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For forty years, Magnum photographer Patrick Zachmann has been travelling the world with his Leica: Jewish identity, the Chinese Diaspora, the situation of migrants in Marseilles – his themes are as multi-faceted as his imagery. “I don’t want to repeat myself, like many photographers do by developing a special style,” Zachmann once explained in an interview. All the more reason to show a cross-section of his work: analogue and digital, headstrong and impressive, in colour and in black and white – unpredictability is the only common denominator.

See the interview in M Magazine No. 4.

What type of photographer are you?

I don’t define myself as a street photographer, although I do photograph quite a bit on the street; I always have a theme in mind. I have a narrative approach, looking less for beautiful images than for meaning.

Does that mean that a simple image, however good it may be, is not enough of itself?

Of course I try to make the best images possible, but a beautiful image in and of itself doesn’t interest me. I don't see myself as belonging to the typically French tradition of humanist photography represented by people such as Willy Ronis. I’m not looking for Henri Cartier-Bresson’s magical, virtuous decisive moment. Instead, my photography places itself within the moment. I try to integrate the notion of the decisive moment, which is a specific photographic tool in itself, into the context of my work. But on the whole, my images tend to reach universality rather than the notion of the exceptional.

What defines your choices when you’re taking a picture and when you’re editing your themes?

At the moment of taking a photograph, I’m attracted to certain subjects, such as light, faces, of course, and also situations. Afterwards I forget about them. Then when I start editing; although another process is taking place, I find that I’m often attracted to the same lights, people and situations as when I was photographing. This confirms my very intuitive and emotional way of working. Aesthetics and composition are also taken into consideration. I accept imperfections in an image, so long as I like the emotions it conveys. A good photo combines both meaning and aesthetics; but it’s the sequence of images that most interests me. In that sense I belong to the American tradition of the ‘photographic essay.’
© Patrick Zachmann / Magnum Photos
© Patrick Zachmann / Magnum Photos
© Patrick Zachmann / Magnum Photos
© Patrick Zachmann / Magnum Photos
© Patrick Zachmann / Magnum Photos

Patrick Zachmann

Patrick Zachmann (*1955) started working as a photographer in 1975. In 1979, he began his project about Jewish identity, which appeared in 1987 titled Enquête d’identité. Zachmann focussed on themes of little interest to the news media, such as the Mafia in Naples, or the problems of migrants in Marseilles. In 1989, Zachmann reported on events at Tian’anmen Square in Beijing, and documented the Chinese Diaspora over the following years. In 1990, he became a member of the Magnum Agency. In 2013, Mare Mater in which Zachmann links the current fate of migrants with his own family story, was released.

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