belief, being a member of Magnum doesn’t mean more work, she said.
“It is a misconception. But being a member means more exposure, such as in exhibitions. We also do big commissions very occasionally in companies and government.”
More than the financial benefits, a lot of photographers like the friendships they form in the agency, because being a freelance photographer can be lonely.
“Magnum is a kind of brotherhood, especially the way it was created when four friends came together to say, ‘we want to control how we work’, and I think lots of members have stayed true to the ideal that the agency was created with.”
The ‘Magnum 65 years’ exhibition is open to the public at Katara Gallery 1, Building 13 until February 12.