I thank him for being open and he invited questions so massive respect for that. I hope this is not his last. This is what he said as a direct response to my reservations on a previous blog post re: Towell on Kickstarter…
I am trying to figure out the rub with Larry Towell. I have missed some of the back and forth dialogue evidently, but just reading the last few comments I must admit to being a bit surprised at the rancor towards Larry and the Magnum Cultural Foundation. None of us are EVER beyond reproach, but I do want to understand the concerns here and see if I can be of help. I am on the Board of the MCF and they also allow funding to come in for our Burn EPF grant for 15k which simply allows a photographer to continue a project. Anytime money is involved with anything, criticism of how the jury juried or who got the funds and why is just a never ending conversation. So all of us must choose our battles wisely so to speak and fund folks who we trust to spend our gifts. IF in doubt , just do not support.
Also a bit confused about how some think Larry needs to respond or spend his personal time. For example, why can’t Larry go a a Magnum business meeting, take his wife to dinner, have a beer at the local pub, talk or not talk about Afghanistan, and still be very responsible with funds donated by believers in his craft so proven over so many years? I think no matter how many stones one wants to uncover, the motives of Larry Towell are going to come up clean.
Doesn’t Larry Towell ONLY owe us his work? It is his work that we are supporting after all. Larry is totally averse to interviews , blogs, all of these things. He struggled with questions. Any awkwardness is just Larry being Larry. He is not trying to pull the proverbial wool over anyone’s eyes. Nor is Magnum. Larry takes pictures in places he feels need to be documented. We at Magnum I think have a strong track record for supporting human rights and photographers rights as well. If we are having a meeting, it is in order to survive. Believe me. There should be targets out there for all of us, there are some serious problems and we need to stand together. Please take a close look at all that we try to do.
You should also know that Larry Towell was single handedly responsible for raising the money for the Inge Morathe Award for women photographers. The was the progenitor for the MCF and for all that we are trying to do to support photographers. No not Magnum photographers. All committed photographers from many agencies and photographers without agencies.
Maybe I have missed something. Please tell me if I have. Please please also ask any questions about the MCF or whatever you want about Magnum motives or what we hope to accomplish as individuals or as a group . I will do my best to answer.
They are an organisation that has the right to behave how it wants to and we all have the right as the audience to give or withdraw our support so this discussion is about ideas around Magnum. Ultimately it is none of my business of course and I am coming from the perspective of a massive fan of their history.
Thank you again David for contributing. Here was my response:-
January 15, 2011 at 12:40 · Reply · Edit
Thank you for the response.
There has been an on-going conversation on this blog, myself being a part of this as much as anybody else, about the structure of the industry and the behaviours it incentivises. On many blog posts and debates, I have continually said the same thing – I love the Magnum brand yet I have reservations about what it has become and where they intend to go.
The business of photojournalism has failed and is continuing to fail hence your own choice of word “survival”.
The simple version of why I think this is happening is that the current top of the photojournalism industry is out of touch with the socially networked generation and has for too long relied on other people’s audiences and through being paid through other people’s business models.
Instead of building an effective bottom up audience engaging structure that is both responsive and evolutionary in what it does, it has in parts become a top down curatorial and editorially driven industry that runs itself like an exclusive club that spends much of its time struggling to establish its ideology onto the world of XBOX’s, iPhones, Facebook, digitisation and rapid innovation.
I would love to hear that I am wrong and the debates we are having here are about transparency, democratic structures and ethics so I thank you for joining in.
So in this context, I disagree with the idea that Larry Towell “ONLY owes us his work” as he owes the whole of the medium to act as responsibly as he can so PJ’ism can more than just survive. Same with the Magnum Foundation as it is the recipient of funds donated by others and concerns itself with raising important issues such as Human Rights and “Long term Emergencies” and here is why.
If you know Larry Towell has an “awkwardness” then someone should help him and not expose him “for just being Larry”. Is Bruce Gilden “just being Bruce” when he calls Russians “Inbred”? There is a logic that says people should just be honest and transparent because honesty is of higher value but there must come a point when that becomes a liability for the brand and lets face it – for many, Magnum IS photojournalism whether you agree with that or not.
(Readers see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/27/bruce-gilden-magnum-russian-gangsters – see the last paragraph. Imagine if a politician stated “”Russians are smart and very dangerous. I could do great work in Russia. You have a lot of people who look like they are inbred.” in public… the outrage. What do you think my Russian friends thought of that? Is that good for anybody no matter Gilden’s reputation for interviews?).
Many have commented that if Larry Towell needs to go on Kickstarter, what hope for the rest of them and what is the point of Magnum?
Larry Towell has asked the Kickstarter community for pledges of help, leveraging off the reputation of both his past and of the Magnum brand. The Magnum Foundation wants to engage on issues involving human rights and have funded his work and this project before. Larry Towell goes out and asks the public for $12,000 to go on his trip (we have to assume Magnum cannot fund it) in order to have conversations around his chosen subject matter: Crisis in Afghanistan.
So when someone asks him a question about Afghanistan with the INTENTION to donate… what answer does Larry Towell give? 5 words and a closed ended answer – AFTER he got his $12,000! Then tells the world he is going on a Magnum retreat in Italy when people have pledged for a project that is reputedly in a situation of a long term “emergency”?
Is that the level of effort or respect the public deserve? Have people got to take your word over his very public actions? Same with Gilden.
Could Magnum run its own ship better in terms of cost management before going out to Kickstarter, asking the public for money? I bet it can.
Could Magnum diversify its revenue stream by being more disciplined and adventurous? I bet it can.
Could Magnum be a better responsible citizens of the photojournalist world and be the example for which everyone can aspire to? I bet it can.
Could Magnum restructure its co-operative structure to adapt itself to the current media landscape?
I wish I could bet that it can.
I have reservations about Magnum because of comments like Gilden’s, attitudes like Larry Towell’s. Treating the public – all of them potential supporters of Magnum that could make the difference from surviving to investing – with complacency with causal indifference is not a fair return for the love given to your organisation. Treating audiences like you do yourself when you yourself say “who in the world is this mythical “wider audience” anyway, and tell me exactly why we are appealing to them? ” (see http://www.burnmagazine.org/essays/2010/09/andy-spyra-kashmir/ – for full context).
I can tell you why the audience are important, because without them, you are on Kickstarter. Without them you are having retreats in Italy discussing survival. Without them, you cannot help more talented passionate aspiring photographers by investing in them. Without them, you can only realistically let someone into your co-op if they are already making income so you can take your %’age for just being Magnum. Without them, no matter the virtuosity of intentions behind the lens you do no good at all if nobody sees what you can see behind the lens.
I happen to think that photography has never been so popular – never before has the world bought photographic tools in such large volumes. Look at how many cameras there are in the world.
The world needs a thriving Magnum. We need people like Christopher Anderson and his brilliant “Capitolio” being better marketed/distributed/PR’ed in much more radical ways. We need more Jonas Bendiksen’s and all his amazing thinking outside of the frame. We need more Martin Parr and the sharpness of his observational intellect. We need more Bruce Davison’s “Subway” and definitely more free workshops for kids in schools rather than £350 + VAT workshops for want to be adult photojournalists looking for an entry into Magnum.
All this can only be done if Magnum is more than just surviving. I have have bought books from them as well as Towell’s, Koudelka, Pinkhassov, Abbas et al. so I believe that I should be a valued customer of yours.
I believe you do miss something vitally important and it all comes down to this.
You say “IF in doubt , just do not support.” where I think you should be working much much harder by saying “If in doubt, let us know and if you have some good ideas to make us better, we want to know”.
Just like Larry Towell could be giving more back for each of the donations pledged on Kickstarter at every price point.
That should be the culture of any organisation that wishes to succeed for without it, you get Towell’s complacent disengagement, you get Gilden’s comment on Russians and you get told from the board member of MCF who effectively says if you don’t like us, just don’t bother yourself with us so we can both mind our own business.
Because of that, behaviours like Gilden’s and Towell’s continue to go unchecked and do a massive disservice to people inside your own organisation shooting and working their hearts out. They are symptoms of a malaise based on a sense of entitlement fortified by a structure that is top down and closed akin to a form of cultural protectionism fighting to survive on trickling down Magnum’s ideology on what the medium is all about.
One day, someone with a different model is going to come and treat the audience like the most sacred thing on earth whilst having the strength to stand up against what is wrong within their own community so they are better placed to serve the public. (I have stated before on this blog, I hope that is Magnum as only they have the capacity to increase the market for everyone in this industry by their own success just as their own failure is so symbolic of the rest of the industry).
As a lover of the Magnum heritage, it just breaks my heart to be even thinking like this.
I really really do hope with all the sincerity I can muster that I can rediscover my love, respect and most of all trust in Magnum in the future, not just for its glorious past.