Magnum Explained

Who are we?

Magnum is a cooperative of photographers based around the world. As well as still images, some of our photographers also use film, writing, and other art forms. We are a community who practice independently, share ideas, and sometimes create work together. Whilst the organisation traditionally centred around offices in Paris, New York and London, nominees in the last decade came from 20 different countries including Turkey, Iran, South Africa, Mexico, India, USA, Singapore, Tunisia, and Spain.

What does that mean? What is a cooperative?

Magnum is owned by its members, who become shareholders in the company once they are elected to full membership. There are 44 members today who engage in the organisation a democratic way: we have debates and also disagreements about how things should be done, and we take votes on key issues. There are many different voices and ideas within the group and we have discussions across generations, across cultures, and across different photographic ideals. We also rotate the board and leadership roles of the President and Vice-Presidents, which are voted on at our Annual General Meeting (AGM) each June.

How do new photographers join?

Anyone can apply to join Magnum though an open call each year which closes in early spring. Current members can also invite applications. At the AGM of shareholders each year, members vote on who to take in as new ‘nominees’. Successful nominees present a portfolio of new work two years later to be voted on becoming ‘associate members’, and a further two years they can submit to be voted to the full membership.

What does Magnum represent photographers for?

Magnum represents photographers for assignments globally, licenses existing work, placing exhibitions, and selling fine prints through their galleries.

How is it run?

The day-to-day operations of the company are run by our CEO, Caitlin Hughes, and her global team in close collaboration with photographers. The organisation is governed by a board that is made up of members, estate representatives and an independent director.

The current board of directors is: Olivia Arthur (President), Peter van Agtmael (VP New York), Jonas Bendiksen (VP London), Jérôme Sessini (VP Paris), Patrick Sutter (Estates representative), Bieke Depoorter, Thomas Dworzak, Richard Kalvar, Fiona Naylor, Eli Reed, Mikhael Subotzky. Susan Meiselas and Marco Bischof are also non-voting members of the board representing the Magnum Foundation in New York and  the Fonds de Dotation in Paris respectively.

What about the Magnum Foundations? Who are they?

The Magnum Foundation in New York is a separate non-profit organisation founded by the Magnum Photographers in 2007 with a mission to expand creativity and diversity in documentary photography through grant-making and mentorship of emerging photographers. Its management, finances and governance are independent of Magnum Photos though some Magnum photographers sit on its board. More information can be found here.

The Magnum Photos Fonds de Dotation in Paris focuses on the conservation and preservation of the Magnum archives and also has independent management and governance.

What are the rules and values under which we operate?

As a group of individuals we all have our different outlooks but we are also drawn together by common journalistic values. We plan to publicly commit to these values by publishing a new ethical code to guide the practice of members later this year.

Magnum company by-laws give the overall framework for the governance and running of the company, and the relationship between photographers/ estates and the company is encoded in representation agreements. All photographers and team members are also legally obliged to adhere to the code of conduct which was first established in 2018 and will be published soon. 

Sometimes Magnum photographers work is seen in other places, why is that?

Photographers are entitled to sell work on their own or through galleries other than Magnum as well as seek commercial work through alternative routes, however all photographers are represented and available for assignment through Magnum and fine prints are available through Magnum’s galleries. Magnum is also the exclusive place to license work from Magnum’s extensive archive of material.

Is there a time limit to membership?

After 25 years as an associate or member, a photographer can request to become a contributor at the following AGM, and when this happens they sell back their shares and are no longer voting members of the collective. They are not obliged to do so and can remain a member for life instead. A small number of other relationships exist but the majority of photographers move through the processes outlined here.

What happens when a photographer dies?

The work of a photographer can continue to be represented by Magnum after their death on agreement with their estate representatives.

Do photographers ever leave? How does that happen?

Photographers can opt to leave the cooperative by submitting their resignation. A number of photographers have left the cooperative over its history. Permanent exclusion of a photographer can also occur with just cause through a vote of the board of directors, followed by a 2/3 vote of the membership a number of days later.

Learn more about applying to join Magnum Photos, here.

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