Martin Parr

Now Is the Time: Process Notes

By Martin Parr

So here is the challenge. Send a Magnum photographer anywhere in the world and ask them to take photos and they will always find something to inspire. Assign them to photograph in ten of the world’s most interesting cities at the forefront of change and the results are most impressive. They have the ability to find form in chaos, to show the poetry of the everyday, to capture the essence of a city in flux and through that to document the massive change the world is undergoing.

Magnum’s photographers have produced distinctive on the ground documentary from ten cities to coincide with BCG’s 50th anniversary. Situated in both the developed and emerging worlds, these locations were chosen to represent the global experience of change in contemporary society. Five essential conditions for change were defined in collaboration with BCG and Kram/Weisshaar. Five Magnum photographers were assigned two cities each and given the freedom to interpret the experience of the conditions on these urban populations. The diverse cast comprised an Argentine woman living in the USA, a Russian living in Paris, a British woman born in India and living in London, a Norwegian and an Italian.

One of the world’s longest surviving artistic co-operatives, Magnum Photos share both a strong heritage and global reach with BCG. Magnum photographers are selected by the existing members of the agency and require a two thirds majority vote to succeed. Every year hundreds of aspiring photographers apply to join Magnum, but only two or three individuals make it. It is for this reason that our photographers work to such a high standard. All Magnum photographers have a signature, a personal vision that takes years to establish. The photographs reproduced here are the product of intense preparation and strong creative instinct. Given space to interpret their subject individually the best are a fusion between the photographer and the city. This crucial connection between author and subject became the key element in my search for subjectivity and excellence.

The process of editing for an exhibition or book always begins with reducing the wealth of content generated on the ground into a more manageable 100, or so, key images. First you look for the killer photographs and then for the spread of information produced when the pictures sit together. When I say ‘killer’ it means that the photo tells its own story. It can contain a visual pun or remain more ambiguous, its narrative told through a combination of elements that speak to universal themes and/or those of a more specific story. For this project, each city section formed a total unit that needed a balance of information and entertainment. It is the role of the curator to both sequence and select so that the sum of the parts becomes more eloquent than the individual images. We help make sense of it all, a subjective and creative exercise in itself, but also one which endeavours to best articulate the photographer’s viewpoint. With such strong material, the issue here was more what to leave out, rather than what to put in.

Looking at the long and the short edits of this commissioned work what can we learn? The photographers have produced a distinctive portrait of important contemporary cities, capturing the shift of global and economic power away from Europe and America towards Asia and Latin America. It is the very nature of this changing world that is the focus for much of BCG’s work. The images both engage and inform. The individual photos are like pieces of a jigsaw, each one contributing to the larger concept and comprehensive body of work.

There is a long history of successful collaborations between businesses and artistic groups, especially in the world of photography. Examples include Man Ray’s Electricité working with the newly created Paris Electricity Company in 1931 and Henri Cartier-Bresson collaborating with IBM World Trade Corporation to produce Man and Machine – a collection of photographs on man’s continuing dialogue with machines in 1969. BCG, Magnum Photos and Kram/Weisshaar, have combined their expertise to create an interpretation of contemporary global experience, a “Now” that addresses the huge influences wrought by technology and population growth, but which also encompasses the experience of creative production itself.