In today’s blog we’re going to be looking back on the history of Magnum, and its role in photography.
For those of you who don’t know, Magnum Photos is a “photographic cooperative, agency and archive, owned by its photographer members.” It’s members are photographers from all corners of the world, from a wide variety of disciplines, such as art photography or photojournalism, united in their ability to use the lens to tell stories about the world in which we live in.
Founded in 1947, two years following the end of the Second World War, by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David “Chim” Seymour; Magnum was a way for the founders, who were each changed by that terrible conflict, to document how the world had changed, and what was left behind.
The founders divided the globe into regions and each took “possession” of a region and became responsible for documenting what was happening in that part of the world. Robert Capa secured one of the group’s first big stories when he and writer, John Steinbeck were allowed an uncensored look behind the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union. This began a pattern of Magnum being synonymous with being present at the world’s most important events.
Over the next five years, the group expanded its membership and began to cover more and more of the events of the period. Ghandi’s assassination, Malcolm X and the nation of Islam, portraits of Marilyn Monroe – Magnum has been there for it all.
But in 1954, the group was tested to its limits when founding member Robert Capa and renowned photographer Werner Bischof both lost their lives in unrelated incidents within days of one another. Capa stepped on a landmine while covering the First Indochina War for LIFE Magazine, and Bischof was working in Peru when his car fell off a cliff in the Andes Mountains.
It would have been all too easy for the other members to succumb to grief and for Magnum to fade away, but they found the strength to continue through one another. Soon after the deaths, David “Chim” Seymour sent a letter to his “Magnum Family”. He expressed his deep pain and sorrow over the loss of friends, and members of the Magnum family, but urged the members to “go on, keep together, and avoid the stunning effects of our sorrow. Maybe through this we will help ourselves, and find strength to keep and develop Magnum as a home for all of us.”
In the years since, Magnum has continued to grow its member base, and has continued to be present all of humanity’s landmark moments, capturing the evidence of an ever-changing world.
Though the technology may have changed, Magnum photographers continue to capture the images that shape and define our shared history. And after all this time, Magnum remains a co-operative family of elite photographers, from a variety of background and styles, who come together to capture the world through images and help us to understand the world we live in, as well as ourselves.