Magnum Photos: Archive Review Update

[Update 23/02/21: Link to the Internet Watch Foundation’s related announcement here]

In August last year concerns were raised about images in Magnum’s archive in relation to child safeguarding. Magnum’s board and our collective of members take these concerns extremely seriously and we launched a full-scale review of all the material in our archive.

We recognize that we made mistakes and we are deeply sorry for these. In making sensitive work openly available on the internet we haven’t shown enough care for the vulnerable people in the images, and in failing to give the right context to images, we have in some instances misrepresented photographers’ work. Not only has this caused offence to members of the public, it may also have had implications for some of the people shown in the images.

We are determined to learn from this and put better protections in place. Whilst the images of children have been legally cleared by the Internet Watch Foundation, we are working hard to fully contextualise work, add appropriate warning information, and put the right levels of access restrictions in place.

We will also ensure that Magnum has better oversight in future of the partners who add keywords to our images. We accept full responsibility for this and are actively reviewing the best way to set up a system which ensures work is always accurately and appropriately represented.

In having these conversations, we realize that other issues need addressing too, including portrayal of race and gender, identification of vulnerable people, and handling of sexually explicit or violent imagery. At the heart of these are fundamental questions about power dynamics and the meaning of truth in photography.

We are engaging with these concerns and critically questioning our work, as many other journalists, artists, and cultural organisations are doing at the moment. We believe it is possible to do this whilst at the same time standing by the right to freedom of expression and the need to continue documenting difficult topics in the world.

We expect our archive review project to continue until the end of the year. Whilst there is still a lot to do, we have made some concrete progress, including:

  • Structured a comprehensive programme of work to address the legal and complex ethical questions presented by Magnum’s archive with the goal of looking at every single image, caption, and keyword in the archive. [Started August 2020, ongoing until Autumn 2021]
  • Commissioned a legal opinion from Peter Glenser QC in relation to 476 images of children, including all those flagged online at the time. Mr Glenser confirmed the legality of these images and briefed staff and photographers on the requirements of the law. [Started August 2020, completed September 2020]
  • Engaged the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to give their assessment of 1,621 images of children (including a second opinion on the images reviewed by Mr Glenser). The material was cleared for legality. Magnum is now a member of the IWF and able to refer images at any time should further legal questions arise. [Started January 2021, completed February 2021]
  • Appointed Andrew Puddephatt OBE, Chair of the IWF, to carry out an independent child safeguarding review. The review will audit our policies and procedures and reach out to those who have raised concerns online. Magnum is committed to publishing the findings of the report and to implementing the recommendations. [Started January 2021, ongoing to April 2021]
  • Made significant progress in the individual review of images, captions and keywords. To date we have given ‘eyes on’ review to 148,000 (out of 893,000) images, and 24,000 (out of 64,000) keywords. 3,559 images have been flagged as sensitive and set aside for further consideration, and 138 keywords have been removed as inappropriate. Material that is set aside will be considered on a case-by-case basis in discussion with the photographer. It may be re-integrated into the archive in a protected way with the appropriate warnings and safeguards, or in some cases removed altogether. [Started October 2020, ongoing to Autumn 2021]
  • Started to map out new access tiers drawing clear lines between material that is appropriate in an open public resource; work available only to professional clients; and personal material stored for historical record. [Started December 2020, ongoing to December 2021]
  • Begun the work of establishing our core values in a new written Code of Ethics, which will be published alongside our Code of Conduct and Public Complaints Policy. [COC and PCP published January 2021, COE to be published Summer 2021]
  • Reached out to members of the photographic community and beyond, inviting them to come and discuss with us in a public forum some of the ethical issues that have been raised, or any related topics that they would like to explore. This group includes academics, photographers, representatives of the NGO sector, subjects of photographs and others. The programme will be launched in the spring. [Started December 2020, launch spring 2021]

General notes

Magnum is a collective of photographers covering global affairs and social issues both as journalists and as artists. We are committed to respecting our subjects and to actively minimising harm with the work that we make and publish. This is alongside our belief in the right to freedom of expression which we stand by. We will continue to work hard to make sure that we fulfill these commitments.

Magnum’s archive is a database of images made by Magnum photographers over the 73 years of its history. It currently contains 893,000 images with around 20,000 images added each year. Magnum does not hold any third party or user generated content. Like many heritage organisations, Magnum has been digitizing archive material for many years to create historical records and to improve our service to editorial and commercial partners.

In 2011 Magnum took a decision to open up this archive to members of the public who wish to browse the work and study its contents. This was seen as a move that would be helpful to young photographers, researchers and historians by revealing the outtakes, exposing how stories are edited, and showing unseen personal work. The full implications of this decision were not well understood at the time and corrective action is now being taken to minimise harm.

The archive review project is led by Olivia Arthur, President, and Caitlin Hughes, CEO, and supported by a multidisciplinary team which includes two dedicated external resources. The review has engaged photographers and estates to consider their own material and the central project team is also providing systematic ‘eyes on’ review of all content.

As described above, the project draws on external experts and advisors, and is guided by a committee of photographers, estate representatives, and employees: Peter van Agtmael, Olivia Arthur, Jonas Bendiksen, Bieke Depoorter, Shannon Ghannam, Bruce Gilden, Sohrab Hura, Peer-Olaf Richter, Jerome Sessini, Sim Chi Yin, Patrick Sutter, Pauline Vermare and Patrick Zachmann; with special support from Thomas Dworzak, Fiona Naylor, and Eli Reed.

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