Magnum is a photographic co-operative founded in 1947 that is perhaps the world’s best known picture agency, renowned for its documentary photography. Many important photographers have been members including Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eve Arnold and Susan Meiselas.
The Founding of Magnum
Magnum photo agency was founded in 1947 by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, George Rodger and David ‘Chim’ Seymour, two years after the end of the Second World War. Their aims were to protect photographic authorship and to document the realities of post-war life. Its founding members divided to cover areas across the globe, with ‘Chim’ in Europe, Cartier Bresson in India and the Far East, Rodger in Africa and Capa at large.
Among their many achievements, Capa was granted permission to document behind the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain with writer John Steinbeck, while Cartier-Bresson took iconic documentation of India at the time of Ghandi’s assassination. Magnum’s roster soon grew to include Eve Arnold, Burt Glinn, Rene Burri, Inge Morath, Susan Meiselas, Werner Bischof and Stuart Franklin, photographers who became witnesses to political events around the world. Arnold made her name with portraits of Malcolm X and Marilyn Monroe, and her powerful documentation of the Nation of Islam.
The work they took on was not without risk; tragedy struck when both Capa and Bischof died on separate missions within days of each other – Capa stepped on a landmine while documenting the First Indochina War and Bischof drove off a cliff in the Andes Mountains while working in Peru.
Magnum is collectively owned and run by its member photographers. While members work internationally, permanent offices are held in New York, London, Paris and Tokyo. Prospective photographers wishing to join must complete a rigorous selection process over four years, which, if completed, Magnum calls ‘the finest accolade of a photographer’s career.’ Annual meetings are organised during the last weekend in June in New York, Paris or London to discuss ideas and share stories.
Magnum photographers have documented many of the world’s major events and people since the 1930s and developed a reputation for blending storytelling, documentation and artistry. In capturing moments of political and historical importance they have been recognised for their courage and bravery. Cartier-Bresson wrote, ‘Magnum is a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually.’ They have produced a large number of publications, articles and posters and run ongoing global events and workshops. The agency describe themselves as, ‘home to the images that shape the way we think, the way we remember and the way we see.’