Heraclitus tells us that you cannot step in the same river twice, because it's not the same river and you're not the same person...but this is precisely what great art and photography can accomplish. In the largest donation made to the Harry Ransom Center, two thousand Magnum prints have inspired a selection of dramatic, frozen instances from our cultural memory of the 20th century.
Running just until January 5th, 2014, the exhibition "Radical Transformation" allows us to travel through images, historical eras and events that are burned into our memories. These images lay side by side with others from the same series, perhaps less iconic but no less powerful, all crafting an experience of going back, re-living the significance captured by expert photographers. There are photos from Camp Belsen, from the Civil Rights movement, from 9-11 and Iran under Khomeini. There are photos of the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland, of Fidel Castro, the Black Muslim movement as well as photos of British Teds and American bikers. Less famous series on New York tenements or South African prisoners are poignant. There are of course also the celebrity portraits of actors from the 1950's and '60's, yet even these offer a reflective gravity.
It's a powerful ride, no question, one that may leave you with your heart in your throat as the frozen moments thaw memories and emotions you may have forgotten that you shared with the whole world. These photographers, from Robert Capa to Henri Cartier-Bresson, to lesser known ones photographing Northern Ireland (Bruno Barbey) or teenage runaways to San Francisco (Jim Goldberg) gave us historical treasures ensuring that even as we looked back at the darkest moments in our past, we would also have a record of our humanity. The exhibit closes on Jan. 5th and has an associated publication: "Reading Magnum: A Visual Archive of the Modern World (UT Press).