Photography inevitably gravitates around time, light and control. Around their presence, around their absence, around combining them at best.
On one hand it aspires to haunt unpredictable, candid moments. On the other hand it is dependent on set agendas managing access and purpose.
Behind each shoot, in all genres, there are control mechanisms linked to the interests of the commissioner and to those of the end viewer.
All organized by someone to make a point about something.
David Magnusson has spent years using his skills in the world of photographic assignments. He has learned his craft covering major stories of our times, documenting what is perceived as “real” while unfolds. He has photographed thousands of people, each time reflecting on what they need to convey. Always focused on bringing back an answer to a burning question.
With his project Purity he steps back from proposing answers and allows himself to formulate visual questioning. He literally offers a frame for the photographed to step into and share control. He sets the format and the mood by offering the location, selected and carefully set up, asking fathers and daughters to pose “in the light of the decisions you have made.”
David Magnusson’s focus is not on the individuals, it is on the relationship. The strength, the tenderness, the domination, and all the contradictions springing from adult men seeking promises which will guide young girls’ intimate lives and their infinite need for love and protection.
Each shoot takes up to an hour. That is no longer a “moment”; it is a long time to maintain intensity. Yet some of the fathers and daughters spend the hour physically clinging to each other.
The light is what makes this project visually coherent. All photographs are organized to be shot an hour and a half before dawn. Yes, it is beautiful. Many of the fathers refer to light in their interviews. One of them quotes Psalm 40: “I was plucked from a miry pit and sat into a marvellous light”, another thinks that “as Christians we’re supposed to be the light in the world.”
David Magnusson’s lighting appeals to those who pose but its airy subtlety also adds a surreal tone which contrasts with the solid convictions of the photographed. The setting seems to be from a fairy tale but we are confused by the cast.
David Magnusson knows that what is missing in a frame is as important as what is present. As fathers and daughters intensely try to embody the presence of God, one wonders what fears and hopes lie behind their mutual determination? Who are the men that inspire such fright and such need for protection? What past scars do the fathers want to redeem? Will these girls ever be able to love anyone more than their own progenitor? How much do our own demons suggest interpretations?
Purity is a personal visual project that offers a stage for intense emotions and questions.
As with all images, these carry different meanings depending on where and by whom they will be viewed. Ideally they need to be accompanied by the interviews and a balanced introduction.
But as with so many other images they will also be encountered divorced from initial purpose and control in an unpredictable journey.
Purity is a project about contradictions, love and domination, beauty and fear, relying on the very singular complexities of the photographic process.
Ayperi Karabuda Ecer is a documentary photography editor and strategist, former global vice president of pictures at Reuters, editor-in-chief at Magnum Photos Paris, and bureau chief at SIPA New York.