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.

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.

Andy Day's picture

Andy Day is a British photographer and writer living in France. He began photographing parkour in 2003 and has been doing weird things in the city and elsewhere ever since. He's addicted to climbing and owns a fairly useless dog. He has an MA in Sociology & Photography which often makes him ponder what all of this really means.

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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.

Do you have children?

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?

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.

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

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.

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)


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

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.

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.

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'.

"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?

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!

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

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

This comments section is alarming.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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

Also...in relation to the lens culture issue the photo was of child being raped.

I teach the history of photography at two German universities and very rarely write comments on blogs. But here I have to act! You should be ashamed to seek attention with such cheap slogans. Suspecting child pornography of Magnum's photojournalism is ridiculous and dubious. You are insulting the work of some of the most important photographers of the 20th century. Photos like these are intended to draw attention to the living conditions of children. The energy with which you pursue Magnum is striking and arousing suspicion.

In the act of making photos to highlight the issue, these photos have become part of the problem. Imagine you are a victim of abuse and one of the forms of abuse you suffer is having your photo taken to be shared on the dark web THEN some photographer comes along and in his attempt to highlight this subject he does the very thing that is apart of your abuse and truma.

There's many ways to photograph this topic...photographing vulnerable children is not it. Why did he not turn his camera to the perpetrators?

Imagine... That's a good start for discussion of facts.

It's true though. Many photographers would do well to put themselves in the position of the people they photograph. Very rarely in this discussion has anyone spoken about the victims in this.

Empthay for the people we photograph needs to be discussed more often.

That is illogical. If that were true, then you shouldn't be able to photograph victims at all.

Of course you can. BUT he chose to photograph them from the perspective of a perpetrator.

By all means photograph a victim but do it in a way which won't trigger further trauma.

These photos were taken 30 years ago, there was (for the general public) as yet no "dark web", no email, no "sharing" of photos beyond paper prints. To even convince the world this was happening, someone had to travel a great distance, go into what might be very dodgy situation - without a smartphone in his pocket - and do film photos. And then get them in front of people who could possibly do something.

I'm not questioning his intent, to me that's irrelevant.

It's perfectly possible to do a photo series on this topic without subjecting children to further abuse.

Little consideration seems to have been given to the children in the photos and little seems to be given to them now.

How many of those children have had their photo taken by their rapists? Now why would any, well meaning, person want to go there and make them go through an experience like that again.

This happend decades ago, and it
also happened in recent history too. Magnum and other agencies are not beyond reproach and need to be challenged. I'm all for documentary photography but as an industry we need to collectively work morally and ethically.

yes, what you said is true but remember now that they can be shared and distributed all over the web and Magnum was asked to remove them a couple of years ago and has not done so is the issue at hand. Magnum did not remove what yesterday was not considered child exploitation but it is today. We as the Photographers of today must adhere to so many new rules governing the new laws that did not exist many years ago and also we must protect the silent victims not add to the pain and suffering they are dealing with in silence by photographing them for our financial gain.

It's reasonable to say they should not be openly distributed today. But it's not reasonable to trash the reputation of the photographer.

With respect Michael you might teach history but you obviously don't teach Child Protection Law.

When any agency/individual places images online with keywords "child" "prostitution" "nude" "3-13 years old" - in many jurisdictions (in the eyes of the law) that is "an indecent image of a child" and subject to a raft of child protection legal consequences. Fact.

Your opinion on the creator's history, motives, reputation whatever, is utterly worthless and irrelevant - in many jurisdictions the creation of that image consitutes a criminal offence, there is no defence of 'it was taken many years ago' - its what is being done with it now that is problematic (but that does NOT exclude the taking of it from any legal sanction).

And FYI people calling this out is not a new phenomenon - you are just unaware that concerns have been raised for a decade about this type of exploitative imagery. You of all people, a lecturer in photographic history SHOULD be aware of these issues.

And in that role as a teacher of history, you might like to consider you personal role at this juncture - whether to be one of the people who pushed for change against a system that exploits vulnerable children, or sought to defend the indefensible.

I'm sure I don't need to tell you how judgemental history can be...

I'm glad I live in a country that has more nuanced laws and views on journalism.

Photographing naked or semi naked children or children being raped is not journalism.


"I'm glad I live in a country that has more nuanced laws and views on journalism."

I regret to inform you, you don't, because the issue at hand is not journalism, it's Child Protection (the motive for making the images is irrelevant, the relevant thing is the content of the image & age of the subject).

This is one paragraph from German Child Protection Law:

5. Child and Youth Pornography
The distribution, purchase, or possession of child or youth pornography is punishable by a term of imprisonment of three months to five years or up to three years, respectively.[33] “Child pornography” is defined as pornography that shows either sexual acts of, with, or in front of persons under fourteen years, completely or nearly naked children in a sexual pose, or the unclothed genitalia of children in a sexually provocative way.[34] “Youth pornography” is defined as pornography that shows either sexual acts of, with, or in front of a person between the ages of fourteen and eighteen or such a person in an unnatural sexually suggestive position.[35]
End Quote

You have pretty much the same laws on 'child abuse' as most other countries, and your comment about "journalism" simply underlines your abject failure to understand the issues that you are commenting on.

If you are so convinced "journalism" is a defence I urge you to write an opinion piece about this issue and publish it complete with an image of the type we're discussing and then see how well your argument about seeking to "draw attention to the living conditions of children" stands up against prosecution for possession of, or making, indecent images of children.

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