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Q&A with Magnum photographer, Stuart Franklin


Staff member
Jan 20, 2002

What would you ask Magnum photographer, Stuart Franklin, photographer of the tank man during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations? What is the most memorable photo he ever taken? How does he decide between B&W and color photography? The audience asked these and more during the Q&A session prior to the screening of Magnum Photos: The Changes Of A Myth.

Remember to catch Outside In: A Magnum Photos Showcase
Please Click Here for the Speed Round with Three Magnum Photographers

How do you choose between B&W and color photography? Why the choice of B&W when you photograph trees?

All of us who work in B&W or have worked in B&W would agree with me. There’s something engaging, I don't quite know what it is, with B&W photography.

Whether you should do it before or after color, really, there shouldn't be an order to anything. That sounds too rigorous to me. I think it is important to explore everything but just to try to understand and weigh your own partake. In some ways, some projects for some people, they work better in color and some projects, some people work better in B&W.

You really have to answer this question as a photographer. Or you go half way, half color and half B&W. The fact is you got to determine where you are going.

For me, B&W is sort of a discipline, reduced and reductive which to me, is quite interesting. It’s like, I don't know, it’s like music before Bach. You know, one-dimensional. You don't understand that? [Audience laughs]

Well, for trees, it is a big subject. I am trying to deal with trees anthological are about form and B&W deals with form extremely well. Trees carry their feelings on the outside, we mostly carry ours on the inside. If there’s been a bad storm, trees would be wet all over. We just look the same. I am dealing with form and dealing with a range of situation. Most of the work I have deal was shot in B&W. But having said that, the work I did in China, in Yunnan, Sichuan province was all shot in color. So I am moving around.

What was the most memorable photo you ever taken?

Oh God, no idea. That’s a mistake but I’ll give you a chance to ask another question. [Everyone laughs]
I don't know. Maybe I can answer that. I think one of the pictures that moves me most. I was sent to Hungary to work on a story about conductive education. It was a story about children who had various forms of cerebral palsy and so on. In the UK, they have decided not really to treat in any way and put them in wheelchair. But in Hungary, they thought why put them in wheelchair. Why not get them out and see if they can actually walk. And I remember sitting, watching this little girl sort of walk for the first time. That was… it brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.

Thank you for your work. Great work. Just an observation, I saw some of your initial street photographs, the propensity for a street photographer is to shoot wide. But I noticed that a lot of your shots have very straight verticals which are the trademarks of an architectural photographer perhaps. You talked about space but the word space relates to architecture as well. Just an observation, would you like to respond?

Well, I can talk about space for a week. [Audience laughs]

My work is mostly on instinct. The picture of the girl running past the fish and chips store, I didn't really think about space. I simply thought about her, I thought about the fish and chips shop, and I thought about the movement.

I think photography for most people are quite instinctual. Most of the work I do, 90% is not conceptual, at all. I’m not pre-thinking what’s going to be interesting, what isn’t. It so happens at the swimming pool in San Paolo, I photographed that architectural space but I didn't had to go there.

I think I am just quite interested when I say that nature and society are inseparable. We are part of nature so I’ve always been drawn by this juxtaposition of the human and the built environment. And I guess architecture, the way we are within what we build is quite interesting. Our fluid, odd, and twisty forms and how we take that around the square things that we built.

What’s happening with your life over the next twelve months? What projects are you looking or not looking forward to?

I hope to be alive.

I’m a happily married man.

I working on a book about the BBC which will be published next year. I have my narcissus book coming out. And I am trying to continue in the background of everything, this book called Trees and their relationship to man.

I am always looking for ways to evolve things.

I have a few other projects. So more or less.

[Audience Applause]

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