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Magnum Photos collection donated to the Ransom Center

George Rodger, Sahara Desert, 1957, verso. With permission of Magnum Photos.
George Rodger, Sahara Desert, 1957, verso. With permission of Magnum Photos.

The Magnum Photos collection, which contains nearly 200,000 press prints of images taken by world-renowned Magnum photographers, has been donated to the Ransom Center. The gift was made by Michael and Susan Dell, Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman, and John and Amy Phelan.

Mr. Dell is Founder, Chairman and CEO of Dell Inc. Messrs. Fuhrman and Phelan are Co-Managing Partners and Co-Founders of MSD Capital, L.P., the private investment firm for Mr. Dell and his family.

In 2009, the Dells, Fuhrmans and Phelans purchased the collection from Magnum Photos. Since late 2009, the collection has resided at the Ransom Center, where it is being preserved and made accessible for research.

The collection, more than 1,300 boxes of photographic materials, has been integrated into the university’s curriculum, accessed by students and scholars, and promoted through a variety of lectures, seminars, and fellowships.

“The establishment of the Magnum Photos collection at the Ransom Center gives the work of these photographers new life,” said Stephen Enniss, director of the Ransom Center. “This photographic collection will be an invaluable resource, for decades to come, for students and scholars and all who wish to understand the cultural and historical moment through which we have recently come.”

The Ransom Center’s current exhibition, Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age, draws from the vast collection of prints, exploring the evolution of the photo agency from the post-war golden era of the picture magazine to the digital age. Organized by Ransom Center photography curators Jessica S. McDonald and Roy Flukinger, the exhibition includes more than 300 photographs, plus a selection of contact sheets, documents, tear sheets, magazines, books, films, videos, and other multimedia. It is on view through January 5.

Complementing the exhibition is the Ransom Center’s symposium “Magnum Photos into the Digital Age.” The October 25–27 symposium brings together photographers, curators, and historians to discuss the ways in which Magnum Photos has continually reinvented itself from the moment of its founding. Symposium participants include Magnum photographers Christopher Anderson, Bruno Barbey, Michael Christopher Brown, Eli Reed, Jim Goldberg, Josef Koudelka, Susan Meiselas, Mark Power, Moises Saman, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Alec Soth, and Chris Steele-Perkins.

Reading Magnum: A Visual Archive of the Modern World is the first publication to examine the Magnum Photos collection itself. Published by University of Texas Press in September and edited by Steven Hoelscher, academic curator of photography at the Ransom Center, the book explores prominent themes in the collection—war and conflict, portraiture, geography, cultural life, social relations, and globalization—and includes evocative portfolios of images.

Registration opens for photography symposium “Magnum Photos into the Digital Age”

Image credit: Jonas Bendiksen, “Russia. Altai Territory. Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies. Environmentalists fear for the region’s future due to the toxic rocket fuel,” 2000. © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos.
Image credit: Jonas Bendiksen, “Russia. Altai Territory. Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies. Environmentalists fear for the region’s future due to the toxic rocket fuel,” 2000. © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos.

The Harry Ransom Center presents the symposium “Magnum Photos into the Digital Age.” Scheduled for October 25–27, the symposium will be held in conjunction with the Ransom Center’s upcoming fall exhibition Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age.

The symposium brings together photographers, curators, and historians to discuss the ways in which Magnum Photos has continually reinvented itself from the moment of its founding.

Symposium registration information, including registration, is available online.

Twelve Magnum photographers — Christopher Anderson, Bruno Barbey, Thomas Dworzak, Eli Reed, Jim Goldberg, Josef Koudelka, Susan Meiselas, Mark Power, Moises Saman, Alec Soth, Chris Steele-Perkins, and Donovan Wylie — as well as Magnum CEO Giorgio Psacharopulo, are scheduled to appear in panel discussions with a focus on the cooperative’s evolution and future.

Panel moderators will be Kristen Lubben, associate curator at the International Center of Photography, New York; Anne Wilkes Tucker, Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; David Little, curator of photography and new media at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Stuart Alexander, independent curator and international specialist, photographs, Christie’s, New York; and Jessica S. McDonald, Nancy Inman and Marlene Nathan Meyerson Curator of Photography at the Ransom Center. They will be joined by keynote speaker Fred Ritchin, a professor of photography and imaging at New York University’s (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts and co-director of the NYU/Magnum Foundation Photography and Human Rights educational program.

The Magnum Photos Inc. photography collection resides at the Ransom Center courtesy of MSD Capital, Michael and Susan Dell, Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman, and John and Amy Phelan.

Book chronicles “Postcards From America” road trip with Magnum photographers

In May 2011, five Magnum photographers and one writer hopped on an R.V. at the Harry Ransom Center and launched a two-week road trip from Texas to California.

1,750 miles and thousands of photographs later, the result of the “Postcards from America” road trip is a limited-edition book that was released this week. The book is actually a collection of 18 items enclosed in a box signed by the itinerant photographers—Paolo Pellegrin, Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Alec Soth, Mikhael Subotzky—and writer Ginger Strand: a book, five bumper stickers, a newspaper, two fold-outs, three cards, a poster, and five zines. According to the “Postcards From America” Tumblr, these items “combine to represent the idiosyncratically American character that defines this project.”

More information and pictures from the book are available on the “Postcards From America” website.

A selection of prints from the road trip will be added to the Magnum Photos collection, housed at the Center. The Ransom Center is pleased to participate in this documentary event, an outgrowth of the Center’s relationship with the Magnum Photos collective. In 2010 the Ransom Center joined in partnership with Magnum Photos and MSD Capital, LP to house 200,000 original press prints from Magnum’s New York bureau. The Ransom Center has since created a preliminary inventory and opened the collection for research to students, faculty, and the general public. The Ransom Center continues to work with Magnum, including the Magnum Foundation, to add further research value to the collection.

“The Ransom Center was the perfect place for us to start this trip,” photographer Susan Meiselas, President of the Magnum Cultural Foundation, told Cultural Compass. “Our picture distribution system, represented by the New York press print library that’s now housed at the Center, was part of the glue that historically held us together as a collective. In a post-analog age, we’re exploring new ways of being together collectively, and this trip was one of those experiments. We really saw how the Ransom Center could be a bridge between the old and the new. I hope we’ll keep doing more new projects together because I really believe in the importance of linking the archival materials to a living body of new production carried out with the same relentlessly curious spirit.”

Watch photographer Alec Soth lead a video introduction to the box set.

In the coming weeks, stay tuned for a follow-up blog post featuring a selection of prints from the road trip that will be added to the Magnum Photos collection at the Ransom Center.

From the Archivist: Creating access to the Magnum Photos collection

Photographic Archivist Mary Alice Harper works with the Magnum Photos Collection. Photo by Linda Briscoe Myers.
Photographic Archivist Mary Alice Harper works with the Magnum Photos Collection. Photo by Linda Briscoe Myers.
As is the case with any incoming collection, the Magnum Photos collection came with its own unique set of challenges. Ransom Center Curator of Photography David Coleman and I have worked to develop and implement a strategy for making the collection accessible to researchers in a timely and organized manner.

Creating the preliminary inventory
The agreement between MSD Capital, the owner of the collection, and the Ransom Center places the Magnum collection at the Center for at least five years and stipulates the photographs be made available. Desiring to open the collection as quickly as possible, the curator and I devised a two-phase approach for cataloging it.

The first phase was to translate Magnum’s original, complexly coded spreadsheet into a standardized preliminary box-level inventory. Working with Magnum’s archivist, Matt Murphy, I organized the materials in such a way that the arrangement reflects Magnum’s various filing systems and simultaneously unites them. As a result, the materials are divided into the following five series: Photographers (photographs by Magnum photographers); Personalities (photographs of persons of note, from movie stars to world leaders); Subject (a broad selection of topics designated by Magnum); Geographic (photographs arranged by geographic location); and Magnum (photographs of Magnum photographers, agency staff, newspaper clippings, and non-Magnum photographs used for special projects).

The Personalities series of the original spreadsheet provided only name ranges for these boxes (e.g., Rodgers to Roosevelt). So throughout the spring, Jillian Patrick, an undergraduate student at The University of Texas at Austin, meticulously listed the personality’s name on each folder contained within the 200 boxes. Assistant Photographic Archivist Nicole Davis and I then spent more than one month editing that list and entering the Library of Congress’s authorized form of each personality’s name when available. When not available, we devised name forms according to the second revision of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules. This proved challenging, given the creative spelling and reverse order of various names found on Magnum’s folders. All original folder headings were maintained in the inventory, but references to the authority form of each name are also provided.

With the six-month anniversary of the collection’s arrival fast approaching, I converted the preliminary inventory into Encoded Archival Description, making it fully accessible and searchable online. The name authority work for all personalities is not complete, but 84 percent of the boxes are currently listed at the folder-level in the online version of the preliminary inventory. In the coming months, a revised version of the finding aid, with the Personalities series completed, will be posted online.

The future
In January, I hope to begin the second phase of cataloging the collection, which should take 12 months. The end result will be a detailed archival finding aid and a searchable database enabling researchers to locate all prints by any photographer in the collection.

Magnum Archive Collection Comes to the Ransom Center

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.