Magnum’s Advice to Young Photographers

Alec Soth of Magnum Photos surveyed his fellow photographers asking what advice they would offer newcomers to the craft. He compiled the 35 responses on the Magnum blog here. For balance, I will also offer On Advice and Context, an article from the We Can’t Paint blog, which considers the entry a waste of time. I agree with one of the points, that the advice lacks context, but strongly disagree with the thought that this makes the advice worthless. I also think it errs in reinterpreting “advice to young photographers” as “advice to young people on how to make loads of money from photography” and then complains that it doesn’t fit the bill. I recommend that if you are just starting out in photography (or even if you’re not) that you read both entries and then make up your own mind on what to take away from them.

Update: For even more… well, context, read the exchange below between myself and Noel (of We Can’t Paint). She He restates her his thoughts in a way that clarifies them for me, and I think others who misunderstood her his original post would be well served by reading her his expanded arguments.

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~ by David Cupp on November 24, 2008.

7 Responses to “Magnum’s Advice to Young Photographers”

  1. Dear David,

    I think you misinterpreted the context of my post. Never once did I ask for some sort of secret to making “loads of money from photography”. I was questioning the validity of advice taken out of context by its weight against our current global situation (this has less to do with money), the photographer’s position (whatever that may be), and the issue of gender in the industry. For me these questions are valid when talking about contemporary photography and in end can be extremely helpful in acknowledging longstanding problems with the medium itself.

    I also did not, as you have said, state that the advice given by the Magnum photographers was useless. In fact, I think that this type of advice marries itself more within the realm of motivational speaking than practical advice. I specifically wrote that “the worst possible guidance is always devoid of a context”, implying that you should take this type of motivational speech with a huge grain of salt as it relies on the context of the advisor and our own current“environment”.

    Thanks,

    -Noel
    Founder/Editor
    We Can’t Paint Network

  2. Noel, you’re right in that I did misinterpret the context of your comments. However, I stand behind my larger point that you seem to want something out of the Alec Soth’s post that was different than what he was offering. Alec was asking for advice on how to become a good photographer. As in, the kind of artist that uses a camera. I still read your words (in your original post and in this comment) to sound like you are disappointed that the Magnum advice didn’t take account of the… “industry” of photography (for lack of a better term).

    I suppose the best way I can put it is that I feel like you are saying the Magnum post comes without context and you wish it had had X context. This is fair, but when those students stand up at the end of the lecture and ask for advice to be a better photographer (the whole idea behind the exercise to begin with), they don’t usually have any specific context in mind. If they did, they would ask a different question.

    For the record, I think the questions you want asked should be asked. Alec Soth just emailed his friends and asked for answers to very nebulous questions. Perhaps we, the bloggers, should take the example and email our friends with more specific questions.

  3. David,

    I think when I highlighted the global financial situation and the industry people just focused on that, which is again, not exclusively my point, even in a minor sense. I was simply setting the stage for a situation (both cultural and financial; as they both exist very much together) that is very adverse to the one that so many of the Magnum photographers have risen in.

    You are right to assume that I wanted something else from the group, something which I felt wasn’t addressed. Who’s fault this is has nothing to do with it. For myself the whole post reminded me of an interviewer who gets to question someone important (a President, Prime Minister, etc) only to bring relatively empty, or for the lack of a better term, “wishy-wash” questions to the table.

    How beneficial the answers to the questions were in the Magnum post is, of course, completely subjective and I actually think they are very motivating. But in terms of being actual advice, and being labeled as such, is in my mind very wrong. I’m not saying the whole affair has to be serious, or even theoretical, I just think that with a group such as the one listed (which is impressive to say the least) some of us might want to come away with more than simple motivation.

    If it’s advice call it that, but if it’s not don’t. I think we are too quick to throw around what actually advice is.

    Best,

    -Noel

  4. Noel, I agree far more with your argument as laid out in this comment, and having read it, I re-read your original post with a much better understanding of your mindset.

    On the upside (and on a lighter note), none of the Magnum respondents said that to become a better photographer you must be able to see Russia from your house.

    I stand by my last comment that we should take the example and start asking our colleagues for advice with much better context and more specific questions. We may not have the Magnum membership in our address books, but we could make a start towards a stronger understanding of the craft and practice of being a photographer.

  5. David,

    I think the only problem in demanding this type of advice from other photographers (ie: with less experience) is a bit hard considering their emerging position. This is not to say that their advice would be worth less, or less valid, but as I said before, the Magnum group is too much of an impressive (and impressionable) bunch to be wasted on trivial questions. But your idea is well noted nonetheless.

    Oh, and I’m a he not a she. It’s the curse of my name, specifically around Christmas time. Think “Noel” as in Noel Gallagher – with less profanity of course.

    -Noel

  6. My apologies… I dated a Noel in high school, so I plead nostalgia 😉

  7. […] Bey Advises Young Photographers Considering the minor controversy that ensued in November when I posted a link to a Magnum article on advice, I hope that this link […]

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