Aperture Magazine

The magazine of photography and ideas

How Do Magnum Photographers Connect With Their Subjects?

Robert Capa once said, "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough."

 - June 5, 2017

In the years since Capa co-founded Magnum Photos, in 1947, Magnum photographers have continued to shape the world’s visual narratives by getting closer than anyone else. For five days only, get signed and estate stamped, museum quality, 6-by-6 inch prints by acclaimed Magnum photographers for $100. Use this link to make your purchase and a proceed from each sale will support Aperture Foundation.

Selected by Aperture’s editors, here are ten highlights from the Magnum Square Sale.


Olivia Arthur, India, 2017
© Olivia Arthur/Magnum Photos

Olivia Arthur

“I had intended to make a portrait of Loren on her own, but she took me to a house she shares with other members of the hijra society—India’s ancient transgender community—and it was buzzing with people. They were all quite enthusiastic about having a photographer there, and after I had done the portrait, they started dancing and we all sat around talking a little. It was at that time that Loren, sitting in this embrace with Sheshan, caught my eye, and I took my camera back out again to take this image. It’s a situation that I feel has happened to me often: in the moment when the formality of the photoshoot is over, everyone feels a bit more relaxed. It’s as though I need to finish taking pictures in order to really start taking pictures. It’s not that I was so close to them in this moment, as I was only there for a relatively short time, but that I got to a point when they could let their barriers down and share their own closeness with the camera.” — Olivia Arthur


Max Pinckers, The Horse to be Sacrificed Must be a Stallion, from the series, Will They Sing Like Raindrops or Leave Me Thirsty, 2014
© Max Pinckers/Magnum Photos

Max Pinckers

“The man on the white horse in the middle of this image is clearly the center of attention. Bystanders know this and either attempt to discreetly remove themselves from the image frame in one swift body movement, or choose to become part of it by remaining still and addressing the camera with a faint smile or inquisitive glance. It is in the actions and reactions of the extras that a photographer’s presence and intentions can become apparent, something that would have been lost by following Robert Capa’s famous maxim. In this case, the man leaning into the edge of the image acknowledges the excluded space outside of the frame. The two men behind the horse are conscious of the scene that is taking place and choose to contribute, taking up their right to play an active role for a brief moment. These small gestures hint toward the construction of an image, and prick through our willing suspension of disbelief.” — Max Pinckers


Carolyn Drake, Ukraine, 2006 © Carolyn Drake / Magnum Photos

Carolyn Drake, Ukraine, 2006
© Carolyn Drake/Magnum Photos

Carolyn Drake

“I made this image of Olya at a Ukrainian boarding house, where about sixty girls, judged to have disabilities, lived together tucked away on the edge of a forest near Ternopil. In the afternoons, as the weather warmed and the workday finished, the girls often plugged in a boombox on the balcony and spread out across the courtyard to dance. This was the only time of day when the girls’ attention drifted away from me, the visitor, toward another place. This image plays sweetly into the illusion that photography allows the viewer to get close to someone, to have access to them, through their image. It’s a fantastical escape mirrored by Olya, who appears to also be escaping into the music.” — Carolyn Drake

Elliott Erwitt, New York City, USA, 1955 © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos

Elliott Erwitt, New York City, USA, 1955
© Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

Elliott Erwitt

“In thinking about getting closer, weddings come to mind … at least initially. Afterward, and down the line, all bets are off.” — Elliott Erwitt

Jean Gaumy, Dune of Pilat, Arcachon Bay, France, 1987 © Jean Gaumy / Magnum Photos

Jean Gaumy, Dune of Pilat, Arcachon Bay, France, 1987
© Jean Gaumy/Magnum Photos

Jean Gaumy

“I was on a Jeanne Labrune film (La part de l’autre, 1987), with Maïté Nahyr, one of the actresses in Fellini’s film City of Women (1980). I asked her, between two scenes of shooting, to come to the great Dune of Pilat with me. I was photographing Maïté from afar, up against the wind, in the middle of vast emptiness. This man and his dog appeared, confidently, passing very close by. She, them, and me. Close, afar. Different distances that worked perfectly for me.” — Jean Gaumy


Martin Parr, Mar del Plata, Argentina , 2014 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

Martin Parr, Mar del Plata, Argentina, 2014
© Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Martin Parr

“I love Mar del Plata. It is safe to say the Argentines do as well. With seventeen kilometers of beaches and two thousand hotels, it is by far the biggest resort in the country. Indeed, it may be the biggest resort in the world. The real sun lovers, generally over fifty, are out in the hot January sun by 9 a.m.; this was a great time to shoot and to come up close on some of the real characters.” — Martin Parr


Robert Capa, Pablo Picasso with his nephew Javier Vilato and Françoise Gilot on the beach. Golfe-Juan, France. August, 1948 © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography / Magnum Photos

Robert Capa, Pablo Picasso with his nephew Javier Vilato and Françoise Gilot on the beach, Golfe-Juan, France, 1948
© Robert Capa and International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

Robert Capa

“In these images of Picasso and his family, Robert Capa stresses the everyday human side of the man. These are warm friendly images with sharp flashes of the typical Capa gaiety. In this group of pictures, the hopeful aspirations of millions of family snapshot albums is realized by a master journalist photographer.” — Edward Steichen


Inge Morath, Pablín, nephew of Picasso, strums guitar next to a portrait of his uncle painted by Picasso's great friend, Sebastià Junyer, Barcelona, Spain , 1954 © Inge Morath / Magnum Photos

Inge Morath, Pablín, nephew of Picasso, strums guitar next to a portrait of his uncle painted by Picasso’s great friend, Sebastià Junyer, Barcelona, Spain, 1954
© Inge Morath/Magnum Photos

Inge Morath

“Inge’s interests in exploring different regions, and their cultures, often led her into homes of local artists and writers. On one such occasion, she found herself on an assignment in Barcelona for the French magazine L’Oeil. Picasso’s sister, Lola Ruiz Vilato, amused by Inge’s shaky Spanish (over the phone), agreed to be photographed and invited her home. Inge was greeted by music, drinking, and conversation among Lola’s many children.

In this photo of Pablín, Inge creates not only a literal, but also an emotional invitation for the viewer to ‘get closer,’ so we can observe the subject’s surroundings. Pablín sits next to a portrait of his uncle, Pablo Picasso, with a deliberate visual narrative that showcases familial closeness.”  — Sana Manzoor


Jonas Bendikse, Altai Republic, Russia, 2000. (Alternate Take) © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos

Jonas Bendiksen, Altai Republic, Russia, 2000. (Alternate Take)
© Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos

Jonas Bendiksen

“I’ve always tried to follow Capa’s adage about getting closer. The irony is that my most well known image of a crashed spacecraft with butterflies was taken from afar with a big, long telephoto lens. Without that, the butterflies would be all but invisible in the image. I did, in fact, try some images with a wide angle lens, but the pictures just got worse and worse the closer I got. But there is wisdom in Capa’s idea outside of the frame as well. The best photographs are of the things that are close to you – in terms of what you are passionate about, what engages you. When I took this picture, in 2000, I was in the midst of a big love affair with Russia and the former Soviet Union. I had moved there to live in the middle of my story every day. This is an outtake that’s about 10 frames after the more well-known image. The same boys are ripping copper wire from the top of the rocket but, in this picture, a villager on a horse has shown up. I wonder if there was an even better picture that I missed if I’d gotten the horse in the frame when the boys were standing up.” — Jonas Bendiksen


Alessandra Sanguinetti, Cecilia, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1995 © Alessandra Sanguinetti / Magnum Photos

Alessandra Sanguinetti, Cecilia, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1995
© Alessandra Sanguinetti/Magnum Photos

Alessandra Sanguinetti

“Back in 1993 I lived on a third floor, in an old building, on a narrow street, in downtown Buenos Aires. My bedroom had a little balcony that faced straight onto another third floor balcony of the building across the street.

Every day I’d see three young sisters hanging the washing out to dry on the railing, sweeping, playing, or throwing the keys down to someone waiting to get in. I started taking pictures of them when they came out, and we would wave at one another. The narrowness of the street between us made it seem like they were closer than they were. Eventually, I crossed the street and rang a few doorbells (there were ten third floor apartments). To everyone that replied I’d say I was the girl from in front that took pictures, until I rang the right bell and they let me in. This started a yearlong relationship with them and their Mom. We’d call each other from balcony to balcony and once in a while, we’d defy the gap and play ball over the traffic below.” — Alessandra Sanguinetti

Magnum’s “Closer” Square Sale runs from Monday, June 5, 2017 at 8 a.m. EST until Friday, June 9, 2017 at 6 p.m. EST. Signed and estate stamped, museum quality, 6-by-6 inch prints from over seventy artists will exceptionally be available for $100, for five days only. By using this link to make your purchase, a proceed from each sale will support Aperture Foundation. 

For more information on events related to Magnum at 70, click here.