Magnus, Mayotte (b.1934)

Mayotte Magnus came to photography fairly late in life after practicing classical dance, classical guitar, choreography and painting. Each of these arts refined her powers of observation and interpretation. ‘It took me a long time to forget the brush, the smell of the paint, the quiet of the studio’, she said. Her very special talent for portraiture emerged and evolved first in her paintings. In 1971, longing to concentrate on a proper career, she happened to meet Bruce Pinkart, a talented advertising photographer, who suggested to her to have a go at photography. It had never occurred to her …. But she never looked back and soon won, in 1972, the 1rst and 2nd prizes in the Ilford International competition. She divorced in 1974 from George Magnus, a businessman and father of her daughter Elodie, but kept his name as she was already known under that name. In an interview with The Guardian, Mayotte explained: 'As you well know, everyone looks beautiful at certain moments, and less so in others. Life is beautiful and ugly; I am not seeking the ugly.’ To go beyond, to discover the atmosphere of a person, is what she seeks, and so she rarely takes close-ups, but finds a setting which reflects and explains in one image the subject’s own story. In 1977 she was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to photograph a hundred eminent British women of her choice: the exhibition lasted for two months, and drew more than thirty thousand visitors. In 1978, for the 50th anniversary of Women’s vote, these 100 portraits were shown in the Houses of Parliament, in the presence of the Prime Minister. The continued success of this exhibition resulted in its being shown at various venues around the British Isles until 1982. It attracted extensive coverage, many interviews and magazine features. Another exhibition, this time of portraits of artists and writers, was a collaboration between Mayotte, her second husband Jorge Lewinski, and the American photographer Yusuf Karsh; it was shown to acclaim in San Francisco, Later, in 1981, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, in London, Mayotte collaborated with four other women artists on the theme of men seen by women, called “Women images of Men”. In the 1980s and 1990s, Mayotte Magnus travelled widely, working for French, English, Canadian and American magazines, especially Harpers and Queens in London and Point de Vue Images in Paris. She also published several books. At the same time, her husband, the photographer Yuri (J.S.) Lewinski set up the Lewinski Photography Course for small groups of students in their large house in South London, and they taught together from 1983 until 1997. Their students learned all aspects of the techniques and intricacies of photography, and often had the opportunity to observe and engage in work experience whenever a book was in progress. Since 1998, Mayotte has been restoring a historic building in France, the former Palais des Evêques de Comminges, in the village of Alan, in Haute Garonne, south of Toulouse. As well as instigating summer seasons of concerts, workshops and events there, she has continued with exhibitions of photography and lives both in France and in London. Her dear husband, the photographer Jorge Lewinski died in January 2008 in London. Mayotte’s work has been collected by, amongst others, the Bibliothêque Nationale in Paris, the National Portrait Gallery in London and by private collectors.

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