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Necessities, Not Accessories: Camera Bags by Magnum Photographers

Magnum photographers Steve McCurry and David Alan Harvey are on a quest to solve a fundamental functionality roadblock in the world of professional photography. The two award-winning photographers have been friends and colleagues over the course of their careers that have taken them to some of the most remote regions of the globe. They’ve been honored for the exceptional photographs they’ve made in unpredictable scenarios, but they say the one thing they never want to worry about is whether their equipment is protected and accessible at all times.

“A big part of what we do [as photographers] is cart our stuff around,” McCurry told TIME, “so that was the exercise: what’s the easiest, most logical, most intelligent way to get around with your equipment?”

For McCurry, that mission translated into a small line of custom-made camera bags he felt could help photographers (literally) get a handle on their gear and develop a practical shooting routine in any scenario.

“Functionality is more important than style. Organization is so important, especially in photography. You really can’t underestimate it,” he said. “You need a system that’s second nature, like a reflex, so you’re thinking about the picture or the situation and not the equipment. You want your full concentration on the work, not fumbling around for things. That would be counterproductive.”

L to R)  CEO Alan Kirk and Magnum photographers Steve McCurry and David Alan Harvey at the  headquarters in Seattle during the initial design process for the new line of camera bags being launched on May 1, 2014.
Filson(L to R) CEO Alan Kirk and Magnum photographers Steve McCurry and David Alan Harvey at the headquarters in Seattle during the initial design process for the new line of camera bags being launched on May 1, 2014.

Harvey, a self-described minimalist with a self-diagnosed camera bag obsession, said that portability and durability were not only key features of his ideal camera bag, but essential to his photographic process.

“I’m a one-camera, one-lens kind of guy, I always have been, so I really took this down to the bare bones. There’s hardly anything to it, in one sense,” Harvey told TIME. “Photographers tend to think they need a lot more stuff in their bags then they actually do. They’re imagining pockets and padding and all that. I didn’t want any bells and whistles on this, because every extra zipper you add, adds more weight. You may not think that makes a difference, but when you’ve been on your feet all day walking around Rome or New York or wherever, you’ll notice that weight at the end of the day.”

The line of camera bags McCurry and Harvey have designed with outdoor-apparel company Filson were not only built to last, but made to look so unassuming that it’d be easy to mistake them for military surplus.

Steve McCurry—MagnumJuly, 1983. McCurry in Porbander, Gujarat, India.

“I’m not trying to make a fashion statement,” McCurry said. “The last thing you want is a bag that says ‘I’m a photographer.’ I want to be the guy that’s invisible and can come in with stealth. I didn’t want it to look like a designer bag or something that clearly says there’s something important in it.”

The trade-off for that kind of high-quality camouflage is, ironically, a designer price tag— ranging from $245 to $425 each— but both Harvey and McCurry agree that when you’re considering a vehicle for the (often very expensive) tools of your trade, it’s worth the investment. They believe that serious photographers, or those just reaching a point where they’ve accepted that a well-made camera bag is an extension of an organized, efficient workflow, will recognize the value of the new Filson line.

“Somebody’s certainly going to want to make this an accessory, and people will buy it to be cool, but we made this stuff to actually use it,” Harvey said. “McCurry and I are far from models. We’re out there for real.”

The Filson-Magnum collection launches May 1st, to coincide with the grand opening of the new Filson store in New York City. They will be available online and through select retail stores in June and July.

David Alan Harvey is a photographer with Magnum Photos and the founder of BURN Magazine. His work has appeared in National Geographic Magazine.

Steve McCurry is an award winning photographer with Magnum Photos. His work has appeared in National Geographic, TIME Magazine and other major publications.

Krystal Grow is a writer for TIME LightBox


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