Revue de presse européene de la semaine / This week in European politics (25-29/07/2016)

This is the last one before a summer break that I intend to spend far away from any media outlet. For my own sanity.


 

One of The Economist‘s blog has a good article on the consequences 100 years down the line of having undermined the power of the Ottoman caliph and switching the centre of Islam from the Turks to the Arabs. It’s a short and interesting read that does not pretend to have fool-proof explanations for the current sorry state of things, but is a useful reminders that in foreign policy, actions can have long-lasting consequences:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/erasmus/2016/07/ottoman-caliphs

 

Keeping with The Economist, this blog post on German reaction to last week’s events. Bearing in mind that the scale is different in Germany and in France, it is still a sobering read:

http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21702718-face-rash-attacks-germans-are-staying-remarkably-calm-how-germans-handle-terror

 

Les Décodeurs du Monde ont un petit guide bien utile qui permet de raison garder face aux solutions miracles proposées par les uns et les autres face à la menace terroriste:

http://www.lemonde.fr/les-decodeurs/article/2016/07/21/petit-manuel-pour-lutter-contre-les-pensees-simplistes-apres-les-attentats_4972776_4355770.html

Pour en finir sur le thème attaques terroristes, un blog dont je recommande chaleureusement la lecture, pour des analyses fines de quelqu’un qui sait de quoi il parle et ne tombe ni dans l’hyperbole ni dans l’hystérie:

http://aboudjaffar.blog.lemonde.fr/

 

Et enfin, sur un thème purement européen, la nomination, par Jean-Claude Juncker, de Michel Barnier en tant que négotiateur du Brexit côté Commission. L’opinion de Jean Quatremer dans Libération:

http://www.liberation.fr/planete/2016/07/27/michel-barnier-un-mister-brexit-bien-peu-anglophile_1468933

 

Publicités

This week in European politics / Revue de presse européenne (16/07-20/07)

It’s a short one this week since I’m on a long weekend break. Also because while a lot happened (e.g. failed coup in Turkey, the aftermath of the Nice attack), I haven’t seen anything really good written about these events (with the exception of the second link on this week’s post).

So here we go, a very short selection:

A scathing appraisal of Boris Johnson’s appointment at the Foreign Office by the Economist’ Bagehot columnist. Something about putting a baboon in the driving seat of a Rolls Royce:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/bagehot/2016/07/may-delusion

 

Parfois la presse régionale est bien au-dessus de la presse nationale. Sans parler des hommes politiques. Un très bon article de Ouest France sur la médiocrité de la classe politique française après l’attentat de Nice:

http://www.ouest-france.fr/societe/faits-divers/attentat-nice/attentat-nice-un-grand-moment-de-mediocrite-politique-4371304?utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_source=Twitter&utm_term=Autofeed#link_time=1468679981

Revue de presse de la semaine / This week in European politics (09/07-15/07)

An interview that is slightly old (first published last Friday) but that has been doing the rounds ever since. From the Spiegel, this is a joint interview of Juncker and Schulz. At times candid, at times very political. I’m not sure it will do much to disperse the notion that both are somehow ruling the EU behind closed doors (although in fairness, the relation between the head of the executive and the head of the legislative is very rarely one of complete opposition) but it is an interesting read nonetheless (in English)

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/interview-with-jean-claude-juncker-and-martin-schulz-a-1102110.html

 

I’m not that fond of Politico EU. I find that more often than not they go for lazy tabloid style articles. It’s alright for a newspaper to go down that road. Except when you want to establish yourself as the n°1 newspaper on EU affairs (so in a nutshell, I miss The Economist‘s professional type of reporting that underlined European Voice. Often dry but always well researched). But sometimes Politico has good articles. From guests writers most of the time. Here’s one looking at Little England’s view of the EU:

http://www.politico.eu/article/europeans-dig-the-eu-english-are-the-exception-brexit-euroskeptics-eurozone-european-union/

 

Another excellent « Long read » from the Guardian, on post-facts (or even post-truth) politics in the age of social media. And it’s not a cheerful read:

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jul/12/how-technology-disrupted-the-truth?CMP=share_btn_tw

 

Jürgen Habermas on Europe post-Brexit. The interview is a bit long-winded (well, it’s Habermas) but interesting nonetheless (well, it’s Habermas). I’m still not sure I know exactly what he thinks or what he wants though:

https://www.socialeurope.eu/2016/07/core-europe-to-the-rescue/

 

Frans Timmermans is slowly becoming my new hero. This Facebook text on « understanding the British » is actually quite beautiful and very touching. His disappointment in seeing what Britain has become is quite palpable.

https://m.facebook.com/notes/frans-timmermans/when-in-rome-learning-to-understand-the-english/1132734193416105

 

Et pour finir le cas Barroso. Oui, cela est (probablement pour ce que l’on en sait pour le moment) parfaitement légal. Mais ça fait tout de même désordre. Jean Quatremer virulent comme jamais en vidéo et plus modéré mais toujours aussi mordant à l’écrit:

La vidéo: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I124429&videolang=INT&devurl=http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player/config.cfm

L’article sur Libération

http://www.liberation.fr/planete/2016/07/11/barroso-pris-la-main-dans-le-sachs_1465612

Revue de presse européenne de la semaine / This week in European politics

Nouvelle catégorie sur le blog. N’ayant pas de compte Facebook, je ne peux pas vraiment relayer à un large publique tous les articles intéressants que je lis durant la semaine. Mais j’ai un blog. Peu lu, certes, mais qui a néanmoins le mérite d’exister. Donc voilà, tous les vendredis, j’essayerai de faire une liste des articles de presse (en français et en anglais) qui m’ont interpellée, intriguée ou tout simplement intéressée. Cette sélection devrait refléter mon intérêt politique principal, à savoir la politique européenne (pour les élections US, ce n’est pas ici).

Et je suis parfaitement consciente de l’ironie qu’il y a à commencer une rubrique d’actualité un 8 juillet. Au début des vacances d’été. Mais avec ma plus belle imitation d’Humphrey Bogart dans Casablanca, je répondrais « et alors? ».

Voici donc cette première sélection.

 


New category on the blog. I do not have a Facebook account, so I cannot really share with a wide audience all the interesting press articles that I read during the week. But there is this little blog. Not a large audience, but it’s a start. So I’ve decided that every Friday I will try to offer a selection in French and in English of articles published during the week that I found interesting for whatever reason (well written, loads of insight, original point of view, or even utterly amazing by the amount of lies they contain etc…). My interest is in European politics, so this is what you will find here.

And yes, I know that it seems rather absurd to start a « news review » category at the start of the summer break. But I’ll do it anyway!

 

So let’s see this first selection.

 


Michel Rocard est décédé le week-end dernier, et toute la gauche française qui l’avait humilié et ignoré lui a rendu hommage. Un bel article de Quatremer sur la solitude de Rocard au Parlement européen:

http://bruxelles.blogs.liberation.fr/2016/07/06/michel-rocard-lhomme-que-les-socialistes-ont-humilie/

 

Juncker-bashing, the latest fashion in lazy European journalism, with quotes from « unnamed sources » and some ministers and hardly any perspective on why this sudden outburst of criticism. Julien Frisch has some thoughts on the topic, and it’s very interesting as it can probably apply to any politician who finds himself in the middle of a sudden collective negative media campaign.

http://julienfrisch.blogspot.be/2016/07/why-is-there-media-campaign-against.html

A long article on the Guardian, on the « doomed » Remain campaign. The article goes beyond the usual quest for a scapegoat to justify an electoral defeat and explains the workings of the campaign, put forward both the cross-party activists who gave it all and the pettiness of politicians. A very interesting insider’s view of a campaign:

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jul/05/how-remain-failed-inside-story-doomed-campaign

And finally a video (in English) that is slowly becoming viral (well, according to European politics standards at least).

The European Parliament has a great deal of advantages, being the only EU institution directly elected by the citizens. I find the mere idea of having a legislature of 571 directly elected MEPs from 28 countries amazing. Its powers have also been increased over the years, to the point where it is now a real counter-power to the national government represented in the Council. Unfortunately, low turnout in the elections and traditional parties’ lack of interest in the EU mean that more often than not the quality of the debate is not what it should be. To put it bluntly, Parliament’s potential is seriously underused.

And still, there are some truly amazing moments. Last year, Guy Verhofstadt‘s speech to Alexis Tsipras went viral (at the time I write, it has more than 900 000 views on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P84tN0z4jqM ). Last week, there was Alyn Smith (SNP) « begging » his « chers collègues » not to « let Scotland down » (here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-4Sc52vmI8 « only » 17 000 views). This was a passionate, heartfelt speech that owed him a standing ovation.

And then, last Wednesday, Frans Timmermans, the Dutch Commissioner and First Vice-President of the Commission, delivered a wonderful short (7mn) speech reminding everyone in Parliament (and in Europe) what representative democracy was about and how it worked. I hope this speech will be used during the campaign for the next European elections (2019). If you want people to vote, you could do much worse than showing them this: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I123920 (at the time of writing, more than 46 000 views on the Europa website – hardly a popular platform, and more than 2 000 on YouTube)

Stupor Mundi, Néjib

Résumé du livre (sur le site de l’éditeur, Gallimard)

Au début du XIIIe siècle, Hannibal Qassim El Battouti, un éminent savant arabe, débarque dans les Pouilles à Castel del Monte, refuge d’érudits en tout genre. Accompagné de sa fille Houdê, paralysée, et de El Ghoul, son serviteur masqué, il a dans ses bagages une invention extraordinaire: la photographie. Pour obtenir la protection de Frederic II et continuer ses recherches, il lui faudra retrouver une formule chimique disparue, […] et lutter contre les forces ennemies liguées contre lui. Une aventure médiévale digne du «Nom de la Rose».

 

Résumé du livre si je l’avais écrit (le résumé, pas le livre)

Dans un château du nord de l’Italie vit une étrange communauté de savants, rassemblés là sous la protection de l’Empereur Fréderic II, la « Stupeur du monde ». Ils sont rejoints par un savant arabe, tout autant mystérieux et étrange qu’eux, et qui semble détenir la clef d’une invention prodigieuse qui permettrait à l’Empereur de résoudre ses conflits avec le Pape. Une intrigue digne du Nom de la Rose avec un soupçon de géopolitique moderne.

 

Verdict

Pour être franche, je n’ai pas aimé le trait. Ce qui pour une bande-dessinée est un peu problématique. J’ai également sciemment retiré une ligne du résumé officiel afin de ne pas gâcher l’histoire à toute personne qui déciderait d’acheter ce livre après avoir lu cet article. Je n’ai pas eu cette chance (merci au chroniqueur de la Fabrique de l’Histoire qui a présenté le livre), et cela a un peu gâté mon plaisir.

Ceci étant posé, j’ai beaucoup aimé l’histoire. Même sans « spoiler » on comprend très vite quelle est l’invention sur laquelle compte El Battouti pour gagner les faveurs de l’Empereur et l’on retient son souffle jusqu’au bout en attendant de voir s’il va réussir. La découverte de l’histoire de sa fille, de l’origine de sa paralysie, et de l’identité de El Ghoul apporte une dose supplémentaire de suspens.

C’est une bande dessinée assez touffue au niveau des thèmes abordés, mais qui se lit rapidement. L’histoire est bien ficelée et on ne peut s’empêcher de penser au Nom de la Rose, mais un Nom de la Rose plus sombre et plus cynique. Ces savants ne sont pas des personnages sympathiques. Ils peuvent même être aussi cruels, égoïstes et arrogants que le commun des mortels. Quant à la « Stupeur du monde », il est peut-être encore plus cruel et arrogant que tous les autres.

Stupor Mundi est donc une très bonne bande dessinée historique, très différente de ce qui se fait dans le genre (où la mode semble être au dessin très travaillé et colorisé avec soin), une sorte de court essai mis en image sur le thème « science, morale et religion ».

 

Stupor Mundi, Gallimard, 26€

ISBN : 9782070668434

 

Euphoria, Lilly King

Summary as quoted on a well-known books selling website

Euphoria is Lily King’s nationally bestselling breakout novel of three young, gifted anthropologists of the ‘30’s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives. Inspired by events in the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead, Euphoria is « dazzling … suspenseful … brilliant…an exhilarating novel.”—Boston Globe

 

Summary if I had written it

Love triangle on the Sepik river. Nell Stone – a well-known ethnologist and writer – and her husband Fen – an ethnologist as well but not as well-known as she is – meet with Bankson who is also studying the tribes of the river. Jealousy, science, violence, love, and lust all mix up to provide a surprisingly entertaining novel which doesn’t end as you thought it would.

 

Review

Euphoria is loosely based on the life of Margaret Mead who was a pioneer of ethnography in the 1920s-1930s. However, it is not a biography, even though the two other characters are based on Mead’s second and third husband.

I found the book well written. It is not a page-turner but it’s good book. The « romance » part of the story is well thought through and very sensitively written.

The science part is great. Ethnography is a relatively young science and in the 1920s it wasn’t even recognised as a science. People like Mead were pioneers and I thought the novel was a very clever way to show what it meant for these people to work on the field and to invent their own methodology, their own rules.

The description of the societies of the Sepik river, their complexity is also very well researched and makes the book very interesting.

All in all, it’s a good book. The story is original, it’s well researched and well-written. You should really give it a go if you have an interest in ethnography.

Expo: Mata Hoata, arts et société aux Iles Marquises

Musée du Quai Branly, Paris jusqu’au 24/07

 

Ces dernières années, je suis devenue une inconditionnelle des expos du Quai Branly: les sujets sont variés et elles sont une façon plus accessible d’aborder les arts premiers qu’une balade dans la collection permanente (si énorme qu’elle est assez intimidante et lasse vite).

Deux expos sont présentées en ce moment: Chamanes et Divinité au niveau de la mezzanine et Mata Hoata au rez-de-chaussée.

Quand on dit Marquises, je pense immédiatement à Brel (« ils parlent de la mort comme tu parles d’un fruit ») et ensuite à Gauguin. Mais à part ces deux regards occidentaux, je ne connaissais pas grand-chose de la culture des Marquises, rangée pour moi dans cet ensemble polymorphe que forment les cultures du Pacifique. Cette expo était donc l’occasion d’en apprendre plus sur l’art et la société des îles Marquises.

N’étant pas une spécialiste des arts premiers, je ne peux pas porter un jugement ethnographique sur la qualité de l’exposition et sa muséographie. Mais de mon point de vue profane, je l’ai trouvé très bien faite. L’expo est lumineuse et la circulation y est facile, les œuvres exposées sont bien présentées et le contexte culturel est très bien expliqué (une marque des expos du Quai Branly qui est un des rares musées français à avoir compris l’importance de soigner les cartouches). J’ai particulièrement aimé les deux couloirs montrant le regard des voyageurs occidentaux sur les îles et leurs habitants. Un regard qui évolue, passant de l’admiration à une condescendance toute coloniale et qui aussi montre le délitement de la société traditionnelle sous l’influence des colons et de l’Eglise (notamment l’interdiction des tatouages).

Néanmoins, l’exposition se termine sur une note positive, mettant en avant le renouveau de la culture traditionnelle: danses, tatouages et langue.

 

Un beau moment d’évasion.

 

Site internet: http://www.quaibranly.fr/fr/expositions-evenements/au-musee/expositions/details-de-levenement/e/matahoata-36333/

Hotel Florida: truth, love and death in the Spanish Civil war, Amanda Vaill

Summary as written on the site of a well known online retailer

Madrid, 1936. In a city blasted by a civil war that many fear will cross borders and engulf Europe―a conflict one writer will call « the decisive thing of the century »―six people meet and find their lives changed forever. Ernest Hemingway, his career stalled, his marriage sour, hopes that this war will give him fresh material and new romance; Martha Gellhorn, an ambitious novice journalist hungry for love and experience, thinks she will find both with Hemingway in Spain. Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, idealistic young photographers based in Paris, want to capture history in the making and are inventing modern photojournalism in the process. And Arturo Barea, chief of the Spanish government’s foreign press office, and Ilsa Kulcsar, his Austrian deputy, are struggling to balance truth-telling with loyalty to their sometimes compromised cause―a struggle that places both of them in peril.

Beginning with the cloak-and-dagger plot that precipitated the first gunshots of the war and moving forward month by month to the end of the conflict. Hotel Florida traces the tangled and disparate wartime destinies of these three couples against the backdrop of a critical moment in history: a moment that called forth both the best and the worst of those caught up in it. In this noir landscape of spies, soldiers, revolutionaries, and artists, the shadow line between truth and falsehood sometimes became faint indeed―your friend could be your enemy and honesty could get you (or someone else) killed.

Years later, Hemingway would say, « It is very dangerous to write the truth in war, and the truth is very dangerous to come by. » In Hotel Florida, from the raw material of unpublished letters and diaries, official documents, and recovered reels of film, the celebrated biographer Amanda Vaill has created a narrative of love and reinvention that is, finally, a story about truth: finding it, telling it, and living it―whatever the cost.

Summary if I had written it

The story of 3 couples caught in the Spanish Civil War and of how the consequences of the war on their lives and loves.

Isa Kulcsar the austrian communist sympathiser and Arturo Barea the Spanish businessman who wants to help the Republic, Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, and of course Gerda Taro and Robert Capa.

It is a story of love, but also of death, of the relation to war, and how to tell the truth of a war, if such a thing exist.

The three couples are very different, with Kulcsar and Barea the most sympathic, and Hemingway the most unpleasant in my view. Taro and Capa are a bit more complicated to understood. Theirs seem to be a reverse Pygmalion relationship. She created him, but he’s the one who fell madly in love. And of course, their love story is the most tragic of the three told.

Review

I found the book very well written. It’s not a novel, but a novelized account of the lives of the 6 main protagonists. Sometimes I was a bit wary of the statement of the book (e.g. when the author says that Capa paid for the Giacometti sculpture on Taro’s grave) but the notes after each big chapter corroborate them (in that case, he said so in a letter to his mother), so no worry here.

Not all character are as likable. I found Hemingway frankly disgusting. A man more interested in his own glory than in the world around him. Taro as usual is hard to understand because she left so little writing about her thoughts and her feelings (most biographers now agree that Capa and her had made up after the hiatus of the Spring 1937. Whether he had again asked her to marry him, what she had said, only them know and they didn’t say anything to anyone). That she loved Capa a lot is not in doubt, that she was torn between her feelings and her ambition to establish herself as a war photographer in her own right is also very clear. It’s not easy being recognized as a war photographer when your lover is « the greatest war photographer of all time ». The striking thing about the Capa/Taro couple is how young they were, and in a way how naive. Capa was barely 23 in 1936 and it’s heartbreaking to think he would see (and document) so much suffering in such a mature way, and also suffer so much himself.

Kulcsar/Barea was for me the most interesting story as it’s the one I knew almost nothing about. I really enjoyed reading about them.

The book also opens very cleverly a discussion on intellectuals and the war. Kulscar and Barea are deeply involved because they care about the Spanish people (also because Barea is Spanish). Taro and Capa first get involved because it’s a story of a fight against fascism, and as Taro grows as a photographer, her photos take a more militant turn (although the photos of the Valencia morgue are shocking, I can’t help thinking they look like shots that can be used for propaganda purpose). Capa on the other hand, slowly becomes more involved with the people and less with the politics. He too really becomes a photographer in Spain, but his photos are growingly apolitical. You feel that he cares about civilian casualties more than he cares about the politics behind. As for Hemingway (Gellhorn seems to be mid-way between Taro and Capa on that point), he appears at the typical intellectual who uses a cause to serve his profile. He cares about the war, but he’s ready to swallow any propaganda if it gives him public exposure. He reminds me of BHL (a French intellectual), although he is a far better writer.

All in all, I think the book gives a very good account of the Spanish Civil War, undeniably a more readable one than Beevor’s account.

Warmly recommended.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan

Summary (as written on a well know online bookseller)

In The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan displays the gifts that have made him one of the most acclaimed writers of contemporary fiction. Moving deftly from a Japanese POW camp to present-day Australia, from the experiences of Dorrigo Evans and his fellow prisoners to that of the Japanese guards, this savagely beautiful novel tells a story of the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.

 

Summary if I had written it

Dorrigo Evans, a well-known Australian surgeon was a commanding officer in one fo the POW camps charged with building the Siam-Burma railway during World War II; Towards the end of his life, he remembers his youth, his time at the camp, those who died, those he saved, the love he lost, the men he couldn’t save. The story of a man who wasn’t supposed to be extraordinary but was made so by the exceptional circumstances in which he found himself.

 

Review

I hadn’t read a good novel in a while and simply devoured this one in one day (granted, I had to stay indoor for the whole day). The style is a bit puzzling at first, jumping from one time to another, without the change of era being due to flashbacks. Life at the POW camp is described in all its horror and makes for bloodcurdling reading.

One of the great strength of the book in my view is also to show the Japanese point of view (although how completely accurate and true is that point of view only a Japanese in charge of a POW camp could say) where violence, cruelty and downright sadism are simply a way to ensure the Emperor’s will is done. The hypocrisy of the allies after war, when they pursued and judged some officers – those in charge of allied POW camps – bu not all – in particular those responsible for the atrocities in China – is also very well exposed.

All in all, I found the love story to be the weakest and most boring part of the book.

 

 

In short, it is a very good historical fiction, on an episode of World War II history that, if not quite forgotten (think Bridge upon the River Kwai ) is not talked about very often in Europe.

 

ISBN: 978-0804171472

 

Magnum, Fifty years at the frontline, Russell Miller

Summary as written on [a well know book-selling website]

Since Magnum was founded in 1947, its members have been on hand to bear witness on the front line of world history. From Robert Capa’s stark photograph of a Loyalist soldier being shot in the head during the Spanish Civil War to Eve Arnold’s astonishingly intimate portraits of well-known faces – from Joan Crawford to Malcolm X – Magnum has changed how we perceive our political leaders, social crises, and the communities next door.
Magnum’s photographers are some of the most talented, brave, and resourceful in the world: the founders, Robert Capa, David Seymour, George Rodger, and Henri Cartier-Bresson; and recruits, including Eve Arnold, Bruce Davidson, Mary Ellen Mark, Susan Meiselas, Inge Morath, James Nachtwey, Eugene Richards, and Sebastiao Salgado. Magnum follows them on assignment, facing bodyguards and visa troubles and taking to the risk-filled trenches of several wars for the perfect shot. Full of wonderful stories and heroic feats, Magnum is an essential volume for anyone interested in photography or photojournalism.

 

Summary if I had written it

The first fifty years of Magnum is the story of a very dysfunctional family. A bunch of very talented individuals who have nothing much in common except talent for photography and a complete unwillingness to be told what to do. A tale, or rather tales, of daring deeds, brilliant ideas and petty fights, punctuated by some of the most important photos of the second half of the 20th century.

 

Review

The idea behind Magnum is fairly straightforward: photographers, and in particular photoreporters, should be free to choose their subject and how they want to treat it and should retain the rights to their photos. It sounds obvious now but it wasn’t the case before 1946. The idea of a photographers’ cooperative had been in Capa’s mind since the 1930s but he only got round to founding it in 1946/47. If the idea behind is great, there is an initial flaw in the setting up of Magnum, that is putting the photographers completely in charge. Photographers are not businessmen, and therefore since its creation, Magnum has suffered regularly from financial trouble (the book covers the first 50 years, I would hope that since the agency is still around, they have finally found a way to solve their perennial money issue).

Miller’s book is an uncompromising portrait of the dysfunctional family that Magnum is. One anecdote in the book summarises the atmosphere of Magnum very well: when Cartier-Bresson was chairman of the annual meeting, the minutes apparently read « the chairman is asked not to do watercolours during the meeting ». From a sociological point of view Magnum is the equivalent of the peasants’ commune in Holy Grail and as such shouldn’t have lasted more than a year or two. But 70 years later, Magnum is still there, and Miller’s book gives us some answer: yes they couldn’t manage a balance sheet to save their lives; yes they’re full of themselves and spend their time quarrelling, but in the end the people there are not just « good » photographers, they’re brilliant ones and they all value their independence too much to let Magnum sink.

After a first thematic chapter that sets the environment (Miller’s account of the 1997 Annual meeting, with its little fights and slammed doors, a typical meeting as we soon discover), the book is organised chronologically, starting with a brief summary of the founders’ (Capa, Chim, Rodger and Cartier-Bresson) lives. It makes for fascinating reading as the story of Magnum’s first 50 years is also the story of the second half of the 20th century, with all its wars and social changes.

It’s an uncompromising portrait, but a very touching one too. No matter how awful these photographers seem to be to each other and to the staff working in the agency, I couldn’t help thinking that it would be fascinating to work for one of the bureaux for a year, just to see it from the inside (I do think that after a year, you’d need another one to get your health back).

As I said earlier, given how it is organised, Magnum shouldn’t have lasted 50 years, not to mention 70. That they did is a testament to the greatness of the basic idea behind it: photographers’ independence. And I think that’s what makes this portrait so touching too. Independence is a much touted word nowadays, but very few people can afford to live by this principle (to the sound of « you’ve got to serve somebody » by Dylan), and it creates a lot of problems when talking about the media. To read about 50 or so inveterate, old-fashioned photographers who value their independence above money is refreshing.

My only regret at the end is that I couldn’t find a book that takes over and covers 1997-2016. To be written one day I hope!

 

A warmly recommended read for anyone interested in photojournalism (ok, confession time: as a teen, I wanted to be a war photograph).

 

Date of publication: 1999

ISBN: 978-0802136534