Stories of slaves have been shared with folks for years throughout American education. But the finer details of those tribulations often get lost over time. Magnum Photographer Cristina De Middel embarked on a journey of cultural exploration of the the slave trade. And along the way she found some fascinating history, the roots of which are still evident today. The lead image of this story is part of Magnum’s current Square Print sale, and it has a curious story behind it.
When you look at this image and are unaware of the context, your mind will try to make sense of it. Could it be part of some sort of ritual? Are there traditions around it? Is it just someone cosplaying as a new type of furry? How did someone actually make the photo? These are just some of the questions this photograph compels me to consider. Cristina De Middel does a fantastic job of piquing curiosity with a single frame. Here’s the story behind the photo.
Phoblographer: what made you choose this specific photo?
Cristina De Middel: This image represents the “Now” chapter of this year’s curation trilogy for the Square Print Sale, and I wanted to reflect on how the present is influenced by the past and can affect the future. I believe it is important to understand that things cannot really be defined for good and also in a simple way because we are constantly changing. They say nothing lasts forever, and I believe the opposite. For me, things last forever as long as you accept transformation as an intrinsic part of nature.
Phoblographer: Can you tell us the story about this image? It’s one of the most unique that I’ve seen in the sale this year. What was going through your head? What was your emotional state like?
Cristina De Middel: The image belongs to the project “Midnight at the Crossroads” that I did with my husband, Bruno Morais in 2018. For many years we followed the path of Exu, an African deity that traveled with the slave trade route and adapted its shape and ritual to the needs of the new territory. Exu is a totem in West Africa, a child in Cuba, a young man in Brazil, and an old man in Haiti, but in all these places, it represents the spirit of free will and destiny. It is a spirit that challenges your perception to force you to take responsibility for your decisions.
The picture shows one of the details of the Brazilian representation of Exu, who has one animal leg just like the traditional representation of the devil in Christianity. It is posing at the door threshold, a place that is neither the house nor outside of it, which is, in my opinion, a good metaphor for the idea of the present.
The Magnum Square Print Sale
The Magnum Square Print Sale takes place on their website and ends on October 23rd, 2022. You can buy this image from Cristina De Middel and more. The Square Print Sale is a fantastic opportunity to get your hands on Magnum Photos prints from photographers you love. We’ve had an affiliate relationship tie in with Magnum in previous years, but this year we’re just profiling a few photographers we admire.