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Magnum Archive Collection Comes to the Ransom Center

By David Coleman

Ransom Center Curator of Photography David Coleman unpacks materials from the Magnum archive. Photo by Pete Smith.
Ransom Center Curator of Photography David Coleman unpacks materials from the Magnum archive. Photo by Pete Smith.
Ransom Center Curator of Photography David Coleman shares his thoughts on the Magnum Archive Collection coming to the Center. At that same link, view a video of Magnum Director Mark Lubell discussing the significance of the Magnum Archive Collection.

The roster includes more than 95 photographers who would, on their own, make up a definitive who’s who list of photography for the past six decades. More significantly, however, they compose what is perhaps the most recognizable single organization in 20th-century photography: Magnum. Magnum has never been the largest photo agency, but for more than 60 years the cooperative’s notoriously exclusive process of membership has forged an ever-changing band of photographers who are dedicated to communicating through images taken with a unique eye.

Magnum was established to afford some independence for its member photographers from the most controlling and limiting aspects of the media industry, and this freedom and flexibility has allowed the photographers to remain with a particular story, rather than having to fly from hot spot to hot spot like many magazine photographers. Indeed, Magnum’s hallmark has always been the depth with which its photographers have captured their subjects—operating as much or more in what might be termed a “documentary” sphere than one of pure photojournalism. In recent decades, that sphere has further broadened to include elements of art and a self-conscious personal expression. Yet Magnum’s overall purpose of revealing the complex world to itself has remained unchanged.

The nearly 200,000 images now housed at the Ransom Center include iconic as well as lesser-known images by these masters of photography, covering historic events and celebrations, political figures and movie stars, intense studies of urbanism and humanity, and documents of war, terror, murder, and atrocity. The depth of coverage by individual photographers is often multiplied by the number of photographers that cover a particular event or figure. For example, looking through the Martin Luther King, Jr. box, we find images taken by Bob Adelman, René Burri, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson, Leonard Freed, Burt Glinn, Erich Hartmann, Bob Henriques, Hiroji Kubota, Danny Lyon, and Costa Manos.

The Ransom Center is delighted to have been chosen by MSD Capital to safeguard a substantial and unique piece of history. We look forward to joining in partnership to further Magnum’s future by protecting and promoting the study of its history.

In talking with Mark Lubell, Director of Magnum Photos, about the many photographers who have been part of the cooperative, I was struck by his description of them as “visual authors.” Given the Ransom Center’s broad range of holdings of the greatest writers, poets, and playwrights, as well as photographers and other visual artists, we expect that our newest “authors” will find a nurturing home here. If we consider the humanities to be the serious contemplation of the human condition, we could certainly not find a more appropriate collection to welcome than the Magnum archive.

Comments

Ann Fielder
Reply

This is a huge coup for UT and the HRC! We cant wait to interact with these images.

Charles Hueter
Reply

Mr. Coleman, is there any idea when the public will be able to see some of the archive? I realize it’s still very early to ask, but this news is amazing and I can’t resist.

David Coleman
Reply

Thanks for your interest in the Magnum collection. At this point we are still assessing the collection, but we hope to be able to share the collection with the public soon, and will post an announcement on this blog at that time.

Kathryn Davidson
Reply

What an incredible coup for the HRC to have this wonderful addition of Magnum’s historic and educational archive of photographers. How fortunate for the students and the community of Austin and Texas!
Former Curator of Photographs, Menil Collection

Dewi Williams
Reply

Hi,

Does this include the Vietnam war photography of Philip Jones-Griffiths?

Alicia Dietrich
Reply

Yes, there are a large number of images of the Vietnam War by Phillip Jones Griffiths in the Magnum photography archive collection.

Jen Tisdale
Reply

The Magnum Photos Collection, comprising more than 1,300 boxes of photographic materials, is now open to researchers, students and the public. Also available is an online inventory of the collection. http://budurl.com/magnumopens

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