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A Conversation With Constantine Manos

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David Alan Harvey: So tell me how photography became a passion for you. At what age, and how did lightning strike you?

Constantine Manos: I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, where I joined the school camera club at the age of thirteen. Photography became an instant passion for me, with an emphasis on the darkroom. I had a great teacher, who was a strict disciplinarian who taught me the fine art of how to develop film and make good prints. I fell in love with the darkroom, and this imparted a good sense of craftsmanship to all of my photography.

DAH: Do you make your own prints now?

CM: Yes, I make my own prints now. I worked in the darkroom most of my life and for the last four or five years I have been making what I consider to be beautiful digital prints, perhaps equivalent to darkroom prints – especially in black and white. Yes, I love making prints.

DAH: A lot of people get interested in photography at an early age, but what happened to make you think you could turn this into a profession, into a business, into a craft where you could earn a living? What made that happen?

CM: Well, almost immediately I realized I wanted to make a career out of it, and by the time I was fifteen I was doing picture stories that were being published in the Sunday magazine of the local newspaper, which was the largest newspaper in the state. At the age of seventeen I  discovered Henri Cartier-Bresson in a magazine article, and I found my mentor and the kind of pictures I wanted to take. I found out what camera he used, what film he used. I bought them and went to a little Island off the coast of South Carolina, and I made my first serious set of pictures – of which I am still proud. That was it. Cartier-Bresson was my long distance mentor for years. As soon as I got together a box of prints from the Island project I got on a Greyhound bus, went to New York, went to Magnum Photos and showed my pictures to whomever I met. I received a friendly but noncommittal reception. Cornell Capa was there, he looked at my pictures and said “lets go have a drink”. We went to a bar (I had never been to a bar in my life) and he sat me on the stool and said “what will you have”? I said “I’ll have whatever you have” and he said “Scotch”.  I’ve been a Scotch drinker ever since.

DAH: Well what was the island you photographed?

CM: It’s called Daufuskie Island; it was a little island that was inhabited by descendants of plantation slaves. It was very isolated. They were beautiful people, but that island is now a resort with golf courses and expensive houses. All of the original aspects of the island are gone, but I still have the pictures, and the negatives I processed are still beautiful after sixty years.

DAH: Yeah, that’s right. I forgot it was Daufuskie. I was on Daufuskie about twenty years ago and it was still pretty much like you photographed it. I photographed a one-room school house and that sort of thing, but yeah, I have heard that it is all resort now, so I can’t quite bear to go back there.

CM: And you know where the name comes from? All the little islands along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia are called keys, and Daufuskie was the first key in this string. In the Gullah dialect of the locals it was “Dau-fus-kie, the first key, and that is where the name comes from.

DAH: Well that is great. I think I used to know that fact, but thank you for the reminder. Now, you are a well known and very popular workshop teacher. At what point did mentoring other photographers become important to you and why did you do it?

CM: Well I have been doing workshops for about 30 years now and I did them because I reached a point where I felt I had things to say about photography in general, especially about the Magnum style, the Magnum spirit of photography in particular. In the process of teaching I learned a lot about my own photography because I had to articulate ideas that were useful for going out into the real world and approaching subjects very closely and being able to make pictures that went beyond just what things looked like, but were something special and perhaps unique.

DAH: Well the real world has changed obviously, as the real world does over time. Today, a young photographer has to look at the process of making it into the business much differently than when you or I did. Do you think what you have to say is still relevant to a young photographer today?

CM: I think what I have to say and what a lot of older photographers have to say is still relevant, especially the Magnum photographers who have embraced the Magnum spirit and the Magnum approach. I think it will be forever valid because the world is only changing superficially. We still have people, human beings, and it is really about the human condition which is the main subject of Magnum photographers. You can go back to the beginning and look at the work of Cartier-Bresson, who was a young poet, who began doing photojournalism, mostly at the urging of Robert Capa – a brave hardcore photo-journalist. George Rodger was the intrepid traveler going to exotic places like Africa, and David Seymour was kind of a mix of them all. Between these early founders you have in a way the beginning of the Magnum approach to photography – which is still very valid and will go on forever, as long as there is a world.  The Magnum archive is not the biggest in the world, but I feel it is most interesting and creative.

DAH: You can never take away from that basic story telling and humanistic vision of the world and the way that the Magnum photographers do it. Certainly not the only way, but it does seem the way that has stood the test of time.

CM: When a young photographer asks me, “how do I get an assignment?” I reply that before you even seek assignment you have to produce a body of work that shows how you view the world and what you can do with your camera. In other words you have to have something very unique, a vision, a proof that you are capable of putting your own personal stamp on your pictures and can show us things we have never seen before and will never see again. I think every successful photograph is a surprise, often defined by a special moment. Think about the poet who writes poems for their own sake and then seeks a publisher. Photography has become so simple, particularly since the arrival of the digital camera.  I often start my workshops by saying any fool can take a picture, why don’t you try playing the violin? It is still very difficult, even though much easier technically with digital cameras. Everyone is taking pictures. Everyone is out there with a cell phone or whatever. When we were coming up, you had to at least know how to use a hand held exposure meter, set the f/stop, set the shutter speeds, focus… you had to have some skill and sense of craft, and then in high school there was usually one guy who had the professional camera and everyone else was just taking pictures with box cameras and a roll of film. Today there is a glut and because of the glut there is in a way a lowering of standards because so many people consider themselves photographers who have never gone through the ordeal of learning the craft, but have just picked up a camera and started pushing the button.  We are swamped in a sea of banality, even coming from some people who are professionals and make their living from photography

DAH: I think that is right. I look at it as a combination of a plus and a minus. In other words it is a plus that everybody is picking up the language of photography, that’s fantastic, but I think the reason workshops are so popular these days is because at some point people realize “well wait one minute, I can kind of speak the language, but I can’t really speak the language”, and so they start looking for the history of photography, they start looking at more sophisticated ways of doing it. So it is kind of a plus and a minus. I think it is probably more plus in the long run though.

CM: Yes, it is more plus.

DAH: Yeah, everybody is a photographer, and like we were talking about in the workshop in Texas, English is a language that everybody speaks but only a few people speak it really really well and I think that is maybe a good parallel. So that is a good segue into what we are doing now with Magnum in Provincetown. Can you explain that one a little bit? I think you have created a potential experience for people to pick up on some of the things you have just talked about. Can you explain the workshops in Provincetown and what it has to offer?

CM: Well, Magnum Days is going to be a photographic gathering in the small town of Provincetown, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. It is going to run from September 15th through the 21st. Bruno Barbey, Larry Towell, Olivia Arthur, and yea you will be doing workshops. Provincetown is a very artistic town, with sixty art galleries. Artists and art are revered here. Magnum is partnering with the Fine Arts Work Center,  a wonderful institution which is supplying us with ten studios and twenty student apartments which we will be using for this workshop. Provincetown is a wonderful place to take pictures. You can walk right out of the Arts Center onto the main street which is always bustling with all kinds of people. It is a seaside town so there is the whole nautical thing, and then there are the beaches, but mainly there is a lot of humanity here and great opportunities for photography. So it offers a great locale for our kind of photography if you are out there looking for a wonderful poetic moment of something happening between people, among people, in an interesting environment. I make my students all work with a wide-angle lens so that they have to get close and fill the frame and have a lot of information in the picture, and I try to teach them how to do that physically with their body, how to go out, find a picture, think about it and think about exactly what they want from this situation and go for it, and be able to get close without ever being seen.

DAH: Well nobody articulates better than you that process, and describing the elements of a picture. I kind of feel like taking one of your workshops myself, but because I have taught with you a couple of times I have caught some of your critique and you are amazing at being able to describe the process of seeing.

CM: It will be five days of workshops. Bruno Barbey, Larry Towell, Olivia Arthur, Eli Reed, and yea you…and me!!,  will be doing workshops. Every night there will be a slideshow by one of the workshop instructors in the evening, and then on the weekend (Saturday and Sunday) we will have a gala for visiting photographers, Bruce Davidson, Steve McCurry, Susan Meiselas and Peter Van Agtmael who is one of our fine younger members. They and the workshop instructors will be doing portfolio reviews for all who wish to partake of them, not only the registered workshop students. There will be an interesting symposium called “The State of Photography Today?” because we all know photography is going through a revolution right now. In the middle of all of this there is the Magnum tradition, which has gone on for almost 70 years. There will be continuous loop projections in one of the large studios titled The Magnum Legacy, a history in pictures of iconic images from each of the photographers from the beginning to today. There will also be a projection titled Magnum Film Clips showing clips of movies made by Magnum photographers.

DAH: Well we have a continuum. I think if we have gone on for 70 years through good times or bad times there has got to be something to it.

CM: That is right, absolutely. And so we are always looking for young photographers who believe in this Magnum tradition and would like to be a part of it. It doesn’t mean we are all taking pictures like Cartier-Bresson. We have some remarkable young people who are doing ground breaking work, like Jacob Aue Sobol…a young photographer who is doing very interesting black and white work which is totally new and fresh, but is still about people and the human condition.

DAH: Well, you can use HCB as an influence but it wouldn’t do any good just to copy. You are influenced by somebody and then you do your own thing.

CM: You are influenced by a lot of photographers! You are a combination of everything you have seen and liked and thought about and you should hopefully become a unique photographer, a unique individual. The greatest compliment a photographer can have is for people to recognize their style without knowing who took the picture, and it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of thinking and a lot of focusing to accomplish this.

DAH: Well, thank you. That is great.

CM: Thank you, David.

 

Constantine Manos was born in South Carolina of Greek immigrant parents. He attended the University of South Carolina, where he received a B. A. in English Literature. He is a member of Magnum Photos.

Manos’ photographs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Bibliotheque National, Paris; George Eastman House in Rochester; the Museum of Fine Ars, Houston; and the Benaki Museum, Athens.

Manos is the author of five books: Portrait of A Symphony, A Greek Portfolio, Bostonians, American Color, and American Color 2. In 2003 he was awarded the Leica Medal of Excellence. Manos’ work may be seen at magnumphotos.com.

 

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Related links

Constantine Manos

Magnum Days at the Fine Arts Work Center, September 15-21, 2014

 

32 Responses to “”


  • Once again, another inspiring interview. It’s funny how a lot of people know his color work and don’t realize he’s great BW photographer. I discovered a couple of years ago his BW work and now I find I prefer the content and message… it kind of just never goes out of date. On the subject of workshops every so often I get the feeling I should do one. The biggest stalling point for me is the price. There is no way I can afford one right now, but I get this nagging feeling I’m missing out on things I probably won’t learn on my own. But alas right now somehow I’ve got to just push on and do it on my own.

  • PAUL

    there is only one reason i teach workshops and do so many portfolio reviews, and even why i do Burn….

    a workshop totally changed my life…the Missouri Workshop where i was a student right around the time of Tell It Like It Is…the actual grad school official program where i was enrolled as a grad student was useless to me….but the workshop where i could bump elbows with real pros who were actually in the biz, was just invaluable to me…and to think essay…i was already a shooter…yet i had not thought so much concept…and i had not thought about picture editing much either…..i pattern my classes after the tough no bullshit Missouri Workshop…i think the very first essay oriented workshop….

    the prices are high….all of us who teach would love to bring them down, but that means sponsorship and that means being a little bit owned…but especially the ones i do in foreign countries cost a fortune to produce…i have to fly 4 team people there…pay hotels, food , etc…plus i pay my team well, and i do make a profit…good teaching is like anything else…it has a value…and i make sure every student gets their money’s worth….so many of my ex students have gone on to magazine assignments, grants, books published….i am a very results oriented person….i do not expect the same results from everyone…i just want to take each to their own personal next step…..

    mostly i teach for free…not a day goes by that i am not on Skype with a wanna be photographer or one of them is coming through the door of my new york loft or standing on my front porch at the beach…workshops are just a concentrated effort..having a tuition gets all the elements together in a specific place and in a specific time…..an investment….expensive but still less than a good camera and lens…will take you farther…by far!!!

    yet again, catch me right, and it is all for free!!!

    cheers, david

  • Wish I could come. But I can’t. David, the loft workshop that I did with you in 2012 shortly after my 62nd birthday was my first photo workshop in my life and, I suspect, my last.

    Yet, in a way, I find that even just looking at this Constantine Manos portfolio to be kind of a workshop in itself.

  • FROSTFROG

    oh for sure most people only need one workshop…some do not need one at all…i was a self starter, and self taught from 12-21…so i did not really “need” it , yet as i said what it did for me was to organise my thinking a bit…and to learn to push beyond the push…that is where most need it…to learn to push way beyond where they currently work…stopping short is the mistake i see most making….they stop working a particular scenario…they look at the back of the camera and see a good picture…get self satisfied too early…a definite disadvantage to digi…the only real disadvantage to digi….it is not a technical issue, but a psychological one…everybody needs to turn off the back viewing screen…and pretend they do not know for sure if they have the picture or not, and keep on working it..more and more and more….

    you did a super cool job with Times Square…that one really worked….now you only really need help with editing…almost everyone does….you are an instinctive shooter…

    and YES, just looking at classic work is the best teacher of all….

    cheers, david

  • I’ve just signed up so I could put this out there: The Provincetown workshop is my idea of heaven. Just look at the line-up and the setting!

    Regards,

    Rāj

  • I enjoy these interviews with notable, well-established photographers. They have the vision to look in retrospect at their careers and pass invaluable knowledge to less experienced, young photographers.

    Paul, I would encourage you to find some way to finance a workshop. Choose it carefully and get immersed in the experience.

    In 1982, I enrolled in a week long class in Maine with Ernst Haas. I had to borrow the money and a car to get there, but the participation in that workshop had a very positive effect on me. The information and inspiration that you bring back will stay with you for a long time. Look at it as an investment in your future.

  • Good read and slideshow…and nice video as well…go Kaya!

    I had the good fortune of attending and hearing Costantine Manos last year here in Miami. He showed an extensive slideshow of his black and white work that night.
    No matter whether is color or black and white…his work is equally great to me.

    David…to this day I still feel like I am taking lessons from the workshop you gave here a couple of years back. Mostly from seeing you edit the work of the other students. My only regret was not spending more time after the workshop and picking your brain. My time was limited….my daughter was just born. I wanted to spend time with her but I did not want to miss your workshop here in my own town!
    I was split 50/50!

    Maybe regret is not the right word…just wished I had more time…

    Well… it was really great meeting other photographers like Virgil and Arif and the rest.
    Intense days those were but well worth it!

  • Likewise, I got more out of my workshops with Will Counts at Indiana University than almost everything that’s happened since. To be fair though, my later in life association with burn has become almost equally important. In my current position, I’m trying to give some of that back.

    Regarding Mr. Manos’s photos and the interview, that color work does make me long somewhat for the old days. It’s not easy, when possible at all, to digitally recreate that kind of warmth and saturation.

    I am, however, having second thoughts about the Magnum style, which is what I was raised on in those way back workshops at IU. I don’t think it will ever go away because it is first and foremost a form of excellent composition, but now that so many have done and are doing the Cartier-Bresson decisive moment thing so well, in too many cases it’s beginning to appear a bit mannered. That’s why I find I like a lot of the work that comes out of David’s workshops better than the more professional stuff these days and tend to prefer the more unkempt essays that get published on burn. Cartier-Bresson had a great personal vision. I’m ready to see other people’s as well.

  • a civilian-mass audience

    Welcome home Κ.Κωνσταντίνε !!!

    Ouzo time for ALL …
    Viva BURN !!!

  • MW..

    oh sure…HCB started something, but always styles and philosophies get tweaked by the next generation…influenced by is way different than copying..or becoming a clone…i think the so called “Magnum style” is really only about one thing…bearing witness…and i have even left that “corner”by doing “fiction”…..mostly though the Magnum bit is, regardless of personal style, to show without modification the human condition as it really is…

  • David; I’ve always loved Mr Manos’ colour work. As an aside is Miguel Rio Branco still producing still photography work? I haven’t seen anything new for quite some time. His work is sublime…..

    Editing has always been my downfall… However for some reason something seems to have “clicked” into place and it now seems way more natural.

    The new project I’m shooting is a fiction story; a real departure from my usual work, and so far (touch wood) I’ve been really surprised how quickly images are dropping into place. Mind you; I had about 6-months of self-doubt before beginning shooting the new work!

    My first solo exhibition has another fortnight to run; it’s been a real blast! However it’s also been a surreal experience to finally see my work on the walls! I have another solo exhibition coming up next year….

    Here’s a link to the work in case anyone is interested in seeing it….

    https://picasaweb.google.com/115095641233118226708/PercyThompsonGallery?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCOGW0rO888aSTQ&feat=directlink

  • Great interview. Just a literary aside: Daufuskie Island is the setting for Pat Conroy’s semi-fictional book, The Water is Wide. He called it Yamacraw Island.

  • Just in case I want to clarify I wasn’t criticizing workshop prices, basically I just stating I couldn’t afford attending one. I fully understand the prices and I’ve always believed a workshop must be a marvelous intelectual investment.
    BTW the other day I missed the video interview, didn’t even see it until just now. Great stuff and with all due respect I think Kaya Lee Berne is absolutely gorgeous.

  • PAUL

    oh, i did not think you were being critical…i understood….do understand….i always write answers here assuming others will read besides the person i am answering…

    Kaya will probably do more video interviews…..she also helped to run the workshop in Dubai, and is doing it again in Venice in just a few weeks….

    cheers, david

  • I can honestly say that the workshop I took in Oaxaca with David changed my life.

    Not only did my work change but my appreciation and love for photography really grew out of that week.

    I thanked David in my book and I suppose I also have him to thank for all of that money I spend on photobooks now.

  • ..so even though I spend to much money on photobooks that I can barely afford (and trust me there are several books on my wish list that I would love to own that I can’t quite afford). I don’t regret it and I certainly don’t regret taking a workshop that I could barely fit into my budget. It’s all worth it. To put it simply my love for photography makes my life really fun. I have a blast with it.

    I agree with skiwaves.. Paul or anyone else considering a workshop should go for it if at all possible.

  • Nathan, just took a look at your Midwest Dirt essay again for the first time since it was at the top of the feed here. If this happened because you did the workshop, then for sure it did something amazing for you.

    I did The Loft mostly to meet David and hang out with some other photographers for a spell and because John Gladdy made it possible for me. I enjoyed the experience greatly. I had just started a new blog at the time, one that I put into archive status not quite a year ago, and I blogged the workshop as I experienced it, although I could not keep up with it and had to finish after I returned home.

    Here is the link to the final of 21 entries, with my image of David and a recap of why I came to the Work Shop and a few thoughts about it.

    http://www.logbookwasilla.com/logbookwasilla/2012/1/28/david-alan-harvey-workshop-entry-21-final-david-himself-his.html

  • Frostfrog…

    I enjoyed reading your workshop blog a couple of years ago and reading it again today I’m once again left with the same odd feeling. Something just didn’t work out I can’t put my finger on it. You don’t seem to be enveloped in the same post workshop euphoria. DAH veteran students all seem to find the “light”, their truth, it changes their life, a major milestone, a breakthrough.

  • Paul, from my perspective, it worked out great. I did not go there in search of epiphany, to find the light or my truth. If there is such a thing, I found that at the age of six, when my father called me out onto our porch in Pendleton, Oregon, and had me look up at the sky, filled with a rare display of northern lights. By comparison to what I have seen up here, it was pale and lackluster, but it was still magical and filled me with awe and wonder. I could not have articulated it then, but it also pointed me toward home, the place I had never been.

    I have long been driven by a strong inner vision. The major obstacle I face is that I have so much, and my energies channel me down down so many varying paths, that I do not know how to bring it all together and I want to figure out how to do so and soon, because I have reached the cusp of old age and soon it will be too late.

    So, there was a little bit of that, but, even more so is theme I articulate in the subtitle of my old blog: “One photographer’s search for community, home and family.” I have gained many communities in my life. I can step into houses in every region of Alaska, Arizona, Utah, India and many other places and be greeted not with, “welcome back,” but, “welcome home.” I have so many communities, from the Mormons who spawned and raised me, who I still love but can no longer worship with, the Lakota, who turned the tables on me, the Apache, who I married into, the Iñupiat, Brahmin… I could go on and on.

    And when I found Burn, I found another family. I felt kinship – with David, with the photographers posting, the photographers commenting. So I wanted to spend a little time, not in the virtual but in the physical, world with members of that family and see what it would be like.

    So I went to the workshop.

    It worked out great.

    Did it change my life?

    Everything we do changes our lives. I am happy with the ongoing changes David and the Burn community have brought to my life.

    And for me you are part of this family, this community, too. When I see your pictures, I feel that same sense of kinship with you.

  • Frostfrog, what a lovely response. Cheers!

  • “Composition is important, but what does the photo have to say?” he asks.

    “If it has a message, the message has to come through,” he says. “In music, it means not only striking the right note, but having the right pitch. But, it should evoke something from the heart. It should pull at you. Not only should it inform you, but it should hook you. ”

    John G. Morris

  • Bill, your words about family were touching, very touching, and I like the idea of Burn as a family. And while we are on the subject of touching and family, I want it understood that I am not loaning any of you people twenty bucks. Just thought it needed to be said.

  • AKAKY

    we somehow knew that…does not come as a surprise…..however, i am still ready to buy you a beer anytime you make your way to New York…

  • FROSTFROG

    i am SO IMPRESSED with the recent work you sent me that i cannot talk about to the readers here (tease, tease)….yet i hope you will allow it at some point…you only need one thing my friend…and that is someone with whom you can collaborate with editing it all down….you are very prolific and sensitive….both good qualities…yet you must get it on paper so to speak….force yourself to distill…to cut…to shape…to publish in the best possible way..we could not live further apart and still both be in the U.S…..yet somehow we must get together at some point and cut cut cut in order to make the work LARGE…cutting will increase the MAGNITUDE, not reduce it…..

    abrazos, david

  • NATHAN PEARCE

    “Midwest Dirt” is a truly GREAT BOOK…you followed through….just terrific….

    cheers, david

  • There should be some consideration to what the teacher gets out of the workshop, as well. Think of the influence the iconic photographers have had on us; how they developed a new vocabulary or created an entirely new language that works itself into our approaches and techniques.

    The easiest way to figure out the hierarchy of the vanguard is to heed the list of historic influences any well-known photographer can cite as their own, or we can figure out their strongest influences with some difficulty ourselves. Chuck Close has said that the photographer (as student) can pick and choose their influences any way they want, which is unlike the way painters did it in the past where primary influences came from the previous generation. That to me, as an un-reconstructable Modernist, is a really interesting way to distinguish painting from photography.

    So, to champion the idea of taking a workshop with someone on the level of Mr. Manos, or David, or Maestro, that is, someone who has proven their ability to change the language or add to the vocabulary of photography, I’d like to think in some sort of romantic, idealized way, these teachers are highly intent and sincere in pushing their students to achieve something extraordinary. They have quite a bit riding on the experience, too!

  • Akaky – As to borrow a $20? Wouldn’t think of it. Too cheap. How about a 100?

  • David, thanks and my mind is toying with ideas to accomplish putting me in your part of the country one winter day. It won’t be easy to pull off, it’s not practical, but there are few things I would enjoy more, so maybe.

    Have fun at the museum opening!

  • KEN GEIGER: So you are telling me that with over 25 stories and half a dozen magazine covers to your credit, you still get nervous about not being able to produce NGM quality images for a story?

    JIM RICHARDSON: Uh, yes. I always have this feeling that this is the story in which everybody is going to figure out that I don’t really know what I’m doing, and it’s going to be the end of my career. I suppose I should have gotten over that a decade or two ago, but I didn’t. That dread is still with me. And I suppose I think that that dread is in some ways a good thing, because when you know that your pictures are going to appear on the pages alongside the likes of Dave Harvey or William Albert Allard or any other number of luminaries, you know, it really puts a burden on you—that this better be good.

  • Bill, the 100 is even less likely than the 20. Trust me on that one.

  • Carlo, I was listening to Dustin Hoffman who was recounting a conversation with Gene Hackman who said after each film he thought he would never work again.

  • IF YOU ARE IN LONDON ON 9/11 (unfortunate opening night date especially given the poster image chosen) COME ON DOWN AND DRINK THE GALLERY’S BOOZE AND LOOK AT SOME PICTURES.

    https://www.silverprint.co.uk/event/speakers-corner-john-gladdy/

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