Magnum Photos, the photographic cooperative whose members snapped some of the most iconic images of the last half of the 20th century, has sold its archives of almost 200,000 original press prints to an investment firm that has partnered with the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center to preserve, catalog, and make accessible the photos.
The collection covers major events, celebrities, world leaders, social affairs, and enduring images such as the green-eyed “Afghan Girl” who graced the cover of National Geographic in 1985. Its new owner is an affiliate of MSD Capital, the private investment firm of computer mogul and Austin resident Michael Dell.
“Housing the collection at the Ransom Center not only allows this archive to be studied by photographers but also helps satisfy the huge interest in it among historians, anthropologists, curators, journalists, and the public at large,” said Mark Lubell, managing director of Magnum Photos.
Harry Ransom Center Curator of Photography David Coleman told American Libraries, “We will make these prints accessible through our reading room like we do with all of our collections,” adding that public access should begin this spring. Initially, the Ransom Center will maintain the organization that Magnum used, with photos in boxes divided variously by subject, photographer, and geographic region.
“We wanted to make it available as quickly as we could,” Coleman explained, adding that librarians will continually be cataloging the collection to provide more information.
While specific plans have not been finalized, Coleman said that the Ransom Center will host programs for students and the public with Magnum photographers “routinely” over the next five years.
A unique collection
“Given the technical changes that have taken place in the world of photography, including the digitization of images, a collection of prints like these will never exist again,” said Gleen Furhman, comanaging partner of MSD Capital.
“You can’t stop looking at these photos once you start opening the boxes,” said Coleman in a February 16 National Public Radio interview. “You get the point of view of photographers from all over the world going all over the world in the second half of the 20th century.”
The purchase covers only the physical press prints; Magnum’s member photographers will retain copyright and licensing rights to all of the images. The purchase price was not made public, but the New York Times reported that the archive had been insured at $100 million. Revenue from the sale will go to the photographers and to fund Magnum’s outreach programming and improve its digital distribution system, NPR reported.
“I am so pleased to be able to entrust this significant body of work to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas for research, study, and exhibition,” Dell said.
Selected images can be viewed at bit.ly/magnumlightboxlink.