40 Photographers, 30 Sites, 5 Continents: How This Book Happened

Christopher J. Klatell
Christopher Klatell, Chairman, Magnum Foundation

When The Atlantic Philanthropies first approached the Magnum Foundation about this book, it quickly became apparent to both organizations that it would not be enough simply to produce a volume of memorable photographs. Instead, we needed to design a process that itself would reflect the goals and values Atlantic has embraced over the course of its existence. In other words, we wanted the book’s production to result in a human capital investment that mirrored the physical capital investments Atlantic has long made, and which are documented in these pages.

The Magnum Foundation serves as a bridge: between the robust documentary photographic tradition of the twentieth century and the evolving visual culture of the twenty- first; between photographers from the developed world and those from the global south; and between elite practitioners and emerging talent. All of those bridging functions are exemplified by this book.

We were fortunate to have had some of the world’s most renowned photographers work on this project, in their home countries. They have produced images that help make manifest the scope and intent of Atlantic’s mission, while also demonstrating the complicated interconnection between built environments and the change that can be generated within them—no easy task. They also, through their visits to the various sites documented in this book, learned a tremendous amount about Atlantic’s accomplishments (and occasional failures), and those insights will have a lasting impact, through the photographs and otherwise.

Perhaps as important, we were able to establish educational programs in Ireland, South Africa, Viet Nam, and on the east and west coasts of the United States that gave young regional photographers the opportunity not only to undertake a “real” job in the field—an increasingly rare opportunity, given the collapse of the media infrastructure—but also to do so in the company of some of the best known names in their profession. That experience, we have found, can be absolutely vital to a young person’s practice and to his or her career.

More than 25 emerging photographers received grants to document Atlantic’s regional investments in connection with this project; some of their pictures made it into the pages of this book, and many more will be featured on the project’s website, together with the emerging photographers’ stories.

We believe in the development of regional documentary communities not only from a theoretical and political perspective, but also from a practical one: Regional photographers can often represent things that are otherwise difficult to portray. For instance, in South Africa, emerging photographers followed children who had had major surgery at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital back into their homes and communities, and also photographed in the township where public health workers based at the University of the Western Cape are undertaking the PURE survey. This kind of documentation, made possible by access and intimacy, greatly deepens and enriches our understanding of both facilities, and their roles in people’s lives.

Our largest educational program was in Ireland, based at the School of Art at the University of Ulster— itself, as it turns out, a recipient of significant capital support from Atlantic. Paul Seawright and Donovan Wylie, who photographed for the book, also teach at Ulster. Their dedication to creating a world-class program in Ireland exemplifies, as much as anything, the energetic and ambitious university culture that Atlantic has helped to build on the island. They and their students were extremely moved to learn of the scope of Atlantic’s activities in Ireland, many of which had not (prior to this book) been widely known to the Irish public.

The students in Ireland also had a transformative experience. As one said, he had worked previously as an assistant, but after this project he felt like a photographer. It is easy to forget, in an era of seemingly endless pictures online, that photographs actually come from some place, and that going out into the world to make them—to investigate, to talk to people, to engage—can be hard. It is not easy to have to walk into a hospice, or a cancer ward, or a research institute, and to develop a strategy for making photographs in a way that is ethical, responsible and effective. But you only learn to do so when you are given the opportunity. And if you seize that opportunity, you come away with much more than a set of photographs, however powerful: You leave with relationships, understanding and an eagerness to participate in the world.

The scope of this project was enormous; it involved more than 40 photographers and 30 sites spread across five continents. Atlantic likes to “go big,” and the Magnum Foundation likes to use its dexterity and its networks to achieve big things. We hope that through this project we have not only contributed to Atlantic’s legacy of capital giving by documenting it, but also by helping to create a new model of social documentation that itself can have a lasting and sustainable impact. Atlantic’s capital investments have been, at core, about promoting, and seizing, opportunity; to the extent we have helped create new opportunities though this process, we have fulfilled our mission as well.

— CHRISTOPHER KLATELL, Chairman, Magnum Foundation