The space between a photographer’s independent work and their commercial work is filled with contradictions and connections; it’s rare for one side to exist without a hint of the other. For most, the cycle works as follows: personal work attracts commercial clients seeking to draw on the artist’s perspective, which then funds the next chapter of personal work, which then draws in new commissions, and so on.

Both sides fuel each other while seeking often opposing forms of success, as cultural accolades and financial rewards are not always aligned. Perhaps this tension between the two sides propels photographers forwards as they seek out a balance between aesthetics and ethics.  

Gucci makeup fashion shoot, Brooklyn, New York City, USA, 2019 © Bruce Gilden/Magnum Photos
Gucci makeup fashion shoot, Brooklyn, New York City, USA, 2019. © Bruce Gilden/Magnum Photos

Revealing this often hidden complexity is ‘Open for Business – Magnum Photographers on Commission’, an exhibition presented by Foam Amsterdam (on view until 7 September 2022). For more than 75 years, Magnum’s roster has been taking on diverse commissions ranging from reporting for NGOs to fashion shoots for the chicest of publications to advertising tinned food. Magnum has done it all, while also creating some of the most memorable imagery of our time. 

Curated by Anne-Marie Beckmann, director of Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation, and Mirjam Kooiman, curator of Foam, eight exhibition chapters carry visitors along a journey through assignments that occupy the intersection of art, documentary and commerce. 

Artists include Olivia ArthurHenri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt, Jean Gaumy, Bruce Gilden, Jim Goldberg, Harry Gruyaert, Alex Majoli, Steve McCurry, Cristina de Middel, Rafal Milach, Inge Morath, Trent Parke, Martin Parr, Paolo Pellegrin, Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Mark Power, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Alec Soth, Newsha Tavakolian and many more. §

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