3 of our favourite images from Magnum Photos: Where Ideas Are Born

3 of our favourite images from Magnum Photos: Where Ideas Are Born

15 Sep 2022

Are you as fascinated by artists’ studios as we are? Then beat a path to Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park, where a show of photographs of artists in their creative spaces is on now. Curator Amy Orrock gives us the story behind three of the images

Magnum Photos: Where Ideas Are Born goes in search of the moments when creativity takes place. Bringing together more than 60 photographs of the artists who wrote art history over the past century, the exhibition offers candid insights into the creative process, captured on camera by 20 different photographers from the Magnum Photos agency.

We glimpse a huge range of artists’ studios – from the cramped ateliers of the Parisian avant-garde to the lofty, clinical environments of Londons contemporary art stars. Within these spaces many artists – including Frida Kahlo, Henri Matisse, Henry Moore, Helen Frankenthaler and Andy Warhol – appear to have forgotten the presence of the photographer, lost in the physical moment of creating their iconic works.

In the golden age of photojournalism, when magazine assignments were plentiful and Magnum photographers were granted unique access to artists, these diverse, playful and at times poignant photographs are now an invaluable record, capturing the moments when great photographers meet great artists.

Take 3…

Artist and writer Yayoi Kusama in her Shinjuku studio, Tokyo in 2016 Credit: Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos 

After becoming a member of Magnum Photos in 2001, Italian photographer Alex Majoli (b.1971) covered the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and two years later the invasion of Iraq. He is also renowned for photographing artists at work in their studios.

Here, in 2016, he worked to capture octogenarian Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama at her Shinjuku studio for Time magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People’. Famous for creating artworks covered in polka dots, Kusama has been called the ‘Polka Dot Princess’.

Majoli described how, during the shoot, Kusama ‘was natural, fully immersed in her brush, her colours… Kusama was not afraid of the way she would be portrayed by me.’

Andy Warhol, New York, USA, 1964. Credit: Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

Eve Arnold (1912–2012) was Magnum’s first female photographer. Born in Philadelphia to Russian immigrant parents, Arnold joined Magnum in 1957 and went on to photograph some of the most significant individuals of the era.

She is well known for her intimate portraits of Marilyn Monroe, with whom she became good friends, and in this picture documents American Pop artist Andy Warhol in his New York studio.

Warhol was no stranger to being photographed, and with his silver wigs and deadpan expression he carefully cultivated a distinctive public persona. This photograph gives a rare glimpse of the artist off guard, engrossed in creating his 1964 series Flowers.

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, Mexico City, Mexico,1954. Credit: Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

In this image, Frida Kahlo is shown working at her easel, surrounded by figurines at Casa Azul (Blue House), the home and studio in Mexico City that she shared with her artist husband, Diego Rivera.

The Swiss photographer Werner Bischof (1916–54) visited Casa Azul and photographed Kahlo in the final months of her life. His photographs document her struggle with physical pain caused by polio as a child and a terrible bus accident when in her teens.

Tragically, artist and photographer were united in their early deaths. Bischof died aged just 38 in a car accident in the Andes in May 1954, and Kahlo died at home in July in the same year, aged 47. This portrait shows Kahlo determinedly working from her wheelchair, despite her frailty. ‘At the end of the day,’ as she famously said, ‘we can endure much more than we think we can.’


Magnum Photos: Where Ideas Are Born at Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park until 16 October; it will then tour to Aberdeen Art Gallery in 2023 (see website for confirmed dates).

About the author


Amy Orrock is an art historian and a curator at Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park; she is also an Accredited Lecturer for The Arts Society 



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