Independent Mysteries by Michael Magers

The images in Michael Magers’ new book are not bound together by time or place, or by any preconceived intention of being shown together. Drawn from a decade’s worth of work made during assignments in places including Japan, Haiti, and Cuba, Magers’ grainy black-and-white images are presented non-linearly with little context. But, there is something that ties them together. They are united by a sense of stillness and the feeling that each image has a story, and for Magers, they collectively reveal an emotional pattern — one that existed outside of time or place.

“I was clearly playing out a piece of my own emotional state in my subconscious. I kept seeing the same thing,” says Magers, who came across the images around two years ago while sorting through his archives. In between assignments and long-term documentary projects were photographs of intimate moments, interspersed throughout a decade of his work. Now, the images are shown together for the first time in Independent Mysteries, a book that invites viewers to connect with these personal moments.

© Michael Magers

“Photography is amazing because it is truth in 1/250th of a second. Whatever was happening in that halo around that moment is never seen”

Magers’ images have a stillness to them, and a sense of melancholy that permeates shots of the street, the landscape, and people, who rarely look into the camera. The book presents intimate bedroom scenes, next to detached, more unsettling shots of tangled electrical wires, which is perhaps indicative of the photographer’s own feelings behind the camera. 

“For a long time, I was really grasping for an emotional connection. Being on the road a lot became an easy way to escape from that; putting the camera between me and experiencing any real intimacy,” says Magers. “Looking back this was the overarching sensation. I kept going back to this idea of being close but far at the same time.”

© Michael Magers
© Michael Magers

But the book is not all about the photographer. “Deeper into the project I felt very much on an island. I thought the spotlight was a little too much on me,” says Magers, who asked people who were important in certain parts of his journey to respond to his images. The finished book includes artwork by Japanese tattoo artist Horiren 1st, poems by acclaimed Cuban musician Daymé Arocena, photographer Larry Fink, and musician and visual artist Matthew Shultz, and short-stories by award-winning authors Matt Goulding and Mitch Moxley.

“It’s interesting to see where this has landed. I didn’t know how people would respond to it, but they have made the images their own,” says Magers. “Photography is amazing because it is truth in 1/250th of a second. Whatever was happening in that halo around that moment is never seen. We create the story through our own imagination.” In a way, each image in Magers’ book is not only an independent mystery in itself but independent in how we choose to understand them. “Once you put something out in the world it becomes everyone’s own interpretation,” he says.

© Michael Magers

Marigold Warner

Deputy Editor

Marigold Warner worked as an editor at BJP between 2018 and 2023. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Elephant, Gal-dem, The Face, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.