Repetition, apparently, is the expression of fundamental doubt that structures the creative process. It probably sounded better in the original French, as conceived by Magnum's Paris office, to substantiate the rationale behind its latest publishing venture, M2.
The magazine-cum-catalogue is an attempt by the world's most famous photo agency to redefine and reinvent itself for the 21st century. In its ambition to move away from Cartier-Bresson's epoch-defining “decisive moment”, Magnum is coming over all postmodern. We are searching here for the anti-moment, or possibly the continuing moment, and while sometimes this method has meaning, more often the concept of repetition seems to get hopelessly confused with what is simply a series, or a narrative essay, or even a contact sheet.
The Closer images of Lise Sarfati of drug-taking youth are merely repetitive and although one could make the connection that getting stoned all day every day is just that, did we need 16 images to make that point? Jumpology by Philippe Halsman has undeniable charm, but it is simply a series of pictures of famous people jumping. That they are all engaged in the same activity inspires no intellectual leap of faith. What is at fault is not the work in itself, but the increasingly spurious attempt to shoehorn the work into one box.
However, some work from this collection does resonate through using repetition. Donovan Wylie's well-known The Maze prison images unnerve the viewer through relentless repetition and in this way, difference is revealed and the otherwise innocuous pattern of the curtains or angle of the folded sheets on the bed work as an unexpected punctum.
Politics by Richard Kalvar reveals glad-handing ad nauseum, also using repetition to highlight the futility, insincerity and downright absurdity of the love-me-please rituals of an election campaign. As a method of learning, inculcation is not particularly sophisticated. Although it is understandable that the powers that be at Magnum are seeking new audiences for their work, it seems unlikely that this curious hybrid, the wayward lovechild of Andy Warhol and Jean Baudrillard, will be the vehicle to drive them in.