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Magnum Photos

The most revolutionary and successful photo agency in history, synonymous of highly professional and outstanding quality for photography.

When we talk about photojournalism, we can actually divide its existence in two eras. Before Magnum and after Magnum. Born out of an attitude of breaking up with old rules. A step into history, by putting ethics and dedication together and creating an alliance, unique in history till these days. These words may help a bit in understanding the prestige, influence and power that Magnum has in the world of photojournalism and photography itself. It started with an agreement between four brilliant photographers that wanted to do what they loved and who were tired to see their work used and interpreted in ways diverging from their own personal view on the fact. They wanted to go after things that mattered for them and do the job the way they think they should do, without having to stress about editorial requirements for the production and publication of their images. The name of what they started gained the respect and recognition from the world and became the highest standard of the field. Making it clearer, four great photographers internationally known for their unique work - Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David “Chim” Seymour - while having a dinner in the restaurant of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1947, over a bottle of champagne, founded the Magnum Photo Agency. As main principles of this revolutionary brand, photographer members would have the copyright over their images, the images would not be modified or cropped for printing unless under authorization of the photographer for so and images would only be published with caption if the latter would be the one written by Magnum. Magnum brought for its members a freedom and security that had never before been seen. Its founders were since long highly classified in what they did, their names were strong before magazine and newspaper editors and they gave the agency, right from its birth, a value that the media would pay in order to use the fine material the agency produced.

Maybe for you Magnum might not sound as something famous and consequently not strong and influential, but once you peer a little bit deeply into their story and see the photos these photographers have made since the agency’s foundation, you realize that they actually shaped the way we see the history of the world during the second half of the 20th century and up to now. An almost infinite volume of photos across the internet, easily recognized by their historical importance belongs to this brand. Adding to the group that created the agency, many other photographers also remarkable in their work such as Steve McCurry, Elliott Erwitt, Susan Meiselas and James Natchwey joined the brand along its existence. The invitation system working on the admittance of new members incorporated extremely respected professionals to the group, giving the agency the constant impetus it had and at the same time making the individuals more glorious to the audience and customers as they could bear being a member of such powerful agency. Magnum started with the idea that photojournalists should choose what to shoot and be assured that their work would have value and sell. As the number of super talented members grew and documented many important events and movements in those decades across the globe, their role as the greatest institution to represent visually the reality of our world was efficiently enough. Up to the 1960s, the primary source of income of Magnum were represented by the magazines, of which made part Life and National Geographic as example. From then on, as TV emerged and magazines started to decline, Magnum started a phase of modernization, passing from a pure photojournalist agency to a producer of photography as art, publishing photo books and doing exhibits of the images in galleries. The modernization led to the approval of members that possessed styles too different and in disagreement with photojournalism, rupturing partly with the classic style that Magnum had. Many members of the group disliked the changes and demonstrated disapproval for the decisions. What Magnum has said to keep despite the changes was that although the photojournalistic nature of the agency had to give space to new trends in photography, on the other hand the direction believed that by allowing these new styles to cooperate with the group and share their personal representation of the reality would allow the agency to follow the principles of humanity and compassion for the individual while offering the audience what the moment demanded. This debate inside Magnum is actually an evidence of the declared hard financial survival it always endured, which led to decisions that confronted the opinion of some of its members. The reason for this is that Magnum has always had its own pace of work, allowing photographers to spend long time if they need to realize their projects, fact which brought disadvantages to other photojournalist agencies that worked at the speed of the news and released content everyday, making much more money. In addition to the struggle to keep the business running despite the voracious competition, it’s also commented by ex members that the agency takes too much commission on the sales and that the most successful photographers end up paying the highest costs. The aim to keep the principle of freedom at the expense of profit is what probably makes Magnum so apart from the media companies in general and at the same time so worth of respect despite the incompatibility of former members with this attitude. As mentioned before, members are only accepted after a long process of selection. It starts with your portfolio sent to one of the current members. They vote and if approved you then become a nominee, gaining the right to declare yourself as a Magnum Photographer. Two years after this step, a more extensive portfolio is submitted and again, if you’re approved, this time you are upgraded to associate. This stage gives you access to the facilities of Magnum offices as well as responsibility toward the rules of the agency. The last step, two years later is to have a third portfolio approved and become an actual member for life, a Director of the Company. Magnum is certainly today the most successful photo agency of the world with offices in many cities and producing and commercializing its fine material, either the old revolutionary content that shaped its name or the new wave of postmodernist photographers that innovated photography and its compromise in representing the reality through the personal artistic view. From my part is inspiring to see what a team of serious photographers dedicated to their passion were able to achieve, how much importance they gave to the ethic of producing photographs with extreme care to assure the participation of its photographers in their work. The story of Magnum actually differs from any business that has ever been created. I personally do not remember of any team that agreed on such responsible and visionary work in group to give safe ground for the production of any kind of art, refusing the standard market views in order to keep its members doing at their best what they live for doing.


- Magnum Photos -The Changing of a Myth

- Magnum's Official Website

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