An Update and Look Forward from Magnum

May 12, 2021

For more than 70 years, Magnum Photos has helped to capture, define, and lead the very best in photography and photojournalism. Our collective of contemporary photographers play an important role in telling new stories about humanity, shine a light on issues across the world, and are at the forefront of documenting global historical, political, and cultural events.

Journalistic and artistic freedom of expression are central to what we do. But, with that freedom comes a singular responsibility. A responsibility to always make and publish work in sensitive and respectful ways. It is a responsibility we take incredibly seriously and one we must always keep under review as the world changes. As a cooperative of independent photographers this is something that we haven’t always got right, particularly when we opened up our historic archive that includes sensitive images and photographs of vulnerable people. It is important to all of us to acknowledge this and to say we are sorry for the harm this may have caused certain individuals.

The last year has demonstrated that for Magnum to protect its freedom of expression, it must continue to adapt and modernize. That is why we are launching a new strategy for Magnum to strengthen and protect our core freedom, that of expression. This new strategy works on three levels focusing on leadership, trust, and values.

The first of these is about striving to lead by example – thinking carefully about the content we capture, how to do so in an ethical way and ensuring it is presented thoughtfully; the second is about placing trust at the heart of what we do – with a proactive approach to safeguarding, eliminating harassment and discrimination; and, thirdly ensuring we are values and ethics-led – by improving and defining our standards we can champion the freedom of our photographers to chronicle important world events, people, places and culture.

Olivia Arthur, President, said: “Magnum has long been a progressive organization that aspires to the very best in visual storytelling. As we create our work we always think hard about the context and its meaning, using the visual medium to bring context alive. We also take care to understand how our work goes out into the world and where it is shown and published. Yet we didn’t fully consider that context when we published our archive online and made it available globally, not living up to the high standards we aspire to. It is right that as we look forward to Magnum’s future, and the future of photojournalism, we consider some of the more difficult questions around journalistic and artistic freedom and how to balance that with the need to protect and respect people in photographs, and ensure content is moral and ethical.” 

Below you can find more detail of our action plan and we will be publishing regular updates as our work progresses.

Our plan of action:

Our plan centres around three main areas and we have a number of actions under each to help us achieve our goals:

1. Striving to lead by example: Thinking carefully about the content we capture, how to do so in an ethical way, and how it should be presented.

Our industry faces complex challenges around the perimeters of freedom of expression, journalistic and artistic licence, and how to document difficult subject matters whilst protecting and respecting those in our images. We will always robustly defend freedom of expression in photography – but it must be done in an ethical way. As part of this ongoing discussion, we will be:

  • Launching our Beyond Magnum series – inviting members of the photographic community and beyond to discuss and debate some of the challenging questions facing our industry.
  • Leading and participating in conversations about freedom of expression across our industry – Magnum is not the only cultural or journalistic institution facing complex questions relating to the historic portrayal of gender and race, as well as heritage archive material. We want to use the insight from our Beyond Magnum series to begin to look at how we address this challenge – by collaborating and working with our peers and other similar organizations.

2. Placing trust at the heart of what we do: A proactive approach to safeguarding, eliminating harassment and discrimination.

We have put a programme of work in place to ensure we are taking an active approach to safeguarding:

  • Updated our Code of Conduct – Magnum has set out clearly in our Code of Conduct the behavior Magnum will and will not tolerate, available on our website alongside a new Public Complaints Policy for anyone who wishes to raise concerns with us. This includes a new external whistleblowing hotline for people who don’t feel comfortable coming forward to us directly.
  • Launched an independent child safeguarding review – commissioned Andrew Puddephatt OBE, Chair of the Internet Watch Foundation, to review Magnum’s activities and recommend steps to take to improve our approach to safeguarding. The findings of this review are now publicly available on our website, here. (PDF file will save automatically or open in browser)
  • Commissioned an independent report into the handling of misconduct issues at Magnum – asked leading London law firm Hodges Jones & Allen to undertake an independent review into our handling of misconduct issues at Magnum, to identify any failings, and recommend steps we can take to mitigate against such a situation arising again. The findings of this review are now publicly available here. (PDF file will save automatically or open in browser)
  • Introducing a new inclusive policy for photography workshops – clearly setting out what is considered acceptable behavior in the context of Magnum workshops, seminars, portfolio reviews, and individual and group mentoring sessions, as well as other education settings organized by Magnum. Read the policy here.
  • Introducing compulsory safeguarding training for all photographers and employees – introducing formal sexual harassment training, compulsory for any representative of Magnum involved in workshops and other education events with a safeguarding requirement.
  • Became members of the Internet Watch Foundation – to assess sensitive images from our historic archive and provide critical assurance on their legality.

3. Ensuring we are values and ethics-led: Improving and defining our standards whilst always championing the freedom of our photographers

Magnum will always champion freedom of expression – but this must be done in a responsible way. As a contemporary collective of photographers, we want to ensure that ethical considerations are at the heart of our work, whilst maintaining freedom of expression and defending our photographers’ right to document complex and challenging subject matters. We have already taken significant steps in this area, but there is more to do. Our commitments include:

  • A full review of our historic archive – to address complex ethical questions presented by Magnum’s archive with a commitment to looking at every single image, caption and keyword in the archive.
  • Mapping new access tiers – to draw clear lines between material that is presented in context as part of an open public resource; work available to professional clients on a rights-managed basis; and personal material stored purely for historical record.
  • Developing a new Code of Ethics – to guide the way that Magnum photographers work and clearly set out the values and standards we hold ourselves to. Once the code has been developed it will be embedded within our organization – sitting at the centre of everything we do.
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