Magnum Photos selling past to ensure future

WASHINGTON, Chris Lefkow - Magnum, one of the most storied names in photojournalism, is selling its past to ensure its future in the digital age.
Nearly 200,000 original prints by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Eve Arnold and other legendary Magnum photographers have been moved from Magnum headquarters in New York to Texas under a deal announced this week.

A person looks at a photgraph by Henri Cartier-Bresson, in Paris in 2003
A person looks at a photgraph by Henri Cartier-Bresson, in Paris in 2003
The archive was purchased by MSD Capital, the private investment firm of Michael Dell, head of US computer giant Dell, and will reside at the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin.
"Through this arrangement, we are able to acknowledge, celebrate and preserve Magnum's historic past, and continue to be industry innovators by developing new platforms to distribute our future work," Magnum Photo Inc.'s managing director Mark Lubell said in a statement announcing the sale.
Magnum's Jonathan Roquemore declined to disclose the financial details of the transaction but The New York Times reported that the Ransom Center had insured the collection for more than 100 million dollars.
Magnum, a cooperative run by its member photographers, will retain the copyright and licensing rights to all of the images in the archive.
The prints date as far back as the 1930s and include pictures by Arnold, Capa, Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Leonard Freed, Bruce Davidson, Rene Burri, Dennis Stock and more than 80 other photographers.
The deal will give the public access to some of the most iconic pictures of the 20th century including Capa's images from the Spanish Civil War, photos of D-Day and portraits of figures ranging from Marilyn Monroe to Mahatma Gandhi.
"They are currently organizing and digitizing and preparing and conserving all of the work at the Ransom Center, but very soon they will start putting together exhibitions," Roquemore told AFP in a telephone interview.
The sale may also breathe new life into Magnum.
Like France's Gamma, another fabled photojournalism agency, which went into receivership in July, Magnum has been seeking to carve out a niche in the new media era of Web-hosted stock photography and shrinking magazine and newspaper budgets.
"Traditional production models have drastically changed or disappeared altogether," Roquemore said.
"A lot of what we do now is finding new constructs," he said. "We develop partnerships with different kinds of organizations, whether it be a publishing organization, or a communications organization, to actually do new production and then distribute that work in innovative ways."
"We're looking at what this partnership is really going to provide in terms of resources," Roquemore said. "Where that's going to be invested is really around the development of new production and distribution models."
He said Magnum had already adopted the Internet and launched a platform in 2004 called Magnum in Motion "which is effectively multi-media built around still photography, video and interviews."
"We currently have amassed an archive of a little over 100 multi-media pieces," Roquemore said.
While embracing new forms and media, Magnum will remain true to its roots. "A big part of what we do is still, ultimately, about the printed photograph," he said.
Roquemore said the partnership with the Ransom Center will open up a number of avenues for photographers at Magnum, which was founded in 1947 and currently comprises 13 estates and has 51 active member photographers.
"There'll be scholarly research collaborations between Magnum photographers and researchers," he said. "Magnum photographers will go to the University of Texas at Austin to give lectures and participate in activities."
"It'll give the public a much deeper access to and insight into how these photographers think, how they work and how they produce their bodies of work," he said.

Friday, February 5th 2010
Chris Lefkow

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