Canon Ambassador Magnus Wennman is one of Sweden's most successful photographers. He has worked in more than 80 countries but is best known for capturing the lives of those caught in conflict.
Born in 1979, the five-times Photojournalist of the Year in Sweden has won more than 70 awards, including six World Press Photo awards, all in different categories. He was named by the Red Cross as Journalist of the Year for 2017 and is the only person to have won World Press Photo awards in both still photo and multimedia categories in the same year.
Since 2001, Magnus has worked as a staff photographer on one of Scandinavia's biggest daily newspapers, Aftonbladet, having started his career, aged 17, on the local paper Dala-Demokraten. He works mainly on news and features, covering many high-profile stories, including the US Presidential elections in 2008, the Red Shirt protests in Thailand and the plight of refugees in Africa.
In recent years, Magnus has been focusing on events in the Middle East – in particular the conflict in Syria. He has met and photographed countless refugees of the civil war, and one of his most poignant bodies of work from the region, Where the Children Sleep, has been presented as a touring exhibition that has been hosted by 17 countries. Magnus partnered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to raise awareness about refugee children when his project made its US debut at the Capitol Building, Washington DC, in 2016.
The project started to take shape the previous year, when Magnus travelled to seven countries in the Middle East and Europe in order to photograph areas where refugee children slept at night – be that in a camp, in a field or at the side of the road. The resulting collection of powerful, compelling pictures highlights the devastating impact that conflict has on innocent young lives, long after the sounds of gunfire have faded.
Despite working in one of the traditional photographic disciplines, Magnus has earned a reputation for his innovative approach. Many of his pictures are deliberately underexposed to produce a rich, dark result, and on assignment he often carries a tilt-shift lens with him – not a typical photojournalist's tool of choice.
Magnus is a strong believer in the power of social media and has a substantial following on Instagram. He is now also being recognised as a filmmaker. His short film Fatima's Drawings, which tells the story of a young refugee's journey from Syria to Sweden through her hand-drawn pictures, won the Visa d'or de l'Information Numérique at Visa pour l'Image in Perpignan, France, in 2016.
The following year Magnus and journalist Erik Wiman produced What's on the Plate – What the Children Eat, a project that examined what starving people in Somalia and South Sudan eat when food runs out. The body of work included photographs, text, video and an exhibition in Stockholm that featured a 360-degree VR experience. It was an innovative way to raise awareness of the worst famine in five decades.
What skills does someone need to be a good photojournalist?
"For me, it's about being curious, respectful and open-minded, but above all having a love of telling stories. Being able to work in many different social settings is more important than being technically talented."
How do you deal with traumatic situations?
"I go in as a journalist and focus on what story is important to tell. For me, it's harder to sit at home and read about what's going on than to be there myself."
How do you balance the demand to 'get the shot' with being more experimental?
"Knowing when to turn the camera the other way and do something different comes with experience. I've had the privilege of working with a newspaper that has allowed me to fail sometimes, which is important."
You need to react quickly and instinctively in your work. How many cameras and lenses do you usually carry?
"Since I need to be mobile, I keep everything in one backpack. You will typically find one camera, such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens, or an EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 lens, memory cards, food and drink, and maybe a small tripod and a sound recorder if I'm going to film."
How do you identify the pictures with most potential when you return from an assignment?
"I usually do all my selection myself. Most often, I already know when I take the picture if it's something I'm going to use. Sometimes when I do assignments, like for National Geographic, they want to see all RAW files and be part of the selection process."
"The internet has made the possibilities of telling stories infinite. I don't see myself purely as a newspaper photographer now, as my work involves storytelling online using still images, video and sound. Today, my Instagram account has more followers than the first newspaper I worked for. That is an amazing development, but also a great responsibility. It's important to remember that photojournalism is about telling stories in a respectful and honest way, and trying to find ways to make the world more understandable."