Will Magnum Answer These Questions About Potential Child Sexual Abuse Images?

Will Magnum Answer These Questions About Potential Child Sexual Abuse Images?

It emerged on Thursday that Magnum Photos may have been selling photographs of child sexual abuse for more than 30 years. Until it can answer some critical questions about its past and how it runs its business, its reputation is under threat.

Discovered in Magnum’s archive a few days ago was a series of photographs by David Alan Harvey from his time spent with sex workers in Bangkok in 1989. Several of the photographs were sexually explicit, appeared to feature child nudity and were tagged with keywords “Teenage girl - 13 to 18 years.” Magnum has since stated that it understands that these images are “inappropriate” and has removed them from its website. When asked if it acknowledged that these sexually explicit photographs of children constituted child sexual abuse, it declined to comment. 

As of yesterday, the Magnum Photos website returned more than 100 results when using the search term “girl prostitute.” Many of these images featured identifiable subjects, and many of them are clearly children. Some are tagged “Girl - 3 to 13 years.”

UNICEF, the United Nations agency tasked with humanitarian aid for children around the world, has specific guidelines for documenting children. “Always change the name and obscure the visual identity of any child” who is identified as a victim of sexual abuse or exploitation, it states. It also asks that journalists should “avoid categorizations or descriptions that expose a child to negative reprisals.” Raising awareness is not justification: “Protect the best interests of each child over any other consideration, including advocacy for children’s issues and the promotion of child rights.”

Despite these clear guidelines, it's not unusual for photo agencies to feature images tagged as “child prostitute,” with subjects — obviously children — clearly identifiable, as proven by the discoveries made on the Getty Images website yesterday.

The photographs produced by Harvey raise serious questions not only regarding the portrayal of children being sexually exploited, but how the process of creating these images could constitute acts of child sexual abuse. Making sexually explicit photographs of children is unequivocally child abuse; at present, Magnum considers these images as merely “inappropriate.”

U.K. law is clear: the act of creating a sexually explicit image of a child constitutes sexual abuse. Journalistic intention is not considered a defense, regardless of when an image is created. Distribution of that image is illegal.

This may be an indication of a broader cultural problem regarding prostitution at Magnum. In 2014, Martin Parr, then president of the agency, wrote the foreword for a photobook by Spanish photographer Txema Salvans. For eight years, Salvans photographed sex workers waiting on the side of Catalan roads, covertly and without the women’s permission, having been informed that they did not want to be photographed. Many of the women are identifiable. In his foreword, Parr refers repeatedly to the sex workers (“prostitutes” in his words — a term he last week acknowledged was inappropriate) as “models.” If the subjects of photographs can be considered as “models” — a term that implies consent — when they have been secretly photographed against their expressed wishes and potentially in breach of Spanish law, there is the suggestion of a lack of empathy and respect that should raise grave concerns.

Magnum Photos’ history with images of child sexual abuse does not reflect positively on the agency. In 2017, in partnership with LensCulture, it used a photograph of a child being raped to promote a competition. As NPR noted when reporting this story, “The girl is on her back, looking up at the camera, with a naked man on top of her. Her face is in full view. Her identity is not concealed.” The caption of the image stated that the girl in the photograph was 16.

Magnum and LensCulture use child rape photo to promote competition

Following an outcry over the use of this photograph, Robert Godden, Director of Campaigns and Communications of advocacy group Rights Exposure, contacted various senior figures in the photo industry. Among them was Fiona Rogers, Global Business Development Manager for Magnum Photos. In response, she wrote the following

The protection of vulnerable and abused children is of paramount importance to Magnum Photos. As a collective, the letter has been distributed to Magnum Photographers for their individual consideration and the agency is taking the time to consider how these recommendations guide the production of work, and apply to our archive, our new publishing initiatives, as well as how we engage with non-Magnum photographer work through our education activities and competitions. Magnum staff and photographers will continue to discuss these topics over the coming weeks and months, examining each part of the business in turn, to ensure we shine a light on concerned areas.

Speaking to the British Journal of Photography in 2018, then-president David Kogan said, “Magnum has been conscious of the issues [in photojournalism] for some time,” adding, “We have a much stronger sense of action, of change.”

If three years later, Magnum has photographs, not just of identifiable children working as sex slaves but of potential child sexual abuse, questions must be asked about what action was taken. Magnum appears to have offered the images taken by Harvey for licensing for more than 30 years, and the inaction suggests either that the agency is either unwilling or unable to manage its own archive.

For this reason, Magnum Photos needs to provide a response as a matter of urgency. Until it demonstrates an adequate response and offers answers to some crucial questions, its function as a photographic agency should be regarded as untenable. Questions include:

  • 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 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 child rape to promote a competition?
  • Is Magnum finally willing to remove hundreds of images of child sex slaves from its archive?

Attempts have been made to contact Magnum’s New York and London offices. The only response has been via Magnum’s PR agency, referring inquiries to its previous statement. When asked if it was willing to share its members' code of conduct, Magnum declined.

If you have information regarding Magnum's practices or that of any of its photographers, please get in touch. All correspondence will be treated with absolute confidence.

Log in or register to post comments


jim hughes's picture

These photos are 30 years old; no one is harmed by them today. Quite the contrary: this sort of photojournalism is what it took to draw the world's attention to these abuses, in that brief period of history before the Web.

Personally, I hope Magnum has the guts to stand up to a witch hunt, protect photographers and protect the recording of human history.

Bruce G's picture

Do you have children?

Joe Snell's picture

Well said, Jim.

Magnum certainly doesn't need to answer to yet another Andy Day attack article against them. Honestly, when you look at Andy's published history, this seems far more like a personal grudge against Magnum than actual Watergate-level scandal being uncovered.

Andy, could it be that you were turned down for one of their seminars, or was it a poor review of your portfolio. Also, have you looked into the work of Lewis Hine?

Alexander Petrenko's picture

As soon as you answer some of comments in your first article - there is a big chance.

If you don't care to answer - why should they?

Alex Reiff's picture

Having read the comments in these articles, I'm genuinely surprised by how many people are not only defending the production and continued distribution of literal child pornography, but acting like it's some wild overreaction to raise concerns about it.

NBT Chicago's picture

It is interesting to see the cult of personalities at work where folks placed on pedestals are supposed to be out of reach of criticism and question about their questionable work... SMH

Alexander Petrenko's picture

It seems like you (all) need to learn how to distinguish between porn and documentaries...

Alexander Petrenko's picture

... or may be you believe that everything in porn is true?

Alex Reiff's picture

The first article describes a photo of a girl, possibly as young as 13, who is topless in a hotel room and available to be paid for sex. This article describes a photo of a 16-year-old girl actively having sex with a man. That is, by legal and colloquial definitions, child pornography.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Please also read «intended to stimulate sexual excitement» part of pornography definition.

Alex Reiff's picture

While that may appear in some definitions of normal pornography, it doesn't appear in the legal definition of child pornography - namely because intention is difficult to discern in court. The images merely have to be sexual in nature. See the US legal definition below, these images definitely fall under category A.

It's also worth noting that people have gone to prison for possessing child porn, even when claiming it was for journalistic purposes. And some photographers who have taken nude photos of children in non-sexual contexts have been investigated by law enforcement for creating child pornography, but I don't know off the top of my head if any were convicted.


Child pornography is defined as: “Any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of sexually explicit conduct, where--

(A) the production of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct;

(B) such visual depiction is a digital image, computer image, or computer-generated image that is, or is indistinguishable from, that of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or

(C) such visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to appear that an identifiable minor is engaging in sexually explicit conduct." See United States v. Dean, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109162 (M.D. Ala. Nov. 23, 2009)

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Thanks, your Honor.

In my defense, I’d quote the definition of « sexually explicit conduct ».

(A) Except as provided in subparagraph (B), “sexually explicit conduct” means actual or simulated—
(i) sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex;
(ii) bestiality;
(iii) masturbation;
(iv) sadistic or masochistic abuse; or
(v) lascivious exhibition of the anus, genitals, or pubic area of any person;
(B) For purposes of subsection 8(B) [1] of this section, “sexually explicit conduct” means—
(i) graphic sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex, or lascivious simulated sexual intercourse where the genitals, breast, or pubic area of any person is exhibited;
(ii) graphic or lascivious simulated;
(I) bestiality;
(II) masturbation; or
(III) sadistic or masochistic abuse; or
(iii) graphic or simulated lascivious exhibition of the anus, genitals, or pubic area of any person;

Alexander Petrenko's picture

And I didn’t see images, so can’t tell what’s there

Teofil Rewers's picture


Terry Waggoner's picture

More hyperbole from a zealot concerned about the we should march to their drumbeat..........(sigh)sms

Timothy Linn's picture

This whole line of questioning annoys me. Maybe Andy could focus on righting the wrongs that are happening now rather than going back over 30 years to try and apply today's cancel culture to a different era.

Ivan Lantsov's picture

this man grump not like much he need girlfrnd?

Matthew Wood's picture

I see a lot of you defending the use of these photos as they are old or documentary photos, this is the wildest thing I have ever read from anyone defending the use of Child Pornography in any medium. Can you not see that adding 13-18 years old is inviting these pedophiles to easily and freely buy these photos by just licensing them from Magnum and I am sure these have been downloaded and shared around these groups of sick people. I can't even believe that some of you are thinking and stating that this is ok because they are old and let the witch hunt stop or that it is documentary photography. Let's look at this in a strong-worded way that some of you may understand, how many of these girls are alive today or lived much after the photos of them were taken. Bangkok is a very vicious place and these children are only alive at the time of the photos because they are supplying a service to a bunch of perverts from other Countries around the world. Once these children grow into teens they outgrow being children and are discarded and how do you think they are discarded, surly they are not sent home to Mommy and Daddy. If Magnum was already warned once about this and has yet to remove the photos and are now denying access to their Code Of Conduct is disturbing on Magnums part as well. I believe we should be as photographers doing something to show that the words of the few people saying that it is a witch hunt or it is ok to have these photos for the world to purchase let alone see them. until Magnum complies with all the demands then we should hurt Magnum where it hurts the bottom line. I just can't believe with everything happening in 2020 there are still people who believe all of this is ok. This shows that we have a problem on earth and we are in desperate need of fixing. Please rethink your remarks and see what these types of pictures are used for.

jim hughes's picture

I do see 2 sides, to some extent. The problem is the lack of historical context.

Whether the photos had a legitmate documentary purpose - and were taken with the intent of exposing an evil - is a valid question, and I believe the answer is yes, as difficult as that may be to accept. Whether they should be available for unrestricted sale today is another question, and that's complicated.

Yet another question is whether the photographer should be attacked, accused or subjected to innuendo without providing this context. I'd say the answer to that is 'no'.

Alex Petsen's picture

"Can you not see that adding 13-18 years old is inviting these pedophiles to easily and freely buy these photos by just licensing them from Magnum and I am sure these have been downloaded and shared around these groups of sick people."

Do you think it is financially sane idea to source your pornography from Magnum?

Giandomenico Frassi's picture

This is not child porno. If you take a picture of a naked child because of a skin illness are you doing porno? Jesus naked with the madonna in all the museums is not child porno. Then if you like jerking on a Raffaello or on a skin disease book, enjoy!

Matthew Wood's picture

By your responses, it shows that you do not understand what this article is about.

Giandomenico Frassi's picture

I know the pictures we are talking about and I do not see porno in them.

stuartcarver's picture

This comments section is alarming.

g coll's picture

Indeed, very alarming. These people need to take a look deep within themselves.

Mark Salmon's picture

The ease at which people seek to justify these images is alarming. I, personally, do not need to see indecent images of children to understand that its existence and it's effects. If you need to see, or make, photos, such as these photos, then you are part of the problem.

It's worth noting that in the UK making, possessing, disseminating and viewing these type of images is illegal.

This very much is a topic that needs talking about and awareness raised about the exploitation of children however contributing towards the trauma the victims experience is not the way forward.

Maybe we should think about the actual real victims in these scenarios, and not the monolithic institutions and the photographers associated with them.

Kirk Darling's picture

How would you know there were such real victims? "Pix or it didn't happen." That's why Lewis Hine photographed horrific images of child labor a hundred years ago.

Mark Salmon's picture

We have first hand victim accounts and testimonies. If we listen to victims more than we can understand more. As a society we should not need to see a child being raped, or sexually explicit images of children, to understand that it happens.

It's not illegal to make, view and share images of child labour...if it's however illegal to do that if they are indecent images of children.

Kirk Darling's picture

I don't think there is any allegation here of pictures depicting a "child being raped," or even "sexually explicit images of children."

Mark Salmon's picture

Topless photo of a child? That's pretty sexually explict...and constitutes a category C image in UK law.

More comments