How Magnum came back into the picture

Although artist collectives are all the rage among Gen Z content creators today – just google “Hype House” or “influencer dormitories” – few artist-owned art companies have resisted the test of generations. Although noble in their purpose, most of these member-run profit-sharing hive models have broken out and are dead. Democracy and art do not mix. (Just ask Fluxus.)

One notable exception is Magnum, the independent photo agency founded in 1947 by photographers Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David Seymour. What started as a way for a self-selected group of elite photojournalists to support each other in the wilderness of the post-war media market has grown into a global enterprise writing a new chapter with an agenda. more outward facing. This includes a new consumer-oriented Paris gallery that hopes to occupy more ground in the lucrative collectible photography market.

East 100th Street, New York, in 1966, by Bruce Davidson © Bruce Davidson / Magnum Photos

Magnum’s overall strategy is led by Caitlin Hughes, who assumed the role of CEO in September 2019. Beside her is photographer Olivia Arthur, President of Magnum, who, along with all voting members of Magnum, controls the management of the company. The gallery’s agenda is managed by the director of world exhibitions Andréa Holzherr and the director of the Parisian gallery Samantha McCoy. While Magnum’s roster is still predominantly male, no one should lose sight of the fact that the organization’s leadership ranks, long synonymous with grumpy old shooters in bulletproof vests, are now predominantly female.

Times have changed since the end of World War II, when war-torn territories reopened and photographers experienced a newfound freedom to travel the world and benefited from proliferating print media. Today, an abundance of newspapers and magazines, once the most important clients of Magnum photographers, are facing an industry-wide financial meltdown. Everyone and their mother’s mom have a powerful camera in their back pocket and post their photos for free on social media. Exclusives are harder and harder to find. “I pay our lawyers more per hour than our photographers get for a few days for an editorial assignment,” says Hughes, who came to Magnum from consulting firm Halios, Ltd. (Prior to that, she worked at McCann Erickson and Boston Consulting Group, in new media for the BBC – thanking her, among others, for iPlayer – and she is a non-executive director of Juventus Football Club.)

From left to right: Magnum Gallery Director Samantha McCoy, Interior Designer Fiona Naylor, Magnum Photos CEO Caitlin Hughes, World Exhibition Director Andréa Holzherr and President Olivia Arthur
From left to right: Magnum Gallery Director Samantha McCoy, Interior Designer Fiona Naylor, Magnum Photos CEO Caitlin Hughes, World Exhibition Director Andréa Holzherr and President Olivia Arthur © Bieke Depoorter

While more people entering the field creates more competition for professional photographers, it also creates more interest in photography and greater visual literacy. Outside of journalism, “over the last decade the photography community has really exploded, with festivals popping up all over the book market,” says Olivia Arthur. Samantha McCoy adds: “It’s an accessible market and allows us to work with new collectors. There is so much potential. Instead of the domination of Life and Time magazines that hit the jackpot include institutions such as the National Portrait Gallery in London; the Center Pompidou, Paris; German Bank; and the Pinault Collection, as well as private über-collectors. The focus may have shifted, in some contexts, from collecting information on a mission to producing beauty objects, but even non-journalistic photography remains a medium that matches reality. “The deeper story under the beautiful picture; a passion for telling a story ”is how Arthur defines Magnum’s point of difference today. Yet she complains of a “photo ghetto”, where the most enthusiastic consumers are still too often fellow photographers. “You go to these festivals,” like the Rencontres d’Arles, Photo London or Paris Photo, “and we all know each other’s work, we buy each other books and we chat with each other. But at one point, we became too withdrawn and had to be careful. I am eager to expand our audience.

Harlem, New York City, 2013, from the 125th & Lexington series by Khalik Allah

Harlem, New York City, 2013, from the series 125th & Lexington by Khalik Allah © Khalik Allah / Magnum Photos

High heels, 1974, by Susan Meiselas

High Heels, 1974, by Susan Meiselas © Susan Meiselas / Magnum Photos

The New York Subway, 1980, by Bruce Davidson

The New York Subway, 1980, by Bruce Davidson © Bruce Davidson / Magnum Photos

Magnum is made up of 42 full members who have worldwide representation and voting rights on new hires, four associates and 13 candidates (voted on by existing members; it takes a total of at least four years to become full member). Once you’re there, you’re for life, which means in addition to new work, he has lucrative estates like Burt Glinn and Robert Capa’s to license and sell. The agency has long had a presence in photography shows and an accessible e-commerce platform – the most popular is the annual “square print sale”, where, over the past eight years, 6-inch prints x 6 inch stamped or signed photos are for sale. for just £ 100 each. But, with a reach of over six million on social media, they could do more to attract the uninitiated.

New opportunities for partnerships through different media are explored, such as collaborations with musicians or conductors. There will be more online exhibits and a stronger focus on conservation. But obviously a better brick and mortar showroom is also a must. “A place where we can open the doors and invite people,” says Hughes. “Make him feel welcoming and people can relate directly to us. »Enter Paris.

Magnum’s former address, in a small street just off the Montmartre cemetery in the 18th arrondissement, was more of an office that occasionally opened its doors for exhibitions. The new space, in the 11th arrondissement (adjacent to the glitzy circuit of the Marais galleries, but more stripping), sits in a cobbled courtyard as only Paris can provide, with a huge studio window revealing the events inside . Fiona Naylor, the gallery’s interior designer and member of Magnum’s board of directors managing the estate of her late partner Peter Marlow, was involved in choosing the location. “We looked at about 20 different buildings, and the key was good bones, as well as a good position relative to the other galleries,” she says. “I loved the fact that it was in a very interesting street in the east of Paris where culture and art move. It is not too valuable, because Magnum is not valuable.

Rather than a white box, Naylor kept the stone and exposed beams, allowing layers of history to shine through the gallery – the first space you enter from the courtyard – as well as the library, which is visible between the exhibition walls; and the upstairs offices and conference spaces.

Naylor, McCoy and Arthur at the Magnum gallery in the 11th arrondissement of Paris
Naylor, McCoy and Arthur at the Magnum gallery in the 11th arrondissement of Paris © Bieke Depoorter
Workprint from Looking Out, 1973, by Susan Meiselas

Workprint from Looking Out, 1973, by Susan Meiselas © Susan Meiselas / Magnum Photos

McCoy’s first curatorial effort at the gallery, which opens October 22, is a dialogue between longtime Magnum member Bruce Davidson and 2020 nominee Khalik Allah – specifically Davidson’s series of photographs from the years 1960 taken on one block of East 100th Street in Harlem, and the ongoing series of Allah filmed on 125th and Lexington. “The idea was to juxtapose a legendary Magnum name with a promising name,” says McCoy. “It was important for me to launch the new space with a bridge between heritage and new works. The following show will feature a reissue of the 1972-75 series by Susan Meiselas Carnival strippers in full color for the first time, as well as footage captured behind the scenes.

Both Arthur and Hughes are keen to point out that Magnum’s roster of photographers is growing more diverse today – there are more women and non-white members than ever before, a trend that Arthur says began around 10 years ago. years and has become more aware since Black Lives Matter. 2020 protests – also includes diversity of practices. 2018 nominee Sim Chi Yin included spoken word performances as part of her Interventions body of work. Other photographers, including Allah in particular, incorporate moving images.

Paris on Victory Day in 1945, by Robert Capa

Paris on Victory Day in 1945, by Robert Capa © Robert Capa / International Center of Photography

Magnum Robert Capa contact sheet set
Magnum Robert Capa contact sheet set © Bieke Depoorter

Opening up to the public also means making Magnum photographers themselves more accessible. “We are a vibrant and active organization,” says Hughes. “Our photographers and the community will be there, editing their work and discussing. Some are not there and some are. They suffered a lot from the lockdown, Zoom was no compensation for not spending time together, and for many people a main reason to be at Magnum is to feel connected. Photography can be such a lonely quest.

Magnum entering gallery space in a more serious way could be seen as encroaching on the turf of established international galleries which already represent many of his photographers. Except that as agents and exhibitors, Magnum gets its share no matter where the work is sold. “Ultimately, the art world is an ecosystem,” says McCoy, “and the important thing is to work together. A gallery cannot do everything. Maybe not, but it’s a good start.

Magnum, 68 Rue Léon Frot, 75011, Paris,

About Margaret L. Portillo

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