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© Olivia Wyatt

Recently, I panned the Magnum: In Motion piece on Haiti. Afterward, I went back to put a name to the disaster. Olivia Wyatt.

Then I felt guilty. I meant to attack Magnum, not an individual … who has a name … which is stated clearly at the end of the piece.

To allay may guilt, I feverishly went in search of other stuff to support the notion that Wyatt was piss-poor at what she did. I was sorely disappointed.


Olivia Wyatt has her lens and mic up in some good projects. As well as producing Jonas Bendiksen’s Nepal Maoists and the Magnum group’s Merry Christmas (with choice tunes from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra) she was also the producer on Christopher Anderson’s Capitolio Magnum: In Motion piece that played its part in getting everyone hot and bothered last summer.

Silicon Forest, the other Anderson piece Wyatt worked on fizzes and pops with the same disjointed eye that Anderson lent to Akademgorodok (Academic City), Siberia.

© Olivia Wyatt


Then after unearthing some classy collage works, I came across Wyatt’s unexpected polaroids from Ethiopia (pages 46-54).

After all this, her Vimeo channel walks me straight into another dimension where Eraserhead meets Jesus Camp meets Point Break.

Seeking the Spirit is about Pastor Richard Philips and the congregation of the Celestial Church in Christ meeting at the Beach 96th Street, Rockaway, New York to observe an all night ceremony of prayer and cleansing.

Screen grab. Seeking the Spirit, by Olivia Wyatt

All great work. I am chastened.

Magnum has produced a three minute In Motion piece on Haiti:

The multimedia piece as a whole is disappointing. It features the photographs of Abbas, Christopher Anderson, Eve Arnold, Jonas Bendiksen, Bruce Gilden, Cristina Garcia Rodero and Alex Webb – all incredible photographers, but bundled together they compete against (and detract from) one another.

Abbas’ silvery images of Hounsis, ladies dressed in white (2000) … mix with his images of Saut D’eau (2000) … mix with his images of the Pentecostal Protestants of Jacmel … mix with Gilden’s hard-flash from Plaine du Nord (1985) … mix with Gilden’s street photography in Port-au-Prince (1990 & 1994) … mix with Eve Arnold’s quiet compositions (1956) … mix with Christopher Anderson’s menace … mix with Jonas Bendiksen’s beautiful retreated studies of Haitians in agrarian landscapes and activities … mix with Rodero‘s image of the rituals of Soukri, photos of the Carnival at Jacmel and Souvenance …

The slideshow concludes with a vertiginous volley of portraits of Restavek child servants/slaves by Paolo Pellegrin (who strangely has no credit line).

It’s all too busy and without context and frankly does nothing to describe the country of Haiti. It is in some ways just a limp, late addition to the flurry of visuals we’ve been served these past eleven days.

Magnum would have been much better promoting the recent traveling exhibition Disposable People – Contemporary Global Slavery, and making ‘In Motion’ pieces for contributors Webb and Pellegrin.


Fototapeta‘s interview with Webb is well worth reading. He talks about the cultural differences between the US and countries of Central and Southern America (with repeated references to to Haiti); about open energy and discrete action; about shooting in colour and in B&W; and about reconciling photojournalism with an inevitable personal reaction.

Webb notes his ongoing balancing act,

“I always felt to some extent that I am out one fringe of Magnum, but I was brought into Magnum particularly by Charles Harbutt, and Charles was really oriented not towards traditional photojournalism at that point. I mean at that point Marc Riboud was doing a lot of rather traditional photojournalism. Charles was encouraging a much more personal kind of vision of the world, and that influenced me much more. I have taken elements of that, which is a very personal approach, but taken them into situations that people do not associate with a totally personal approach like going somewhere else, like Haiti, where political violence takes place, therefore it is photojournalism, but I am actually taking a very personal approach inside places like Haiti.”

HAITI. Port-au-Prince. 1987. A memorial for victims of army violence. © Alex Webb

I picked out the image by Alex Webb (above) as my preferred image because, while it’s subject is death, it is – as a single image – actually about the bonds of a Haitian community and the composition of Webb’s craft. And they equalise one another perfectly.

I don’t wish to be misunderstood, Magnum: In Motion is a phenomenal service to the global photographic community. I can’t imagine a world nor web without it. The archive is a treasure. I guess when I believe a slideshow has fallen short I want to state it as such. I only criticise because I care.


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