New York, NY—Magnum Photos launched a new online course titled Stranger than Reality, presented by Cristina de Middel. Through the course, Magnum’s president opens the doors to her creative universe from her home in Salvador, Brazil.
The course is designed to help aspiring as well as practicing photographers develop their unique photographic voice and navigate the world of photography.
“Photography has always been very much linked to truth,” Cristina de Middel explains in the course’s first of 18. “But what happens if you take that responsibility away from photography and just use it as a language without limitations?”
De Middel, who last year became Magnum Photos’ president, refers to herself in the course introduction as a visual storyteller rather than a straight-up photographer. Further, she explores photography’s ambiguous relationship to truth through myriad story approaches and styles, mixing documentary and staged photography.
Stranger than Reality Online Photography Course
Filmed at her home and studio in Brazil, she opens up about the purpose of her practice, not as a tool to communicate specific “truths,” but as a way to explore complex subjects in a layered, nuanced way in order to raise questions or challenge certain stereotypes.
In the past 10 years, De Middel has published more than 13 photo books. One of her first, The Afronauts, was what she now describes as a “risky bet.” The project began when she was working for a local newspaper in Ibiza. She self-published the book with the support of a university in Spain and by investing her personal savings.
The book was picked up by Martin Parr at Arles, and De Middel suddenly found herself having coffee with the revered British photographer. “I was totally paralyzed,” she recalls in chapter seven of the course. “Imagine the shock—me, a staff photographer at a local newspaper in Spain, and then all of a sudden, Martin Parr is having a coffee with me and telling me that my work is great. It changed everything.”
Since then, she has worked on a diverse range of projects and photo books, including Midnight at the Crossroads, a collaboration with Bruno Morais on Esù, a divine messenger in African spirituality.
Tackle Your Photography Insecurities
The course also devotes a chapter to her latest book, Gentlemen’s Club, which flips typical representations around sex work on its head by focusing on the clients. The project started from an urge to tackle head-on one of the aspects of photography that she was least comfortable with.
“I’ve never considered myself an especially good portrait photographer, I get very nervous… So, I came up with the idea that, okay, I needed to learn how to do portraits.”
Seven years later, the project has been exhibited in Europe and North America. If there’s one lesson to take from Gentlemen’s Club it is to tackle your insecurities head-on. This is exactly what a chapter in the accompanying workbook encourages participants to do. It’s just one of the tips and tools De Middel reveals as ways to develop your photographic practice.
Most of the course chapters follow a similar rhythm. De Middel’s honest revelations and self-reflection are accompanied by actionable advice and exercises to follow at your own pace.
The course’s 18 chapters cover a wealth of topics. They range from how to find and develop ideas, and how to build powerful narratives through sequencing, to the ins and outs of photography as a professional practice. They also cover building your presence on social media as well as positioning your career toward the kind of photography you love doing.
Notably, this is not an online course that lays down specific rules on how to improve your practice. Instead, it is a comprehensive guide on how to find and develop your own unique voice; how to communicate through photography; and how to stay curious.
Stranger than Reality is now available online. It comprises 18 chapters, 10 workbooks and 15+ exercises.