Colour therapy: Armani/Silos

A new exhibition at the Armani/Silos in Milan, Magnum Photos – Colors, Faces, Places, explores the world through the eyes of 10 photographers from the Magnum Photos agency in an attempt to stimulate our senses

Art and Design 29 Jul 2022

Magnum Photos – Colors, Faces, Places at Armani/Silos. Image courtesy of Giorgio Armani

Magnum Photos – Colors, Faces, Places at Armani/Silos. Image courtesy of Giorgio Armani

The Magnum Photos agency was formed in Paris as a cooperative by a group of four photographers in 1947: Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David “Chim” Seymour and George Rodger. It has since then included in its number many of the world’s greatest practitioners of the art of photography and, significantly, championed the move from the purist use of black-and-white to an embracing of colour imagery.

This is important to understand in the context of the new show that opened two weeks ago at the Armani/Silos in Milan, the exhibition and educational space opened by Giorgio Armani in 2015. Because the fashion designer’s intention is to stage an exhibition that, after two years of restricted movement and bleak outlook, celebrates colour and distant shores.

And so to Magnum Photos – Colors, Places, Faces, the display of work that Armani has curated from the vaults of Magnum photographers, both living and deceased. The concept is simple: choose selected shots by 10 photographers who work in colour and who have created portfolios in different parts of the world, and bring them together under one roof in Milan. Giorgio Armani made the selection himself, and his choices may surprise, as they do not necessarily reflect his own very defined, restrained aesthetic. Only the work of one of the number, Christopher Anderson, which features cinematic portraits in a haunting low-register palette, could be said to bear any relation to the type of imagery that comes from the Armani fashion stable.

IRAN. Khadjeh Abad Village, Khuzestan. 2018. Soraya Mokhtari, 7 years old, standing in a land in front of her grandparents house. Soraya and her cousins are now living with their grandparents in a house who came up to this solution which let the grandchildren to study and their parents to move with Bakhtiaris and take care of the flocks. Her class formed in the open area as the weather was so nice. IRAN, Khaje Abad, 2018 - ©Newsha Tavakolian, Magnum Photos
IRAN. Khadjeh Abad Village, Khuzestan. 2018. Soraya Mokhtari, 7 years old, standing in front of her grandparents house. Soraya and her cousins are now living with their grandparents in a house who came up to this solution which let the grandchildren to study and their parents to move with Bakhtiaris and take care of the flocks. Her class formed in the open area as the weather was so nice. IRAN, Khaje Abad, 2018 – ©Newsha Tavakolian, Magnum Photos

By contrast, Martin Parr’s bright, wry images of British society are miles away from the nuance and elegance of Armani visuals, as are Olivia Arthur’s pictures of Dubai, conceived as the observations of one who returns to the city after a 50-year absence as a castaway to find a village transformed into a global metropolis.

‘Photography has always fascinated me because the emotion it inspires is very similar to the sense of surprise felt when observing reality from an unexpected point of view,’ says Giorgio Armani. ‘In particular, I admire the work of the Magnum photographers, which I got to know when I myself began to see the world with new eyes. Magnum Photos – Colors, Places, Faces takes us on a colourful journey through worlds and cultures near and far, transfigured by each of the artists, through their own personal vision. It is the attention to reality that fascinates me about their photographs, which are never simple reportages and are all so different from each other.’

The work on display here explores places as diverse as Latin America, Venice, Tokyo, Morocco, China, France, Dubai, New York, Brasília, Mexico City, Ascot and the Caribbean. One young photographer who attended the opening of the exhibition in Milan is Newsha Tavakolian, whose images of Iran are also on display.

Armani/Silos - Magnum Photos - Colors, Places, Faces. Courtesy of Giorgio Armani
Armani/Silos – Magnum Photos – Colors, Places, Faces. Courtesy of Giorgio Armani

‘I’ve been photographing since I was 16. Now I’m 41,’ she explains. ‘So it’s been a long time that I’ve been taking pictures as a professional photographer, because at 16 I was a photojournalist working for one of the most important newspapers in Iran.’ However, after ‘10 years of covering wars and disasters in the Middle East – not only Iran,’ Tavakolian sought to change course. ‘I decided to challenge myself a little and to look at the world not in a very direct way, but in an artistic way.’

Since 2010, she says, her work has merged a documentary and artistic approach, where often an image needs to be investigated by the viewer to yield its true meaning. For example, a seemingly joyful, bright picture of sunflowers, all orange and blue sky, hides a darker message. ‘Yeah, they look colourful, but when you know more about the story it’s quite interesting,’ explains the photographer. ‘Because this picture is of Lake Urmia, which was one of the biggest salt lakes in the world. And it’s disappearing, it’s dying; and it’s tragic because it’s climate change. This lake used to be very full of water and life and now it’s shrinking, it’s drying. And many businesses – and life – around the lake are disappearing; people are leaving their villages. When the wind comes up all the salt blows in and many people cannot breathe any more. So it’s quite a colourful image with a story behind it that’s not as “colourful” as the image looks.’

Tavakolian likes to think that people will look at her work and be stimulated to find out more. ‘I truly believe our job is half of the effort. The other half should be from the viewer,’ she says. ‘They should, if they see something that touches them, go and research. Then, when they discover the story, they will value the image much more than if it’s just given to them.’

Armani/Silos - Magnum Photos - Colors, Places, Faces. Courtesy of Giorgio Armani
Armani/Silos – Magnum Photos – Colors, Places, Faces. Courtesy of Giorgio Armani

Another of her photos on display in Magnum Photos – Colors, Places, Faces certainly bears this out. A young woman in a black hijab stands knee-deep in a foamy sea, staring at us with a neutral, impassive expression. It turns out this is Tavakolian’s sister. ‘It’s part of a conceptual series called Listen, which is about women singers in Iran who are not allowed to sing. I took six portraits of women singers who are real singers, but they cannot perform or make CDs. I invited them to my studio and I took their portraits and then for each of these women I made imaginary CD covers without them knowing. This is my sister who I asked to model for the CD cover. I then produced 1,000 CDs in cases for my exhibition in Tehran in 2010. And I gave the CDs to everybody. But inside, each case was empty.’

Although Tavakolian’s work at the Armani/Silos features several images of women and she acknowledges that she is ‘very attracted to photographing women and especially [tackling] women’s issues,’ she is also quick to point out that she does not limit herself. ‘This is not my only theme – I photograph everything.’

And she explains that while being a photographer in Iran does bring some challenges, she is clear that these are not principally to do with gender. ‘When I started to work in Iran as a 16-year-old, I was one of the very few women photographers that existed. But now 20-something years later, we have so many women photographers who are working,’ she says. ‘It’s challenging, but not necessarily because you are a woman. Of course, being a woman, you have to push more. They don’t trust you. You have to make them believe in you all the time. But as a photographer in general it is not very easy – but here I’m talking mainly about photojournalism. So to manoeuvre, to go wherever you want and to avoid being stopped as a photographer, you find another way to capture reality; maybe not in a photojournalistic way, but more in an artistic way; more in an abstract way.’

It seems that this Magnum photographer has found her niche at home in Iran. She seems to be someone who is fundamentally positive and hopeful. ‘My opinion is different than that of people from outside who have no idea what’s happening in Iran and how the situation is. For them it is interesting, which is fine,’ she says. ‘I used to be very critical. But now, you know, I’m more easy-going, because when you live in the story you think everybody should know about Iran or what is happening there. But when you come out of Iran, you realise everybody’s busy with their own lives and their own struggle and their own country’s news. So actually, anything that makes people interested about Iran is important for me.’

Magnum Photos – Colors, Places, Faces is open to the public at the Armani/Silos in Milan until 6 November, 2022