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Can you control the narrative? Zine-making, image selection and the impact of creative decisions with Magnum Photos

Published date
09 Sep 2019
Megan St Clair Morgan

When making a printed publication it can be hard to distance yourself from work you’ve created, to try and understand how a viewer will interpret it. With that in mind we joined a zine-making workshop led by Rafal Milach last month, during our annual Magnum Intensive Documentary Photography course, which challenged students to do just that.

As part of the course all students create a printed zine and present their documentary photography story, both in print and through a presentation on the final day of the three-week short course. We joined students at the Magnum Photos London office to see them learn about production of zines in relation to documentary photography.

Challenged with a team exercise in two groups, students were tasked with selecting 15 images from a given stock pile of images to be create into a zine – looking at how the images connect using photographic principals. Tutor Rafal encouraged students to look at images formally or symbolically rather than adjoining narratives to them.

Working against the clock, with 30 mins to create a connected series without adding a narrative, students noted “we want to select images which make us feel something”. With the time up, Rafal added a twist – they would present each other’s selections and were tasked to explain the reasoning behind the selection and layout.

Team one presented their imagery in a circular layout, which prompted questions as to where the ‘start’ was. This spurred on many ideas from the Team two, who had to present the selection. “What is it that connects? Material use, geometry? Try to be more precise in your descriptions” Rafal asked the students. What was the reasoning behind the circular layout? “It presents the idea of starting anywhere and finishing anywhere - using geometric shapes which feature in all the images.”

Team two brought thoughts of metaphorical and literal connections with images via likeness of colour, features of similar objects/faces etc and how the images respond to each other via graphic elements. When team one were asked to share their reasonings for the selection and layout, they noted “we began by matching the structure and composition of the images. We looked at the connections of colour and structure of duos between them. We found geometric lines which combined the geometric forms of the next image and so on.”

This exercise gave a literal example of the creative decisions, which affect how your work is viewed, and how this changes the way your work can be understood. So, what was the take away? There is no one possible option of reading a story which was a point of reflection for their own zines… Ensuring they have a layer of understanding within the layout additional elements, enabling the creation of environments for the images to enable understanding from differing viewpoints.

What did the students go on to create? See a sneak peek below of this year’s student zines!

a photo book flicking through showcasing images of bus stops across london
Maciej Olechnowicz – Bus Stop
a photo book opening and showing images of people on a boat
Turning Captain - Louis Lammertyn

Find out more about the Magnum Intensive Documentary Photography Course