When Robert Capa conceived of Magnum Photos I suspect he had no idea what it would become. Founded in 1947 by Capa and Cartier-Bresson, among several others, Magnum has become a rallying place for excellence in photojournalism. Notable members over the years include Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Eve Arnold, Steve McCurry, Elliott Erwitt, Ernst Haas, Don McCullin, W. Eugene Smith, and Sebastiao Salgado, among many others.
One of the best resources I’ve found for looking at the work of these photographers is Magnum Contact Sheet. It’s one of my all-time favourites, not only for the great photography, but for what almost all the other books don’t show you – the outtakes. Magnum Contact Sheet is a killer study in context and if you’re willing to pour over the thousands of images in this book you’ll learn something about the process of making photographs that you won’t learn in many places. Many of my own students have told me how instructive it’s been when I’ve pulled back the curtain and shown the sketch images and false starts that got me to my final work, imagine being able to do this with a handful of master photographers from the last century.
Magnum Contact Sheet is a masterclass in iconic storytelling photography, and while it’s not cheap, it’s huge (508 pages, it weighs 10lbs) and will give you years of pleasure, inspiration, and – if you study it mindfully – instruction. It’s available from Amazon here.
Of course, you might be able to get this at the library, though this is one book I go back to and will always have on my shelf, but you can also find so much of the work of Magnum Photographers online with a little time spent with Google. You can also find much inspiration here on the MagnumPhotos.com site.