Saturday, 6 February 2010


When I read the news headlines I was scared to death. I could hardly believe it. Was the final blow to the last, and most important, symbol of documentary photography?
I give a class that began with the creation of the Magnum photo agency in 1947, continuing with the rise of the French agencies Gamma, Sygma and Sipa in Paris in the seventies and eighties. I also refer to Cover, founded by Jordi Socias and Aurora Fierro in Spain, where I also participated since its inception.
I finish with a sad end: Sygma bought by Corbis, owned by Bill Gates, who fired all the photographers; Gamma recently in bankrupcy; Cover disappeared, absorbed by Jupiter, who then was by Getty ...
But I always end the class saying: "We still have Magnum, owned by over fifty photographers, the heirs of Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, who have rejected multimillion offers by Corbis and Getty.

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I thoroughly read the various comments and changed my mind. Magnum, like the other agencies mentioned in the post , printed their black and white photos, put a tampon behind with the name of the photographer and the written explanation and sent them to magazines and newspapers that had requested. But they only sold the reproduction rights, so once published, they was obliged to return them, though (as I will explain later) some of the copies were lost on the road. Back to the agencies, they were filed in cardboard boxes, which usually had held the sheets of photographic paper.
What MSD Capital LP, the billionaire owner of Dell computers’ company bought, was the fund of 185,000 vintage prints, most of them printed in the time they were taken. These photos were taken by 103 photographers from 1930 to 1998. MSD Capital will pay $ 100 million to Magnum, which is the largest financial transaction in the history of photography.

The agreement is very good for everyone. MSD Capital will provide the collection for 5 years at Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The center will promote the collection, the most valuable in the history of photography, with exhibitions, research and scholarships. So this great file will now much more accessible to everybody.
Magnum will retain the negatives and the copyright of all pictures, now mostly digitized, thus maintaining the spirit of its founder, Robert Capa, who defended the outset that photographers should be the owners of their photos. So Dell’s company only will have the copies, not the right to reproduce then which remains to Magnum.
The injection of 100 million dollars will be a blessing for long shattered economy of the agency, and even more in these times.

I would like to explain that about 25 years ago, copies substantiated in glossy paper, size 18x24, with the tampon behind from photographers like Capa or Cartier-Bresson, could still be found in already disappeared newspapers’ files such as the Diari de Barcelona, where they had not been returned for whatever reasons. And I know a photographer who at that time realized the value of these documents were unique, and took some of those iconic images before they disappeared, as has happened on many occasions.
What a luck!

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