Why Magnum Took Its Archive Offline and Why Its Statement Falls Short: We Need Answers

Why Magnum Took Its Archive Offline and Why Its Statement Falls Short: We Need Answers

In the early hours of Friday morning U.K. time, Magnum took its entire archive offline. Later that day, it released a statement explaining that it was reviewing its practices following revelations about some of its photographs. Difficult questions still need to be answered and the sequence of events shows how, despite Magnum’s crisis management, they’re not going away.

On August 6, Fstoppers broke the story that Magnum had been selling sexually explicit images of what appear to be children, potentially for more than 30 years. A longer article followed up the discoveries, and the photographs by David Alan Harvey were quickly taken offline without any announcement, but a large number of images of sex workers remained available for purchase from the agency’s archive.

David Allen Harvey teenage girl prostitute

Putting aside the question of why photographer David Alan Harvey was being approached by what appears to be a naked child in a dimly lit room, shooting from a low position while another, older woman smiles from around the corner of the door, Magnum’s keywording was proving to be a problem. As discussed by Allen Murabayashi in the Vision Slightly Blurred podcast, it’s not unusual for agencies to outsource the processing of vast swathes of images in its archives as adding keywords is a laborious process. The unfortunate keywording of the images produced by Harvey during his time spent in a Bangkok brothel could in part be attributed to a process that is not particularly sophisticated.

Other images, however, suggest that the issue is more complex. In 1985, Magnum photographer Miguel Rio Branco published his photobook Dulce Sudor Amargo, a study of life in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, a city widely known for its sex tourism. According to the Magnum website, “the photographer’s fascination for these places of strong contrast essentially resides in the power of the tropical colors and light, which he conveys by means of his pictorial sensibility.”

This pictorial sensibility included a photograph that features the caption “Prostitute lays on wooden floor.” Branco shot the image as he stood over the identifiable woman as she lay in front of him with her legs open. One of the keywords for the image in Magnum’s archive is “vulva.”

"Prostitute lays on wooden floor." "Vulva" Miguel Rio Branco

It’s not clear why would anyone wish to search the Magnum archive for images tagged “vulva.” Among the search results were two photographs of girls who appear to be younger than five years old, both naked from the waist down and with their genitals visible, seemingly family photographs by Harry Gruyaert and Patrick Zachmann. One is also tagged “sex education.” To be clear: there is nothing indecent about these images, and there is nothing ethically problematic about them as family photos, assuming that they are the children of the two photographers who produced the photographs. However, it is alarming that they are available to download from the archive of a global photo agency and tagged so that visitors to the website can easily find them by searching for images of children’s genitals. Magnum has these images in its library; it must be able to explain how they were produced and why they were made available for licensing.

Children tagged with the keyword "vulva"

A screenshot from Adobe Bridge after having downloaded the low resolution images.

Keywords Removed, Problems Remain

Following questions on Twitter about the Branco image, Magnum removed the visibility of its keywords from its archive. However, while the keywords were no longer listed alongside a photograph, they still appeared in the metadata of the low-res images that Magnum served for those browsing the website.

Alex Soth, cheerleader, vagina

Magnum was then challenged as to why a photograph by Alec Soth of a young cheerleader — “13 to 18 years old” — was tagged with the word “vagina.” A day later — and almost a week after the David Alan Harvey images were revealed as potential child sexual abuse — Magnum took its entire archive offline for a “scheduled upgrade.” Late on Friday afternoon — a time often used by governments and corporations to bury bad news — Magnum issued a statement.

The Statement

Olivia Arthur, president of Magnum Photos, issued a statement on the Magnum website. It includes the following:

Recently, we have also been alerted to historical material in our archive that is problematic in terms of imagery, captioning or keywording and we are taking this extremely seriously. We have begun a process of in-depth internal review – with outside guidance – to make sure that we fully understand the implications of the work in the archive, both in terms of imagery and context.

Arthur notes that in the 75 years that Magnum has been photographing the world, “standards for what has been acceptable have evolved. Issues and questions that were previously overlooked have to be addressed.”

Magnum has called in a crisis management consultancy to help it navigate its current challenges. “Our experts make crisis incidents disappear,” the consultancy's website claims. “We … manage the crisis so that the outside world remains unaware there ever was an issue or, at the very least, ensure the negative impact is much less than you originally feared.” It can likely be assumed that these lawyers have drawn up a strategy which is now being mulled over by Magnum’s members — the ultimate decision-makers — some of whom will almost certainly be enraged by the measures being proposed.

The statement from Magnum’s president, though thoughtful and well-worded, is hard to reconcile with the agency’s record. In 2017, the agency’s Global Business Development Manager, responding to concerns that Magnum and LensCulture used a photo of an alleged child being raped to promote a competition, stated that “the protection of vulnerable and abused children is of paramount importance to Magnum Photos.” Given that scores of images of child sex slaves — many of whom were identifiable — remained in the archive for another three years, this was patently untrue.

The Deafening Silence

Unlike most other photographic agencies, Magnum is owned and run by its members — the legendary photographers whose incredible images have been revered by the industry for decades. This elevated status seems to have bred a culture of arrogance, fed by a sense of untouchability established by their connections and clout. Photoland remained almost silent during the week following revelations about David Alan Harvey’s sexually explicit images of what appears to be a child. Magnum’s photographers are not just photographers: they are writers, editors, curators, consultants, and more. They are career-makers. As a result, photo land is still largely terrified by the prospect of discussing Magnum’s ongoing problems because too many individuals can’t speak out for fear of upsetting photography’s elite gatekeepers. Elsewhere, major publications such as the New York Times remain silent as even mentioning the scandal would undermine long-standing friendships built on years of mutual backscratching.

As discussed in the article that revealed David Alan Harvey’s troubling photographs, the culture within this tightly knit agency of photographers is frequently void of moral considerations. “I have no ethics,” says Bruce Gilden proudly, clearly gleeful in how his photographs treat their subjects like trophies, an attitude that the art world — dominated by Magnum’s chums — has rewarded over and over. Magnum’s former president described sex workers covertly photographed as “models,” and the agency recently used an image of an alleged child being raped to promote a competition. Martin Parr stood down from his role as director of the Bristol Photo Festival last month after being listed as the editor of a republished photobook from the 1960s that juxtaposed a black woman with a caged gorilla. Whether the photographer was making a racist commentary or not is now almost irrelevant: Parr was made aware of concerns about racism in May 2019, didn't respond until December, and chose to continue promoting the book for more than a year.

Images of Suffering

Magnum has produced some truly remarkable and hugely influential photographs over the years, but for many — especially in light of the questionable decisions and assertions listed above — the signs that it has a cultural problem that goes to the core of its organization is not a revelation. John Edwin Mason, teacher of African history and the history of photography at the University of Virginia, was called upon by National Geographic to review its archive in 2018. In a series of tweets last week, Mason explained how Magnum developed its culture of ends (i.e., art) always justifying the means (e.g., exploiting the plight of sexually exploited children). “After founding Magnum, right after WWII,” Mason explains, “they built its reputation by photographing the world. They especially traveled pathways that British and French imperialism had created and that was increasingly maintained by the US. Imperialism & white supremacy gave them the ‘right’ to go.” He continues:

Imperialism and white supremacy also granted them 'permission' to photograph virtually any black and brown person, no matter what circumstances they might be in and over whatever objections they might have. To a large extent, Magnum’s reputation came to rest on its images of suffering or exoticized black and brown people. People who didn’t have the power to say no. People who had no ‘right’ to photograph the places Magnum’s photographers came from. But, you say, Magnum’s photographers were the good guys. Humanists. The very model of the ‘concerned photographer.’ That’s true of many of them. But they were trapped in systems larger than themselves. They failed to recognize that. And they never put their own house in order.

Magnum is now scrambling to do just that. (Note that Mason’s use of the term “white supremacy” refers here to colonialist attitudes of entitlement, not to far-right hate groups.)

The statement from Arthur falls short. It talks of a journey, problems that must be solved, a realization that attitudes have evolved, and a will to understand. There is, however, no apology, no contrition, and no mention of the sexually explicit images of what appear to be children produced by David Alan Harvey. It says that it recognizes that there are issues, but very carefully it does not mention what those issues are.

A Right to Report?

Some commentators are keen to invoke conversations about freedom of expression, but all of that can be put aside for one simple reason: creating indecent images of children is an offense. A first-time offender in the U.S. faces a statutory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison. Journalistic intent does not even begin to figure as mitigation and claiming a duty or a right to report will not be considered a defense. After this article appeared, Conde Nast may want to consider reminding the editors of Wired Italia, one of its subsidiaries, of both the law but more importantly, the company’s Code of Ethics, not to mention its Code of Conduct, notably a document that was hastily drawn up after sexual harassment allegations were leveled against Mario Testino and Bruce Weber.

In short, photojournalism simply cannot give sex offenders a means of gaining access to vulnerable children.

Questions Remain Unanswered

As it stands, the questions listed in a previous article remain largely unanswered:

  • Why was Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey taking sexually explicit images of what appear to be children in Thailand in 1989?
  • Does Magnum acknowledge that creating a sexually explicit image of a child constitutes an act of child sexual abuse?
  • Why does Harvey have a photograph of what appears to be a naked child approaching him where he is sitting or lying?
  • Why did Harvey think it appropriate to submit this image to Magnum’s archive?
  • Why did Magnum think it appropriate to include Harvey’s images in its archive?
  • Has Harvey been suspended from Magnum?
  • Will Harvey be subject to an investigation?
  • Will Magnum report Harvey’s images to the police?
  • Will Magnum ensure that any images of child sexual abuse in its archive are destroyed?
  • Will Magnum accept an investigation of its archive with the oversight of a child protection officer?
  • Why did Magnum fail to review its archive properly following an outcry in 2017 over its use of an image of possible child rape to promote competition?
  • Is Magnum finally willing to remove hundreds of images of child sex slaves from its archive?

Get In Touch

If you have information about the conduct of a photographer or an organization and wish to discuss it in confidence, you can email photoland.confidential@protonmail.com.

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Ivan Lantsov's picture

why all this - Andy Day afraid of women! he obses on this

Mutley Dastardly's picture

It's a difficult subject to write about - and i believe you wrote it right the way it should be.

Joe Snell's picture

"We Need Answers" ??
No, Andy, YOU don't. Nothing in your career has lead to you needing or deserving anything from Magnum. You are just a conservative photographer who is trying to big note himself by writing articles, mostly about gear with the occasional dose of Magnum-bashing, on a website.

"Deafening Silence"
This surprises you? Of course there is silence - no one has to answer to you. You have no authority here. Your shrill little fight against Magnum is obviously based on a personal vendetta. Let the authorities and professionals deal with the professionals at Magnum.

"Get In Touch"
Once again, leave this for the professionals and authorities. Andy, you are not qualified to act as legal or psychological help in actual cases of harassment, discrimination or, well, anything really (except parkour and climbing, of course). All you would be doing here is gathering more wood for your giant pyre of Magnum-hatred.

William Mac's picture

"Let the authorities and professionals deal with the professionals at Magnum."

Whch authorities & professionals are you aware of who are currently dealing with Magnum?

Joe Snell's picture

Great thinking, Willy. A truly great question.
"Which authorities are you aware of who are currently dealing with Magnum?"
All the ones that are necessary would be getting involved (without having the need to drum up publicity, mind you) at the appropriate tempo and volume. Without having to clear it with you, or me.
What's definitely unnecessary is the Online Court of Andy Day 'Great Social Justice Warrior'. He, and his online warrior cronies (or alter egos), really aren't required.

William Mac's picture

You said something quite specific about a process involving certain "authorities & professionals".

But you're not actually talking from any position of knowledge, simply expressing an opinion?

Or am I wrong and you do know whats going on behind the scenes but wont say?

I only ask because whichever 'professionals you think (or know) it is that ARE involved, will give me some idea of what may be actually happening, or likely to happen, but if you genuinely dont know then fine, just say so.

(I dont know either so I'm trying to get a handle on this, and you seem to have some insight.)

Bela Acs's picture

Andy Who??? What next? Attack Michelangelo and remove David, (I hope you know what David is, the naked man with a small dick, watching millions of young girls every year) and the Sistine Chapel Ceiling or Leonardo Da Vinci or everybody else who made some nudity. These images were taken when was ok to take them. Now, these nobodies call themself photographers attack like David Alan, Gilden, Steve McCurry, and so on. You should remove yourself from Fstoppers and try to get in Magnum with your bs cliche photography. You people killed photography with your laws, Code of Ethics, Code of Conduct. Novadays can't even take an image of a dog, that is Animal Abuse.

William Mac's picture

"These images were taken when was ok to take them."

When was it ok to take them? Can you give me some idea of the time period you are referring to, as you seem very well informed? Thanks.

Bela Acs's picture

I mean by ok when was no Code of Ethics, Code of Conduct and the story was the most important in an image. Maybe you know the Vietnam war's naked napalm girl image by Nic Ut an Associated Press photographer. Was it ok to take the picture or not? That was 100% child abuse, isn't it? Ceternally I totally agree with the Child model Law and so on but when you do a documentary about prostitution, drugs, wars and so on you can't follow ethics, if you do it won't be documentary.By the way, David Alan Harvey is a documentary photographer not like Andy Day who photographing parkour.

William Mac's picture

I know the Ut photo - not a good comparison because it's not the same. But as you've asked, yes it was ok, because its an image taken in public with witnesses and clear context. Therefore: news.

You're comparing it to images taken with (apparently) no witnesses, and in circumstances where the law (not you or me) in various jurisdictions actually describes the resulting images as 'indecent images of a child'.

If you think there were no codes of ethics nor applicable laws regarding child protection twenty/thirty years ago you might find this of interest:

Child Sex Tourism to Thailand: The Role of the United States as a Consumer Country, Washington International Law Journal Washington International Law Journal 1995

You said: "but when you do a documentary about prostitution, drugs, wars and so on you can't follow ethics, if you do it won't be documentary."

You absolutely can follow ethics, and it still be documentary, indeed you MUST follow ethics because if you dont its not journalism but fiction. In fact if someone calls themself a 'journalist' there are many codes of ethics they must follow, and in fact the actual law in many countries applying to the conduct of journalists is applied more strictly because of the position of trust they occupy.

So for example heres a few exctracts from the USA's Society of Professional Journalists Code of Conduct:

Journalists should:

– Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent. Consider cultural differences in approach and treatment.

– Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.

-Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes."

and so on and on...

None of this is my opinion - its what is stated in law in many countries regarding both 'journalistic freedom' and, under a different set of legislation, 'child protection'.

Where they overlap is where the problems arise, as in this instance.

Bela Acs's picture

You mixing up journalists with documentary photographers. I don't care what the USA Laws and Code of Conducts say. I don't live there. I follow International Laws. Anyway, everything is subjective in life but looks like nowadays the sheep want to kill the wolf.

William Mac's picture

So you actually believe that documentary photographers are somehow different from journalists, and that ethics dont apply to them?

And that its ok for them to produce indecent images of children without legal repercussions?

So what does International Law say then, that makes it different from American Law regarding indecent images of children - which is what I presume you're referring to?

Christiane Ferreira's picture

Do you really need a Code of Conduct to avoid photograph a child in a pornographic situation?
Do you really think it's ok to have a 13 year old be photographed naked "for documenting"?
I mean, you know that you can tell a story in a million different ways. You can show that children are held as sex slaves without showing their face and genitals.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

I wish Fstoppers would not go in to politics this way. I do not want to defend og accuse anyone but cancel culture is not a good thing. Some musician sad it was like a religion, but without any grace.
This aggressive type of dealing with things in the public, tast bad. Because it comes down to a lot of hashtags and before you know its worse then living in some muslim country where extreme muslim culture rains. I wish this writer would go write in some where they already have lost there mind and are already working on cancel police. Andy if Magnum is doing something wrong and illegal, contact the police and let them deal with it, if they do not correct their errors.
Please, stop nag online!

Scott Ruffner's picture

Andy Day the great social justice warrior, sallies forth once again to right all the worlds problems! I'm happy that most of the commentators here recognize this phony crusade for what it is: Self Promotion!

Carl Murray's picture

yeah, getting real sick of this social justice warrior crap on a photography website.

William Mac's picture

So if you oppose Day's stance on this issue that means you support, as a general principle, the taking of images that may be considered (in many jurisdictions) to be 'indecent images of a child' and to sell them for profit?

If thats not your position can you explain what your position is?

Carl Murray's picture

That's a pretty big leap in reasoning there, "YOU DONT AGREE WITH THIS IDIOT SO YOU MUST LIKE CHILD PORN." Come off it.

The argument "ANDY DAY WRITES A LOT ABOUT CHILD PORN AND YOU CLEARLY READ IT ALL SO YOU, WILLIAM MAC, MUST LIKE CHILD PORN!" is about as valid. I don't think Andy loves kids in that way, and I'm sure you don't either.

I don't have a problem with Andy's stance, or even care about it. My problem, in it's entirety, is that I come to a photography website, to get news, articles, reviews, and advice, on photography and photography related things. If I wanted to look into social issues, I would go to Tumblr. Or wherever people who have a bachelors degree in gender studies hang out, but I sure as shit wouldn't want to be getting it from a website that constantly argues whether canon or Sony is the best.

Just getting real sick of the SJW clickbait B.S. It has a time and a place, and that time and place is not here on a website that was supposedly about photography. (In my opinion, which, lets be real, is just as invalid as everyone else's)

William Mac's picture

Thanks for the response Carl.

No Andy doesn't, no I don't and no I'm certain you don't (like child porn).

But that wasn't the implication I made. I was curious about what your opinion about such alleged material being taken and sold by an agency is, and how that related to the wider principles of images taking/making that we are all involved in. A perfectly reasonable point of discussion I assumed in this thread.

This is, after all, some 'news' in the photography world (which is what you said you came here for), and it is absolutely about photography but its also about an aspect of that craft & profession that seems to perturb many practitioners - ethics, and also power (who has it, what do they do with it, and who 'suffers' or 'benefits' as a consequence).

The issue seems to have perplexed a lot of people (commenting on here) who seem confused about where the right to journalistic freedom ends when it interacts with eg the rights to protection of vulnerable children.

There's a simple bottom line here - more awareness and interest in the law around the rights of vulnerable young people (as photo subjects) can only mean more protection for them from exploitation. And thats not an "an SJW thing" but an integral part of the process of consideration that will (should) occur whenever you or I or anyone else lifts a camera and points it at someone else.

And I'm certain that's a bottom line you and I will agree on.

pdbreske's picture

The other day I saw an interview with Ben Shapiro in which he posits that in one hundred years, future generations of what we now call Progressives will tear down the statues of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and whomever else they currently worship, just because those idols are now driving cars and eating meat when we all know these things are bad for the environment. They will cry, "They knew it was wrong and they did it anyway! Cancel those statues!"

I would agree and add that today's photographers who are railing against shooters of yesterday's generation for making photos of what was then fine but is now verboten, will themselves be read the riot act for making photos of internal-combustion-powered cars and meat cooking on a grill. "How dare you fetishize the very acts that led to the death of our planet?"

Mark my words: Once we go down this path of judging history through a modern lens and vilifying the people who lived it, we are ALL doomed to the historical trash bin.

Alex Herbert's picture

You don't have to vilify those from the past who were guilty of morally reprehensible behaviour because they lived in a society which condoned it. We just don't need to celebrate them.

pdbreske's picture

So why celebrate anyone who has ever lived? EVERYONE has done something you might find distasteful. Abraham Lincoln was no friend of Native Americans, yet his statue is one of the biggest and his presidency one of the most celebrated in the nation. How long before we are told that the monuments in his name are no longer to be "celebrated" and they are torn down? (Frankly, I'm surprised it hasn't already happened.)

Alex Herbert's picture

It's not really about 'distasteful' I wouldn't describe slavery or genocide as 'distasteful'. I guess if your country has a barbaric diabolical past, then all of your heroes are going to be villains. Lets face it, if the Nazis's had won WW2 there would be Hitler statues everywhere, I'd be here arguing that it's morally reprehensible, and you'd be saying "so why celebrate anyone who ever lived".

Tiger Lily's picture

I'm sorry Phillip...you lost me at Ben Shapiro.

pdbreske's picture

Oh, no no no. I'm sorry, snowflake. If I had left out the name of the person I was paraphrasing, would that have made the sentiment more palatable to your delicate sensibilities? Or would you have insisted that I relay the name before you decided whether to be enraged?

William Mac's picture

With respect Phillip, are you aware of the laws regarding 'indecent images of children', how they are created, what qualifies them as 'indecent' (in law in many jurisdictions) and what consequences you (or anyone else) will experience if you make/share them?

If not I urge you to do so.

pdbreske's picture

With respect, are you aware of the laws and regulations regarding the personal ownership of firearms and the right to carry such arms?

If you are not aware of these rules because you know you will never need to know them, then you know why I may not be aware of what the laws are regarding indecent images of children. I don't even photograph minors with a release signed by their parents because: 1) I don't like children, and 2) there are too many pitfalls when dealing with people who seem to think it's okay to eat laundry soap.

William Mac's picture

Yes I do. Which is why I don't have an illegal gun.

If you don't know the answer to the question of what the law says in your jurisdiction about what constitutes an 'indecent image' then you're in no position to make any informed judgement on what is or is not permitted.

You might assume you'll "never need to know them" (laws) but that will not stop the legal authorities from coming down on you like a ton of bricks because "I didn't know this was illegal" - (in law ignorance is not a defence) if you happen to 'share' an image that breaks the law.

None of this stuff is easy, but its got nothing to do with 'historical revisionism' or 'cancel culture' or any other weasel words, the law looks at what is there and judges it against the current legal criteria, and if its in breach of them, thats it.

Alex Herbert's picture

Interesting direction of thought, but Ben Shapiro is otherwise very much full of shit. His half facts and full fallacies have been exposed MANY MANY times.

C Fisher's picture

Ah, a dry ass pussy disciple.

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