There is much about Magnum Cycling that makes it just a little bit different to outwardly similar tomes I have encountered, so that it manages to go beyond a typical 'coffee table' book or photography annual.
I had heard about Guy Andrews' book some weeks before publication, but could discern little of what to expect from the title alone: what was the relevance of Magnum to cycling? You may already be familiar with some uses of the word, but this Magnum is a photo agency of some repute: founded in 1947 and, somewhat unconventionally, set up as a co-operative and therefore 'owned by its photographer-members'.
The Magnum agency does not specialise in cycling and nor do its photographers, but nevertheless together they have provided some iconic photos of the sport over the years – or at least the road, cyclo-cross, and track aspects of it. Sometimes it is an advantage to use a photographer who doesn't specialise in the subject, as it can bring a different but welcome new perspective to matters. Beyond cycling, the Magnum archives have already been combed to provide images for similar books on other topics (such as Ireland), and others are in the pipeline.
Someone had to trawl through the thousands of cycling photographs at Magnum, both film and digital, and make a selection for the book. Guy Andrews was chosen for the job, and as a prolific author and both the co-founder and former editor of Rouleur magazine, he's someone you would expect to have strong views about what makes a good picture – and a good eye for spotting one. Actually, if you want to know just how passionate Andrews is about good photography, take a look here; it is 'thought-provoking stuff ... about the current state of cycling magazine photography'.
Some of the images chosen are available to view (and purchase) on the Magnum website, such as these from the Tour de France; some you may already have seen in magazines and books over the years, but there are others that will only appear in this book.
We end up with a selection of images from 14 photographers, grouped into categories: the 'Tour de France' (1939, 1982, and 1985 editions), 'The Velodrome', and 'The Spectators' are self-explanatory; 'Winter and Spring' is one of the larger sections, and includes cyclo-cross and winter training – with the latter being a side of the sport that does not normally receive much coverage.
Often the images in a book like this have little supporting text, such as is the case with Shoulder to Shoulder; with Magnum the words are equally important. There is limited explanation for some of the pictures on the Magnum website already, but you can see for yourself that it would not be sufficient for the job required here. Fortunately Andrews has the experience required to supply something better, and every image benefits from a lengthy caption giving plenty of information and context.
And there is more: one of my favourite columns in Cycle Sport magazine was by Graham Watson, who has been photographing cycle racing for as long as I have been following the sport. A photographer normally has different priorities and challenges to a race reporter – even one covering the same race for the same journal. I was delighted to see that some of what Andrews writes in this book is the result of his interviews with the Magnum photographers: most of us are just happy to admire the pictures they produced, but it is illuminating to hear them talk about issues that matter to them, such as equipment, timing, positioning – as well as the racing.
So, more than just your average coffee table book: a 'Magnum opus' perhaps.
A photographic treat for fans of the pre-helmet era of cycle sport, with the bonus of insightful commentary
road.cc test report
Make and model: Magnum Cycling by Guy Andrews
Size tested: 26.00 x 25.80 cm
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
From Thames & Hudson:
It's no surprise that some of the world's finest photographers have worked in and around a bicycle race at some point in their careers. Cycling provides the perfect subject for reportage, social documentary and street photography because it happens in real time and real life.
It isn't a traditional stadium or circuit sport: the action happens on the street outside your house, in city centres where people live or in the mountains where people go to escape. The accessibility of cycling and photography means they share interesting parallels, culturally and historically. The Magnum archive contains work that is exceptional on both counts.
Thematic chapters each feature one 'story' of an iconic moment, event or scene: the Tour de France, track racing in the velodrome, winter training and the revelry of the fans and crowds. Images are by a variety of iconic photographers, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Guy Le Querrec and Harry Gruyaert.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Title: Magnum Cycling
Author: Guy Andrews
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Pages: 256 (circa 200 photos)
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding