Posts Tagged ‘Magnum’

Magnum called out

Saturday, December 26th, 2020

Magnum holds a hugely important place in the history of photography, and many of us grew up with a concept of photojournalism that was largely based on its founding photographers, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger, William Vandivert and David “Chim” Seymour (three of whom only heard about it after the meeting in Paris.) From the start it was a co-operative and importantly the photographers retained copyright, and they divided up the world between them.

Magnum of course flourished and grew, but retained its basic structure, owned and administered entirely by it photographer members, employing staff to support them. As well as the full members who are shareholders and vote at its annual meetings, there are also nominees, associates, contributors and correspondents who have no voting rights. A Wikpedia article gives more details, and includes the sentence which is perhaps relevant now, “No member photographer of Magnum has ever been asked to leave.”

I don’t know how complete the list of members (of all grades) on Wikipedia is, but it names over 130 photographers, many now deceased or withdrawn from Magnum, almost all of the familiar names, and including many of the best-known photojournalists of the last 73 years. Among them is American photographer David Alan Harvey, active since 1993 and a full member since 1997.

Magnum began with five male photographers, though both the Paris and New York office heads were women (Maria Eisner in Paris and Ruth Vandivert in New York) and among those in the members list only around 20 are women. It could be seen as a photographic ‘old boy’s net’ and perhaps its structure and membership have both contributed to the current controversy over both some of the work available in its digital archive and its perhaps sluggish response to allegations of sexual abuse.

As Kristen Chick points out in her special report, Magnum’s moment of reckoning in Columbia Journalism Review, it was only in 2018 that Magnum issued a code of conduct for its members in 2018 while in the same year boasting that it had not received a single complaint against any of its photographers. 

Chick’s article rapidly disposes of that assertion, pointing out that complaints had been made nine years earlier over inappropriate behavior by David Alan Harvey but that no action was taken by Magnum until a scandal broke on the web. In August 2020 Fstoppers reported that Magnum was selling explicit photographs of sexually exploited minors on its website, including pictures taken by Harvey in Bangkok in 1989; this led photojournalist Amanda Mustard to tweet “alleging that sexual misconduct allegations against him were an open secret in the industry.”

Chick’s report goes into some detail about the allegations made by eleven women against Harvey, and also what appears to be a very inadequate response by Magnum. The exploitative photographs were withdrawn from their web site but apparently remain available through other suppliers, and although Harvey was suspended and an inquiry launched into his behaviour, the report demonstrates that it and Magnum have failed or refused to listen to women making complaints.

And perhaps rather surprisingly, although Magnum proudly claimed it had drawn up a code of conduct for members, it refuses to make this public.

Do read the full report at Magnum’s moment of reckoning in Columbia Journalism Review.

Shortly after I wrote this last Tuesday (22nd Dec) Magnum issued a statement that they were “deeply upset to read the allegations about David Alan Harvey that have been reported in the CJR” and that they “will immediately investigate them and consider the appropriate action.”

What this omits is any mention of the several allegations that Magnum failed to investigate earlier that are mentioned in the CJR report, and the apparent shortcomings in the investigation that resulted in his clearly inadequate one year suspension.

According to the report, Harvey’s behaviour over several decades was widely known among other photographers, and Magnum is an organisation run by its photographers; it seems more than likely that at least some of the other members were aware of it – yet nothing was done before the organisation was forced into action by the furore in August 2020.

Plagiarism or Privilege?

Monday, September 14th, 2020

If you’ve not already read the story about Alec Soth being accused of plagiarism in a set of pictures he took for a New York Times commission to explore inequality in Chicago, then the Art Newspaper provides good coverage in a feature ‘Magnum photographer Alec Soth accused of plagiarism by Chicago artist Tonika Johnson’ by Tom Seymour.

Soth has denied that he knew of Tonika Lewis Johnson’s long-term series The Folded Map Project when he took his pictures and has issued an apology and is donating his income from his work for the NYT to her project.

While I had no knowledge of Johnson’s work, I feel terrible for the offense I’ve caused. I apologize to Tonika Lewis Johnson and very much regret accepting this assignment. ⁣

⁣That said, I’m glad to be made aware of her committed work and will be donating all of my income from the New York Times to The Folded Map Project. I encourage you to check out the work too: foldedmapproject.com

https://www.instagram.com/p/CEzRQc4FK2a/

You can also read a letter that Soth has written to Tom Seymour about the article in Art Newspaper (which has since been edited to include comment from Soth.)

Soth suggests that rather than plagiarism he was guilty of “shallowness” in his approach to the commission, and he points out some key differences to his work and that of Johnson.

It seems to me to not be a case of plagiarism but of privilege. In his article Seymour states Soth “also criticised the historic culture—almost a founding principle of documentary photography—of image-makers “parachuting” to different locales in order to dispassionately visualise communities distinct from their own experience.”

Certainly this was the founding inspiration of Magnum, who divided the world between their first members, and it is something many of us have criticised for many years, but now given new emphasis by the Black Lives Matter movement. But although Johnson black and female and Soth is white and male and in many ways more privileged, these particular personal distinctions are I think not the essential root of the matter. He certainly was offered the job because he was well-known and a Magnum member. She didn’t get it because the NYT was unaware of her existence, not because of any failing by Soth.

Soth didn’t perhaps do as much research as he should have done, but he points out the commission was inspired by a Chicago Tribune story and when he Googled  “Streeterville and Englewood” he also found stories from the Chicago Sun Times, The Guardian, Chicago Public Radio and every network news station, in none of which was Tonika Johnson’s work mentioned.

It isn’t just Soth, it is the whole industry – press and other media – that has failed and needs to change. Journalists need to become aware about the communities they write about, the attitudes and voices of the people in them and documentary projects such as ‘The Folded Map Project’.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

You simply can’t keep a good photograph down

Friday, August 21st, 2020

Although the Magnum web site contains 34 pictures from Henri Cartier-Bresson’s book ‘The Europeans‘, one of his best-known and best-loved images is missing from there and apparently not available from Magnum. I learnt this, and the reason why from a post ‘Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson : Pearls from the Archives’ on ‘The Eye of Photography’ which features it, Rue Moufettard, 1952, along with a short text about this picture of a excessively and cheekily proud young boy on a street corner with two large bottles (appropriately magnums) of wine, one cradled in each arm.

The text that accompanies it begins with the sentence “Henri Cartier-Bresson is 44 years old.” Which he was when he took the picture, having been born in 1908, but it goes on to write about the 1970s when this picture, along with others became popular among collectors in the newly growing art market for photography, particularly in America. While a few years after he took in he included it in his 1955 book Les Européens (The Europeans), by the 1970s he “didn’t completely recognise himself in this image and refused all reproduction. It is no longer offered by Magnum Photos nor printed for collectors.

It is perhaps rather more straightforward a picture relying on the body language and expression of that boy, a rather more ‘human’ image than the rather cooler complexity he favoured. As the text says, because of its “bonhomie and construction” it was often mistakenly attributed to “his friend Robert Doisneau.” While most of us would be very happy to have our work mistaken for Doisneau’s, apparently Cartier-Bresson was not amused.

It isn’t one of my real personal favourites among his pictures, though certainly I think one of his more memorable works, and one that no overall assessment of his photography should omit.

The text continues to look at why the price of Cartier-Bresson’s “prints took a while to take off” in the art market; (it actually uses the term “value” which for me has no relation to art market prices.)

I’m delighted to find that he refused to limit the number of prints of the same image when the art market forced many photographers into producing limited editions in the 1990s; I imagine he, like me, thought this was to go against the essential nature of the photographic medium. Less delighted to find that because of “the impossibility of controlling his works’ quality and interpretation” he forbade “post-mortem prints” of his work. Though given the incredibly wide circulation of high quality reproduction of his works through books, prints are largely an irrelevance.

You can of course still buy a copy of this print which currently goes at auctions for around $20,000 – or you can see it in museums or view it on line at numerous locations including galleries and auction houses and in many books. You simply can’t keep a good photograph down.

Magnum Turning Points

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

Lensculture’s selection of images from Magnum Photos, each with a personal story is an interesting collection, though I have to say that there are a few I find distinctly unimpressive among them. Even photographers good enough to have their work distributed by Magnum don’t always take great images.

I’m sorry (not really) that I’ve posted this link too late for you to take advantage of Magnum’s Square Print Sale, which offered these and others as “archival-quality prints, signed by the photographers or estate-stamped by the estates, are available for just $100.” You can see them much better on screen, and in most cases rather better in books than in the small prints on offer, more or less postcards. You pay for the signature or stamp. There are better ways to support photography and spend your money.

There are some truly great images among those featured here – and Magnum photographers have certainly taken many more. It’s worth also reading what the photographers have written, sometimes more interesting than the pictures.

And after reading these, do spend some time looking at the Lensculture site, always packed with interesting photography.


Bruno Barbey

Friday, February 7th, 2020

Bruno Barbey, a French photographer born in Morocco in 1941, has photographed around the world over the years, and is one of the few Magnum photographers who deserve to be better known. Not that the others are bad photographers, but rather that they are everyday names, at least in the world of photography.

I was reminded of Barbey by a Facebook post by photographer Antonio Olmos (who also deserves to be better known) of a group of pictures taken in Poland in the early 1980s, when Barbey spent 8 months living in a camper van and working there despite strict surveillance by the communist state, because “Poland was the page in history that was being written and it was the memory of an ancestral society on the verge of disappearing”.

Barbey studied photogrpahy in Switzerland in 1959-60 and first went to Magnum in 1964. He served as their vice president for Europe in 1978/1979 and as President of Magnum International from 1992 to 1995. He is now a contributor and you can see a great deal of his work on their site.

In an excellent short video made for Paris Photo he talks about his life and work and some of his pictures.

I hadn’t been aware until I watched this of the various similarities between his views on photography and mine, though in other respects we are so different (for one thing I hate travel and he has spent his life going around the world.) In part it is a generational thing, though I only really got started in photography around fifteen years later than he did.

He speaks of beginning photography with a Leica M2, a camera I bought back in my early years in photography in 1977, though by then my copy was something of an antique, and of course he was working as we almost alll did, in black and white. He learnt to work quickly and unobtrusively, moving close into situations with a 21mm lens, and saying “I never ask permission to take photographs … except for portraits”, using the depth of field of the ultra-wide angle to avoid the need to focus.

In that early work – like most photojournalists of the era – he worked entirely by natural light, and says at the time he really didn’t understand flash, when for example he was covering the events in Paris in ’68. Of course then flash outside the studio was crude and somewhat unpredictable, usually with flash bulbs, though electronic flashes were coming into wider use and largely replacing these. I still remember the first occasion on which I spent several minutes working out how to use fill-flash back in the 1980s, something modern cameras and flashes perform automatically (and at much faster shutter speeds.) And if he was then still using that Leica M2, it’s X-sync speed of 1/50th was more than a little limiting.

On the video he also talks about the difference between working with film for magazines in colour – that meant Kodachrome, a film I could seldom afford – in the old days, when after taking pictures you had to send off the film for processing and while travelling he might not see the images until weeks or months later, and today’s immediate digital photography, when instead of having a good dinner in the evening you might be up to the early hours working in front of a computer. It’s something I find it hard to adapt to, refusing to file without properly editing my pictures on a large screen, though often having that good dinner and a glass or two before finishing the edit.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

Elsewhere

Monday, November 11th, 2019

Two recent articles I’ve read on other sites that I think you might be interested in, both with some fine photographs as illustrations.

In Can Photojournalists Be Entirely Objective? on Artsy, Kelsey Ables looks at the problem that photographers have in “today’s social media–oriented political landscape “of following the NPPA Code of Ethics instructions to “recognize and work to avoid presenting one’s own biases in the work” and to “resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.”

If you are a regular reader you will know what I think of photo-ops. A few years ago I was involved in a NUJ attempt to produce a code of ethic and came to very much appreciate the problems involved.

The second piece is more entertaining, and is a feature on Aperture advertising an Aperture/Magnum print sale, now over. 15 Photographers Reveal What’s Hidden in Their Work and the pictures were among the over 120 included with roughly postcard size (6×6 inches) prints selling for $100 a piece with an undisclosed percentage going to Aperture.

I’m not quite sure what makes a postcard size print “museum quality” though these are “signed or estate-stamped“, and quite frankly I think a waste of money.

If you’ve a a spare $100 and want to support Aperture take out a magazine subscription, which will get you many more images printed high quality and mainly rather larger. I subscribed for many years but recently gave it up partly because I already have far too many books and magazines around the house, but also because frankly it just isn’t as interesting as it used to be.

The pictures are accompanied by short comments by the photographers (quotations from previous writing by those who are no longer with us.) There are a few of the 15 I’d hang on my own wall if I had a rather larger than postcard copy.