Magnum Photos published a code of conduct on Thursday, January 14 after previously refusing to release its existing code on the grounds that it was confidential. It comes as 647 photographers sign an open letter to Magnum demanding greater accountability and less than a month after David Alan Harvey announced legal proceedings against the agency.
Calls for the publication of its code of conduct were made after Fstoppers revealed in August last year that a body of work entitled “Bangkok Prostitutes” produced by Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey appeared to feature sexually explicit images of female subjects tagged as “teenage girl - 13 to 18.” Shortly afterwards, Harvey was suspended from Magnum for one year after the agency investigated a separate allegation that he harassed a female colleague.
Magnum consistently rejected calls to publish the code that was drawn up and signed by members in 2018. In August last year, the agency told Fstoppers via email that it “can’t think of any company which would supply its confidential HR documents. That remains a very reasonable position in this case.” In the detailed article recently published by Columbia Journalism Review in which 11 women allege 13 years of sexual misconduct by Harvey, Magnum’s President is quoted as saying that the code is a “six-page long internal HR document that we are not looking to put on trial by Twitter.”
A closing paragraph in the new document notes that the original code contained a confidentiality clause, which prevented it from being made public. It remains unclear why this original document remains secret.
The 2018 Code was an internal document that had a confidentiality clause preventing its publication. This has been removed which allows us to make the policy openly available.*
*We have taken other steps as well. As an internal document, the 2018 Code described how photographers and employees can make complaints and did not address members of the public. Magnum’s new Public Complaints Policy provides this guidance in one place, describing how people can report issues and our procedures for taking matters forward.
On January 5, the agency published a statement from Magnum President Olivia Arthur and CEO Caitlin Hughes asking those who described their allegations in the Columbia Journalism Review article to come forward, as well as anyone else who would like to offer testimony. Various alleged victims had made it clear to CJR that there was little trust in Magnum’s ability to investigate its own members, all of whom collectively own the organization.
Magnum’s new code of conduct does not mention child protection, but the January 5 statement explains that the agency intends to publish a new child safeguarding policy alongside a “new ethical code.” In November, Fstoppers showed that Magnum had continued to sell images — with subjects who are identifiable — taken by Patrick Zachmann, of children showing their genitalia, as well as photographs of “juvenile prostitutes.”
On August 14, a statement from Arthur acknowledged “historical material in [Magnum’s] archive that is problematic in terms of imagery, captioning or keywording.” Earlier this month, attention was called to an image in Magnum’s archive — presented without context — taken by Sohrab Hura in 2018.Entitled “Trophy,” the image includes the keyword “Rape” in its metadata. Hura explained via Instagram Stories that the person in the photograph is a man dressed in a sari and all of the people shown in the image are his close friends. “This whole work is about manipulation of context around images and their meanings,” he added. Hura has not explained how the keyword “Rape” came to be added to the metadata.
Magnum initially created a code of conduct shortly after an outcry over its use of an image by Souvid Datta portraying an identifiable 16-year-old female being raped to promote a competition in conjunction with LensCulture.
David Kogan, then executive director of Magnum, explained to the British Journal of Photography that the code was created in response to a change in the culture of photojournalism. “If a photographer spends time going around abusing people and gets away with it, and people are just shrugging their shoulders and saying ‘That’s just good old so-and-so’ – well that’s just not acceptable.”
Following Magnum’s announcement of the independent investigation, 647 photographers — including seven Magnum photographers — signed an open letter to the agency expressing solidarity with the 11 women who made allegations of sexual misconduct against Harvey. “We know that many survivors do not receive the support that would enable them to speak their truth, and so we acknowledge that the public testimonials that are visible are very likely only the tip of the iceberg,” the letter reads. It continues:
As the promised investigation unfolds, we call on Magnum Photos to go beyond crisis-management methods; to not allow time, bureaucratic and legal limitations to get in the way; to not once again place the entire burden of proof on survivors, but instead to seek every possible alternative while gathering evidence and witness testimonies. We call on Magnum Photos to demonstrate moral courage and leadership beyond this case, by taking proactive and reparative steps towards setting new institutional precedents and standards.
In December, Harvey published via Twitter a statement from his lawyer announcing that he intends to take action against Magnum for breaching the 2018 code of conduct during the agency’s own investigations into his photographs and conduct. It is claimed that these investigations “denied Mr. Harvey the most fundamental tenets of due process.”
Harvey’s statement asserted that “Magnum has acknowledged privately what it has refused to acknowledge publicly: that certain photos of Mr Harvey’s were mischaracterized through Magnum’s own software tagging errors, not because of any misconduct by Mr. Harvey.” It accuses Magnum of making false statements about his photographic subjects.
Notably, writing in the comments on his own Burn Magazine website in 2008, Harvey stated that he was aware of tagging issues in Magnum’s archive and noted that it was his “personal responsibility to go in and fix all of the mistakes.”Following the announcement of the new, independent investigation, Harvey’s lawyer responded again, stating that Harvey welcomed the investigation. “For more than four months, Magnum has proactively scoured the earth pleading for accusers to come forward with evidence of misconduct about Mr. Harvey. Magnum has repeatedly failed. Yet, here we go again.”
The statement repeats the assertion that Magnum is responsible for mis-tagging Harvey’s work and closes by saying that Harvey “will set the record straight. David Alan Harvey will not be cancelled" (emphasis in original).