Magnum… £350 + VAT… I love you Magnum so please don’t make me have to leave you like so many have done already.

I love Magnum. The brand, the archive, the images, Henri Cartier Bresson, Jonas Bendiksen, Antoine D’Agata to name but a few. Christopher Anderson’s Capitolio is one of the best books I have seen in a long time. Since Blue Room by Richards. Yet they are not the journalistic force they used to be and now as a business, it has to do this?

Now they have to create income. £350 + VAT this costs. We all know how hard it is in this industry, how the editorial world is cash poor and the movement into the art world has diluted and blurred the way people see Photography. Limited editions are not the way forward as it limits the size of the audience.

There has to be someone in Magnum looking at how photography is used and how it can be useful.

What are they promising for this money to be paid? An insight into “book publishing, stock sales, social networking and commercial photography”?

Could the current management be more responsible for the brand so lovingly cultivated by the masters HCB, Elliot Erwitt et al?

If they believe in the medium, could they not converse with the public so they can be introduced to their version of visual beauty? Could they better serve their brand by selling the idea of photography to all the other people outside of this industry in order to create new audiences instead of a small amount of “limited and successful candidates… chosen on the basis of their photographic experience and the perceived benefit to the applicant’s career,”?

“This event is not aimed at beginners and applicants should have a high level of photographic aptitude.” I know of no other industry that makes so much income from the supply side of the industry – namely the aspiring talent paying £350 on the hope of something better.

If they have such good skills, they should be able to earn a living. People going on this course are paying to access the  Magnum brand and the speakers, to show their work to the perceived gatekeepers because they want to make it. I completely understand that but this is a very delicate and fragile form of hope they are hoping to be fulfilled for £350 + VAT and the risk of bad feelings is high. Like it or not, Magnum is still the standard bearer and this is high risk income raising tactic that could backfire.

“We recommend attendees have been published or exhibited at least twice during their careers.” If this is the case, then it proves someone needs to help the industry by creating more economic demand. I would argue the beautiful brand of Magnum and with all their history and goodwill could better serve everyone by looking outwards and not inwards. Else all they do is risk being seen to look only after themselves.

Please, please, please Magnum business people… I know you have a background in Private Equity Mr M.D… so instead of leveraging the little cash these photographers full of hope have left, please leverage all the greatness in your brand for the sake of the medium to face the public. Please go out and inspire the public and create new sources of income.

You can do better. You should be doing this kind of educative work for free because it is your duty for being part of the greatest photo agency there has been. That is a responsibility that should be carried with pride and not a cash generating burden. Time to be brave and radically overhaul the bloated co-operative structure? Streamline decision making? Let people go to create space for the new?

I love you Magnum so please don’t make me have to leave you like so many have done already.

(DISCLAIMER: I am not a Magnum person at all. I meant as a fan, as someone who buys into the brand. I do not want to leave them as a fan, follower, lover of their work. Sorry for any misunderstanding.)

Author — duckrabbit

duckrabbit is a production company formed by radio producer/journalist Benjamin Chesterton and photographer David White. We specialize in digital storytelling.

Discussion (12 Comments)

  1. Tom White says:

    I’m not against, workshops, conferences, talks, and training for photographers of all levels. Nor am I against charging for that – teachers gotta pay the bills too! And this stuff can be useful.

    But sometimes it’s not even preaching to the choir, it’s like a preacher charging the congregation to come and be told something that they in their hearts already know. A kind of “This sunday’s sermon will be about how everyone will go to hell unless they are good.”

    Wonderfully insightful. Pass the collection plate will you..

    The danger is that if the industry looks inward too much then audience for photography becomes…other photographers and only other photographers.

    There’s a terrible approach to business if ever I saw it. Nevermind that photovisualvideojournalists are supposed to be in the business of informing people – any and all people – of things they didn’t already know…

    I mean, ultimately, who is your audience? Is it the congregation nodding along in the church?

    Because if it is, that’s a nice, safe, dead end approach.

  2. Diederik says:

    All the points raised above are valid. Succesfull businesses are creating value. This, it seems, is diluting value. One very wrong aspects, IMHO, lies in the limitation to only allow true talent into this type of event. Stepping down from the ivory tower a decreasing number of artists is able to enter and putting up shop in the real marketplace, where the number of potential buyers is so much larger, combined with a lower-profile type of course, interesting to a larger group of students may be a first step to re-creating a large dedicated audience. Then connect to that audience by creating a strong interactive network. The potential is there, the number of people who love photography is huge. The real challenge is to start creating value in the general public’s eye again. So far, I have seen nobody in the industry seriously deal with that challenge. Documentary photography’s move into art scene and this type of Magnum activity are effectively moving in the opposite direction and therefore, industry-wide, a waste of precious time. I don’t have the answer, but somehow suspect part of key is to better understand the general public’s needs and desires.

    • duckrabbit says:

      ;The real challenge is to start creating value in the general public’s eye again. So far, I have seen nobody in the industry seriously deal with that challenge. ‘

      Fine comments.

  3. Diederik says:

    And re-creating a dedicated audience you can connect to may be one way of finding out what those needs and desires are, I should add. This type of strategy requires an investment of time and money, it’s not easy, and the outcome uncertain.

    One more question about this specific event is how, apart from the short-term cash, is tapping into an audience so small is creating real value for Magnum? From a business perspective, rendering this type of services for such a low fee (sorry peeps, but I think the charge is underestimating the brand’s value) makes less sense than trying to re-create an audience that could be developer into a following willing to support the agency by buying its books and attending its events everytime Magnum comes to town…

  4. duckrabbit says:

    Shit … I only just wrote to Magnum yesterday asking them to speak at this event (no joke)!

    I knew I should have never invited IAMNOTASUPERSTARPHOTOGRAPHER to write on the blog! hahahahahahahahaha

    Actually I didn’t know it cost £350 … does it really? I was offering my services for free. Whoops.

  5. A Magnum insider told me that there’s an annual league table of income each member has broight into Magnum, from exhibition hire, print sales etc etc. I have always wanted to see that, to see who’s top in the top, and the bottom 10. Could it be that the great and the good are not bringing in as much cash as they used to?

    Duck – when you say you’ll leave them, what do you mean you would be leaving? Do you mean you’d unfollow them on social networks?

  6. Who *is* a Magnum insider?

    Hah, sorry. Not paying enough attention.

  7. iamnotasuperstarphotogrpher says:

    DISCLAIMER: I am not a Magnum person at all. I meant as a fan, as someone who buys into the brand. I do not want to leave them as a fan, follower, lover of their work. Sorry for any misunderstanding.

    Compared to the “we are the worlds greatest photojournalist so lets shoot suffering sensitively” agency in the US or the UK one that “specialising in the third world… Has picture features on Sierra Leone amputees, and Bangladeshi prostitutes.”. Magnum are still the top agency in my eyes.

    But this is not a good thing to see. Next up, Magnum branded Portfolio reviews for £200 + VAT where their new generation give their opinion of a photographer’s career in no more than 25 images in 45 mins?

    Imagine doing that to Martin Parr’s amazing body of work… could a full understanding of a great career be obtained?

    Come on Magnum, do not hire people who have studies History of Art or have a background in galleries. Get some advertising creative director, account director or a entrepreneur. People would want to work with you for free. I would love to – just ask me to come in for a coffee!

    • duckrabbit says:

      Typical. I’ve been asking you to come for a coffee for ages but you never have any time for a duckrabbit. Magnum hey!!!!

      • Iamnotasuperstarphotographer says:

        Magnum will not talk to me so it is a safe offer to make – after all, who am I?
        With the skills of a duckrabbit, I will be exposed as a quack…

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