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© Bob Adelman/Magnum Photos. Washington DC. 1963. At the climax of his "I Have A Dream" speech, Martin Luther KING Jr., the final speaker at the March on Washington, raises his arm on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and calls out for deliverance with the electrifying words of an old Negro spiritual hymn, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!"


When doing research for Wired’s Raw File piece on Dell’s acquisition of 185,000 Magnum press prints, reactions were unanimously positive.

The deal was understood as incentivised in the right ways so that Magnum, Dell’s MSD, the Harry Ransom Center, the individual photographers and – last but not least – the public would all win; the deal meant advanced archiving, preservation, research, lectures, education and access to the materials.

I leant particular weight to the feedback of Eli Reed and Susan Meiselas, two senior Magnum members, both grateful for the collection’s new lease of life.


I’d like to quickly bring to your attention two differing opinions I’ve come across this past week.

Firstly, Stephan Minard takes a suspicious view. Minard is the former director for stock-sales and archives of Magnum (Paris, London, New York & Tokyo) between 2008 and 2009. Here is Minard’s article (French) and here is a poor Google translation.

Minard sees the issue of the deal as “bigger than just a deal for money and posterity. It is more the sign of the incapacity of the photographers to protect a common treasure, to build a common project for the agency.”

Minard puts the Dell acquisition in the context of recent acquisitions of Magnum photographers’ works by outside parties (Capa’s “Mexican Suitcase” owned by the ICP, Henri Cartier Bresson’s archive owned by the HCB Foundation in Paris).

I think Minard deals somewhat in hyperbole and paints Dell as an unsuitable custodian. He believes Magnum has sold its ability to own and write its own history, whereas many in the industry feel the retention of all rights by the photographers has ensured exactly the opposite.

Magnum is a business and as such it would be useless hoarding sections of its past collections if in so doing they jeopardised the careers of its current and future members. Magnum is not a museum.

In the other corner, George Zimbel speaks of Michael Dell as an ever-benevolent father figure of documentary photography. Read here.

Zimbel asks a general question as applied to any number of hidden collections and obscured archives, “Where are those prints? I don’t know. No one will have to ask that question about the Magnum archive. Thank you Michael Dell.”

Zimbel knew Cornell Capa in the 1940s. Zimbel did the annual report for Xerox Corp. in 1961. When he couldn’t repeat the contract the following year, Xerox hired all of Magnum to continue the documentary approach.

Zimbel then rattles through a numbers of folk, generations and degrees of seperation to end up at the desk of a family friend Alex Gruzen, Senior Vice President Consumer Products Group at Dell Computers in Austin Texas, “I am sending Alex Gruzen a copy of my catalogue “George S. Zimbel, IVAM 2000″ to give to Michael Dell. He really values documentary photography. It’s like family.

© Rene Burri/Magnum Photos. Brazil. Sao Paulo. 1960 / Back of print.

I spent last week on the phone to Mark Lubell, managing director of Magnum Photos; David Coleman, curator of photography at the Harry Ransom Center; and Eli Reed, photographer, Magnum member and UT professor.

The upshot was The Story Behind the Legendary Magnum Archive Sale, an article over on Wired’s Raw File blog.

There’s a couple of great quotes, my favourite is this from Coleman, “The boxes are marked with three-initial codes. I haven’t quite broken the codes that correspond to all the photographers. Robert Capa is CAR but then also BOB, which is funny. Bob.”

It was a story I really wanted to report on because I do think this is an astounding “incentivized” outcome for all involved. Read the article for details.

I do still wonder what will happen in 2015, though?


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