A theater and a dance arena at the Cornell University, in Ithaca, provide a cultural environment for actors and dancers to thrive; an Olympic-size pool for late night kayaking and swimming lessons at the University of Limerick, Ireland, engages faculty and the public in healthy activities; a pediatric hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, boasts new operating theaters to treat children with heart defects.
These and about 300 other notable projects have been funded throughout the last three decades by The Atlantic Philanthropies, a private and secretive foundation created in 1982 by Irish-American businessman Chuck Feeney, the billionaire magnate behind the Duty Free Shoppers empire.
As it now plans to wind down, The Atlantic Philanthropies invested close to $1 million to partner with the Magnum Foundation to create and publish a book, called Laying Foundations for Change: Capital Investments of The Atlantic Philanthropies, that uses photographs to celebrate the foundation’s legacy and its accomplishments.
The high figure covered the work of 24 photographers as well as all design and publishing costs.
The Magnum Foundation was given a planning grant in the spring of 2013 to determine "what it would take to execute a project of this scope, on six continents," says David Morse, chief communication officer at The Atlantic Philanthropies. "When it was clear that it was feasible, then we decided to go ahead with the full project."
The finished product is composed of two books: The first highlights 35 projects funded by Atlantic Philanthropies in six countries: Australia, Cuba, Ireland, South Africa, Vietnam, and the U.S. The second volume is a compendium that overviews all The Atlantic Philanthropies’ projects, tallying up to more than 300.
Photographers were approached based on their geographical location: Martin Parr, Mark Power and Donovan Wylie covered Ireland, while Jim Goldberg, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Susan Meiselas and Peter Van Agtmael photographed in the U.S. Chien-Chi Chang went to Vietnam, and Cristina Garcia Rodero reported from Cuba. Both Magnum and non-Magnum photographers took part in what Catherine Chermayeff, director of special projects at the Magnum Foundation and executive producer of the book project, considers a “global effort” that went beyond Magnum members’ involvement. Among the non-Magnum photographers, Jo Ractliffe and Gideon Mendel reported from South Africa while Russell Shakespeare was based in Australia.
Goldberg, for example, looked at the impact that the low profile foundation had on people’s lives on the West Coast, especially around Stanford University Medical Center and on the UCSF’s Mission Bay campus. “San Francisco is our home,” says Goldberg, referring to himself and Sanguinetti. “I have seen the landscape changed. It affected [the community] in so many different ways."
The photographers were aided by young, photography students as part of a mentoring program, promoted by the Magnum Foundation and embraced by Atlantic.
“An interesting idea was that in places like Vietnam and South Africa – where there is not a lot of documentary photography being done and there is very little training – we thought that if there will be students we’ll be able to mentor… that would be a great contribution back to documentary photography in those places,” says Morse.
Students were assigned to a “team captain”, and while they worked with their mentors, they also developed their own in-depth stories. The Magnum photographers were thrilled by the initiative: “Both Alessandra and I were interested in giving students the opportunity to get real field experience, something the students are unable to usually get,” says Goldberg.
The photographs taken by professionals are featured in the book, printed in 5,000 copies though not for sale: Copies will be given to an audience of philanthropists and the grantees featured in the volumes. The book however is available to the general public in its digital format and can be downloaded on the website Laying Foundations for Change: Capital Investments of The Atlantic Philanthropies, where most of students’ work will be featured.
Larger edits of the photography projects are available on The Atlantic Philanthropies' website.