Review: Magnum – The Art of Street Photography (Online Course)

The highly anticipated first online course from Magnum – The Art of Street Photography – has arrived.  

Magnum, arguably the worlds’ number one photography collective, has put on workshops all around the globe. Over the years, their A-list photographers have taught their skills to new and experienced students.

Now, for the first time, Magnum have delved into the world of online teaching –  focusing first on street photography. The course has almost 3 hours of content which is split into 10 lessons. Inside you’ll see appearances from the likes of Bruce Gilden, Martin Parr and Susan Meiselas – as well as a host of other industry-leading experts.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the highlights…

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Due to the quality of the content, it’s an absolute steal at $99
  • Accessible anywhere in the world
  • In-depth teaching from some of the world’s best street photographers
  • Great virtual photo walks with Martin Parr, Bruce Gilden and Peter Van Agtmael
  • You’re able to go into the course at a time most convenient for you

Cons

  • You’re unable to receive direct feedback on your work
  • Not enough information on editing photos in digital format
  • The site still has some glitches on the advance testing site we had access to that need resolving. Because of this, we’re unable to comment on the user interface of the course

Course Content

In order to not give too much away, we won’t go through every element of the course. However, below is a table of contents so that you know what to expect should you decide to purchase it.

  • The Street And The Decisive Moment
  • Hitting The Street
  • In Focus: Bruce Gilden
  • Framing The Unexpected
  • In Focus: Martin Parr
  • Photographing People
  • In Focus: Peter Van Agtmael
  • Alternative Approaches
  • Editing: Creating Order Out of Chaos
  • Presenting Your Work

The Street And The Decisive Moment

The course opens up with the question “What is street photography?”.  Bruce Gilden, Peter Van Agtmeal and Pauline Vermare (Cultural Director, Magnum Photos) all suggest that street photography can be anything and everything from the candid perspective – highlighting the diversity of the craft.

Introducing street photography’s most recognisable name – Henri-Cartier Bresson – we explore one of street photography’s earliest concepts: The Decisive Moment. Rather refreshingly, they challenge the idea that the decisive moment is the most important factor of a strong street photograph. Instead, you are encouraged to think of the more mundane moments in our world – identifying how beauty can be found within them.

If you’re an experienced street photographer, this first lesson may not give you anything you haven’t seen before. However, for the novice, it offers a strong introduction and encourages you to think about what street photography means to you.

Hitting The Street

In Hitting The Street, we get into the bread and butter of street photography.  It takes a closer look at what life is like for a street photographer when out shooting every day.

What struck me about this section was the transparency. We are told that street photography will frustrate us. The laws, the rejection, the hours spent walking only to come back without a single photo of worth. An extremely important lesson for anyone thinking street photography will just be a walk in the park.

In this part, you’re going to learn about preparation, photography gear and getting in the right mindset to shoot street photography. There are some valuable teachings here, coupled with the personal approaches of some of the very best in the field.

Framing The Unexpected

For anyone that thought street photography was as simple as walking and taking a shot, you’re about to get a reality check. Framing The Unexpected demonstrates the difference between a street photograph and an extremely good street photograph. From framing to layering; intimacy to meaning, we’re treated to the different elements that make your work stand out from the rest.

Thankfully, the key points are not just skimmed over – which is pleasing. There is a genuine attempt to be as clear and in-depth as possible when explaining each approach – something that’s not always true when it comes to online learning.

Photographing People

The most interesting subject matter we are ever going to find is people – because they’re endlessly fascinating. Martin Parr

Without question, this was the strongest part of the whole course. New and experienced street photographers tend to practice the craft due to their interest in the human form. But with that comes plenty of hurdles to jump over. Magnum, in a very detailed way, has covered each point perfectly. From how to work unnoticed, looking for interesting subjects, to dealing with confrontation – no stone is left untouched.

What was beautiful about this lesson, was to hear why some of the greats practice street photography. To see their genuine love for the craft, even after doing it for so many years, was truly wonderful.

Alternative Approaches

People often argue about how you should practice street photography. Alternative Approaches challenges the status quo. For example, the section opens up with images taken of the street – only without any people in them.

I’m trying to make pictures that look as close to reality as possible. Mark Power

This lesson will particularly appeal to those interested in using large format cameras.  Mark Power takes us on his journey of using large format with a tripod – demonstrating the benefits of standing still and waiting for the shot.

It would have been nice to also get an alternative perspective from one of Magnum’s more emerging photographers. That said, this section provides plenty to think about.

Editing: Creating Order Out of Chaos

I would say my hit rate for pictures that I would consider great is proberbly, at best, one in 10,000 photographs – Peter Van Agtmeal

Let that sink in. Street photography isn’t easy – even for the most decorated of photographers. Expect to be told to throw away your average shots. And to learn how to select images more carefully – covering the important things to think about before deciding whether or not it’s a keeper.

Although there is plenty of value to understanding the process of sequencing when looking at contact sheets, it would have been nice to see a step-by-step, present-day approach to editing a single digital image. Maybe Magnum believes that there is an authenticity to stick to in street photography – that being film and no editing software.

Presenting Your Work

The course finishes by focusing on the importance of loving your work. It teaches that you will never progress without a genuine love for the process of making photographs. Encouraging you to think about your own personal style, you’ll learn about the effectiveness of doing both sort and long-term photo projects.

Naturally, no Magnum course would be complete without a mention of the photobook. The student is given an insight into the work that goes into creating a photo book, the benefits of seeing your work in print and the concept of self-publishing.

It’s a strong way to conclude the course, giving you something to go away and think about in regards to developing your photographic voice.

Conclusion

Is this first online course from Magnum worth $99? Absolutely.

You’re getting in-depth knowledge and experience from the very creme of the crop – that’s priceless. The course is very much targeted to the newbie street photographer. So, if you’ve been studying the craft for a considerable amount of time, this might not be the course for you. That said, we are always learning, and there are certainly lessons everyone can take from the course.

The In Focus virtual photo works offer an inside look at different ways of working. It’s useful to understand the diverse mindsets and interests of the selected photographers – it’s up to you to learn which one you relate to the most.

We’re told that the course comes with workbooks too. This is important,  as none of the video content offers anything in the form of practical challenges for the student. The course was definitely delivered with conviction – making it a worthwhile investment for any street photographer wanting to learn from the very best.

The course will be available from Tuesday 4th December. For full details, please visit the Magnum Photos website.

Dan Ginn is a UK based street photographer and writer. Learn more about him via his website and Instagram