Daily Picture Show

James Dean, D-Day And More: Iconic Photos Find A New Home

Magnum Photos, one of the most renowned cooperatives of photojournalists, shares its name with an extra-large bottle of champagne. And it has reason to pop a bottle. Earlier this month, the international agency's New York bureau sold its entire archive of press prints to Michael Dell (as in Dell computers). Magnum will not confirm the sale price, but the archive is insured at $100 million, according to The New York Times. Listen to the story here.

  • Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C., in 1963. This photo by Bob Adelman is housed with the Magnum archive, now at the University of Texas in Austin.
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    Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C., in 1963. This photo by Bob Adelman is housed with the Magnum archive, now at the University of Texas in Austin.
    All photos courtesy of Magnum Photos
  • Commissioned by Life magazine, photographer Dennis Stock shadowed James Dean just before the young actor died in a car crash. Stock's photos of Dean are found in the archive, recently sold to MSD Capital, the investment firm of Michael Dell.
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    Commissioned by Life magazine, photographer Dennis Stock shadowed James Dean just before the young actor died in a car crash. Stock's photos of Dean are found in the archive, recently sold to MSD Capital, the investment firm of Michael Dell.
  • Robert Capa's monumental images of the Normandy landings are some of the most invaluable in Magnum's archive. A founder of Magnum, Capa documented the first wave of American troops landing at dawn on June 6, 1944, in Normandy, France.
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    Robert Capa's monumental images of the Normandy landings are some of the most invaluable in Magnum's archive. A founder of Magnum, Capa documented the first wave of American troops landing at dawn on June 6, 1944, in Normandy, France.
  • This photograph, one of the most iconic from the past century, was taken by another Magnum founder, Henri Cartier-Bresson — often called the father of modern photojournalism. Captured at the "decisive moment," a man leaps over a puddle in rainy Paris in 1932.
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    This photograph, one of the most iconic from the past century, was taken by another Magnum founder, Henri Cartier-Bresson — often called the father of modern photojournalism. Captured at the "decisive moment," a man leaps over a puddle in rainy Paris in 1932.
  • More contemporary collections are also included in the archive, such as the work of Taiwanese photographer Chien-Chi Chang. A newly arrived immigrant eats noodles on a fire escape in New York City in 1998.
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    More contemporary collections are also included in the archive, such as the work of Taiwanese photographer Chien-Chi Chang. A newly arrived immigrant eats noodles on a fire escape in New York City in 1998.
  • For researchers, there is more to study than just the images. The metadata on the back of the photos tells the history of the photograph and where it has been. G.B. England captured The Beatles during the filming of A Hard Days Night in London in 1964.
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    For researchers, there is more to study than just the images. The metadata on the back of the photos tells the history of the photograph and where it has been. G.B. England captured The Beatles during the filming of A Hard Days Night in London in 1964.
  • Eve Arnold documented the making of the movie The Misfits, directed by John Huston, starring Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. Huston directs the fight between Gable and Monroe, in which she falls to the ground, in Nevada in 1960.
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    Eve Arnold documented the making of the movie The Misfits, directed by John Huston, starring Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. Huston directs the fight between Gable and Monroe, in which she falls to the ground, in Nevada in 1960.
  • Artist Andy Warhol emerges from a city sewer and poses with Edie Sedgwick and Chuck Wein in New York City in 1965. Burt Glinn's photography included pop artists like Warhol, as well as political figures like Fidel Castro.
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    Artist Andy Warhol emerges from a city sewer and poses with Edie Sedgwick and Chuck Wein in New York City in 1965. Burt Glinn's photography included pop artists like Warhol, as well as political figures like Fidel Castro.
  • Seminal images by Swiss photographer Rene Burri are in the archive — from political portraits to scenes of South America. Ernesto (Che) Guevara smokes a cigar during an exclusive interview in his office in 1963.
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    Seminal images by Swiss photographer Rene Burri are in the archive — from political portraits to scenes of South America. Ernesto (Che) Guevara smokes a cigar during an exclusive interview in his office in 1963.
  • Elliott Erwitt is most well-known for his often witty or satirical images. Other photos by the photographer show the sad scene of segregation. His collection alone, including this photograph from North Carolina in 1950, is also of inestimable value.
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    Elliott Erwitt is most well-known for his often witty or satirical images. Other photos by the photographer show the sad scene of segregation. His collection alone, including this photograph from North Carolina in 1950, is also of inestimable value.
  • A Thomas Hoepker photograph shows Muhammad Ali, heavyweight boxing champion, showing off his right fist in Chicago in 1966.
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    A Thomas Hoepker photograph shows Muhammad Ali, heavyweight boxing champion, showing off his right fist in Chicago in 1966.

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Although you may not be familiar with the name Magnum, you've probably seen its photos: Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech; James Dean traversing a rainy Times Square — cigarette dangling from his mouth, hands thrust in his pockets; D-Day troops invading Normandy beaches. Founded in 1947, the cooperative has been home to some of history's greatest photojournalists, from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Steve McCurry. So why would Magnum be willing to part with so much of its past — more than 180,000 prints spanning more than a half-century?

Read more after the jump!

The shelving of the Magnum archive at the Harry Ransom Center contains more than 1,000 boxes. (Pete

The shelving of the Magnum archive at the Harry Ransom Center contains more than 1,000 boxes. (Pete Smith/Harry Ransom Center) hide caption

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The agency, always notoriously protective of its copyrights, was able to retain those copyrights in the transaction. The sale included only the prints that were formerly distributed to magazines and newspapers and are no longer used. MSD Capital, the private investment firm of Michael Dell, made the purchase, and the photos are being housed at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin for the next 5 years.

As Magnum photographer, and current president of the cooperative, Alex Webb put it, "Magnum's past is enabling Magnum to have a future." A large portion of the sale revenue will go directly to the photographers — the owners of Magnum, because it is a cooperative. But for the first time in its history, the agency itself has also made a profit. Some of the money will be used to develop digital distribution of photos, and some will go to new programming for young photographers and for the perpetuation of in-depth documentary photography.

Magnum photographer Eli Reed documents David Coleman, Ransom Center curator of photography, processi

Magnum photographer Eli Reed documents David Coleman, Ransom Center curator of photography, processing the incoming collection. (Pete Smith/Harry Ransom Center) hide caption

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"It's beyond measure what's in these boxes," said David Coleman, curator of photography at the Ransom Center, emphasizing that the archive is more than just "iconic" photos. Magnum photographers and Coleman alike are excited for the ways in which the collection will be used. For the first time, it is now open to the public, to be examined by researchers, studied by students, featured in exhibitions and used in workshops with Magnum photographers.

Mark Lubell, managing director of Magnum, quoted photographer Josef Koudelka to explain that the motivation behind the sale — aside from the capital gain — was legacy:

The amazing photographer Josef Koudelka did a seminal body of work on gypsies. And he told me one time, 'You know, the gypsies have this expression: You are only dead when the last person that knows you dies.'

With the archive already open to the public, the people in these photographs will have new life: the soldiers at D-Day, the Civil Rights protesters, celebrities and politicians — and hundreds of thousands of history's anonymous bystanders. And, as a result, Magnum will have a new life, too.

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