David Alan Harvey comments on behalf of the Magnum Cultural Foundation

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.

Cheers, David”

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.

Author — duckrabbit

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

Discussion (44 Comments)

  1. Superstarphotog wrote: “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.”

    the sense of entitlement and its concomitant self-protectionism is pervasive, and not at all exclusive to Magnum. it’s all over the place, and i think is indicative of a sense of deep insecurity.

    keep up the good work…and telling it as it is!

  2. Diederik says:

    Hi Iam,
    I am somewhat confused, why is Magnum so important? The world changes, either they change with it or they disappear in time, both scenarios are ok. If you disappoint your audience a couple of times, it is likely to turn its back on you. You write:”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.” Here I disagree and I think you are overrating Magnum, this is simply impossible for them to live up to. Pure sender based publishing is on the decline, according to analysts. For that reason, it would be wise for them to change. On the other hand, the number of fans and wannabees is big, so they may not feel the urgency. Time will tell..

  3. iamnotasuperstarphotogrpher says:

    I am a romanticist about their organisation. In fact, I am a romanticist at heart full stop. Happy to admit that I came into the PJ’ism world because of HCB, Erwitt and Bendiksen (and Salgado) and fell for the collective history of Magnum.

    I happen to believe that a healthy Magnum means we all have a healthy industry. Same for the current World Pres Photo shambles (see post about Steve Mayes) and the same for photojournalism as an industry too. I want duckrabbit, bite and 50pm to be thriving too as that is good for the industry and good for the public as they would be more aware of the power of the medium when it gets it right. That is why I hate it when I see it go so very wrong and I believe Magnum is as guilty of this as any.

    For me, they are the very symbol of the decline.

    If they show that they can change things for the better then all the others will have to change for the better too unless we think that nothing needs to change, and that everything is fine – which is not. A bigger and better industry would add much to the cultural make up of the media in my opinion and that is why it makes me so sad to see so much that is upside down in this industry. Not a lot of it makes sense to me at all and the drivers are all aesthetic and editorial decision run the machine with no single strong platform without the reliance of the charity of others.

    You may well be right, they it is impossible for them to change a collective based on defending the rights of their photographers to do whatever they want to. Instead, they could be all working as hard as they can to be better than they can as it appears to me that they are not doing that at all. I am not yet convinced by the strength of their words when I can see the lack of conviction in their actions.

    Like I have already said, one day, someone with a different model is going to come and treat the audience like the most sacred thing on earth… so they are better placed to serve what DAH called those “mythical audiences”.

    I await DAH with interest…

    • eva says:


      “…and treat the audience like the most sacred thing on earth…”

      If that means that photographers/photojournalists, be it singles or collectives, shoud shoot with the audience in mind, as in PLEASING it, then heaven forbid.. be it Magnum, NOOR, or whoever.

      The most sacred thing is not the audience, not the photographer, pj, collectives etc., but the people in front of the lens, thus the sacred thing is the work itself.. and that as free as possible, without succumbing to the pressure from the audience..

      • duckrabbit says:

        Hi Eva,

        Lots of these photographers do commercial jobs (NGOS, advertisers) so often they do have to shoot with an audience in mind. Great things can happen when that takes place … I’m thinking film (cinema) especially, but I guess the other side is that the NGOs, advertisers pick the photographers because they have unique vision and style.

        ‘The most sacred thing is not the audience, not the photographer, pj, collectives etc., but the people in front of the lens, ‘ Agree. But not sure how that makes the work sacred.

        I used to live in Ethiopia. I saw a lot of photography that was highly celebrated about Ethiopia but often the work, however beautiful or disturbing, or beautifully disturbing, could do little more then evoke emotion in the viewer that was far removed from the reality of the people’s lives there. How could it be anything else? Maybe that is sacred, the ability to evoke emotion, or stimulate thought, but not in my opinion in terms of representing those people.

        Thanks for your comment.

        • eva says:


          “Maybe that is sacred, the ability to evoke emotion, or stimulate thought, but not in my opinion in terms of representing those people.”

          Yes to the first part of this, absolutely.. and from there perhaps, and only perhaps, produce change…

          Didn’t even think about commercial jobs, I was still thinking about work like the one on Afghanistan which Larry Towell is trying to finish, in-depth work.. in any case one probably keeps the audience in mind.. but not letting it dictate what you have to do to please it, I’d say it’s important.. or just wishfull thinking on my part..

          Thanks for your email!

          • duckrabbit says:

            Eva I agree with you and apologise for the mess I created over the weekend.

          • falling soldier says:


            Great debate on this particular issue.

            It’s only on blogs that we’re really going to be able to explore these kinds of ideas in any depth and it’s good to have this kind of thought leadership debate, etc. with experienced people bringing their informed opinions. Even better when it’s cross-cultural.

            Pretty much from the start of western painting there’s been this tension between the creative vision of the artist and the individual(s) commissioning or funding it so it’s nothing new (think Goya/Velazquez as court painters to the Spanish Crown). I suppose what makes photography unique is that it’s just so prevalent in the public domain and that tension and pressure is perhaps exaggerated to the point where people THINK they have vested interests but actually don’t (e.g. people believing they have a right to in some way influence LT’s project ideas via web questions even if they aren’t actually committed to help fund it).

            Personally I’m all for treating the audience with respect (whatever that might mean) but reject the idea of being pressured to ‘fit to suit’ (outside of the things DR mentions – i.e. NGOs/advertisers where the need for a brief is obvious).

            We’re already dumbed down enough here in the UK (maybe less so in Italy?). Photography offers us a way out of that. We should fight for it.

      • Iamnotasuperstarphotographer says:

        @Eva/Falling Soldier.

        Respecting the audience is NOT ABOUT THE IMAGES. It is how you run yourself as an organisation.

        Why do people not see this? When I am talking about customer service, I am not talking about if I like the goods or not. I am talking about customer service and how hard your staff are working.

        This is about Magnum and how hard Magnum are working to prevent it from having to just survive.

        We keep going back to the lens, what is inside the frame, what is behind the mind of the shooter.

        NO – this is about the organisation of Magnum and its ability to treat an audience like its life blood.

        I made sure I spoke about the quality of the work in Magnum and celebrated it. Look back at the blog, I have always stated that I have bought his books before and was excited to see his book being produced.

        So you have all missed the point. I am speaking not as a photographic expert as there are many more people than me who can provide all sorts of lovely comments on something as qualitative as what makes a good photostory.

        It is about how you act as an organisation. All things being equal, Towell could have acted better, Gilden could have shown restraint and DAH could actually say “we want you to enagage” instead of like it or lump it as that gives them the best opportunity to do more than survive.

        I am saying that being a magnificient photographer does not excuse you for being unprofessional and treating your audience well is just part of being professional.

        Read back what I said. Where did I ever say Towell was a problem as a taker of beautiful images?

        Thank you for the debate. I see duckrabbit’s post and I am just a memeber of the public who was invited to share his opinions but will now restict myself to the comments sections as a member of the public.

        It is not me who calls for the death of photojournalism and it is not me who questions Towell integrity as a human being or a great photojournalist. Stay behind the scenes photographers and do what you like but when it comes to managing the business of photography, take it out of the hands of photographers, editors and curators from the art world so they can best concentrate on the what they do best. Take pictures, edit and curate. Take the PR out of the hands of photographers as look at what happens if you leave them exposed!!!

        I definitely call the organisation of Magnum outdated. I do think that the aesthetic is also outdated as it speak a language that most do not care about in the multimedia age but again, on another post I say it is a visual language I both love and understand!

        We keep going back to the images and ignore the reasons why photojournalism is in the state that it is in.

        That should remain the focus of the discussion.

  4. falling soldier says:

    “For me, they are the very symbol of the decline.”

    In what sense? Give me Pellegrin and Trent Parke any day over the more senior pros you mention.
    Creatively, they’ve never been more diverse.

    Their success or otherwise is no gauge of anything other than changing times.

    • Joni Karanka says:

      Totally agree… for me what makes the difference are all the quirks that bring the organisation forwards visually: Parr, Parke, Soth, Gilden, d’Agata, Gruyaert, Pinkhassov, etc. It also gives a weird duality to the organisation that must be hard to deal with at times. It’s also interesting when a level of oddness is married with more journalistic means, like in the case of Christopher Anderson.

      • Iamnotasuperstarphotographer says:

        They are the symobl of the decline in the way Ford motor cars were and how General Motors was the biggest car producer in the world. This is not to talk about their cars but how they were being run and the culture inside their organisations.

        Not about the great work of Parr, Parke, Soth, Gilden, d’Agata, Gruyaert, Pinkhassov, etc. I said that to DAH myself, look at my list!



  5. Diederik says:

    Hi Iam could you please email me at info [at] bitemagazine [dot] net? There is something I would like to ask you directly.

    You wrote: “I happen to believe that a healthy Magnum means we all have a healthy industry.” I do not fully agree, I think the industry doesn’t need Magnum to be healthy.

    To be totally frank, I sometimes feel their storyline and visual language to be oldfashioned. The iconic stuff will always be extremely powerful, it will still be so in 200 years.

  6. Iamnotasuperstarphotographer says:

    Yes totally old fashioned. Totally out of date but imagine turning that oil tanker around…. give me half a chance… No way as I am not a photographer, a sycophant or a curator.

    The industry needs as many healthy competitors as possible – all different, all diverse, all living off the present and future and providing diversity, credibility, higher standards and popularity at levels far exceeding today.

    They have a MD from private equity so they should know something about what it takes to liberalise this market from the editorial and curatorial control?

    Photographers are their own worst enemy more than sometimes…. sigh. A structure needs to be created to install financial and editorial discipline without imposing on them. A new model…

    • duckrabbit says:

      IAMNOT … I always found the people at MAGNUM very approachable. I can assure you I am not a photographer, sycophant or curator.

      Create amazing work and everyone will be looking at you. Approach Magnum with rose tinted glasses and they will probably run a mile.

  7. Iamnotasuperstarphotographer says:

    Fair comment on Magnum. I take that back in full. Sorry Magnum. That is a bit contradictory of me!

  8. Jenny Lynn Walker says:

    I am rather shocked by this whole conversation. I think it is unfair to judge anyone on the basis of one or two lines they say. If we need to judge photographers, let it be on their work, weigh up what has been achieved and produced – particularly in terms of long-term work, the incredible work they have done over many years, their vision and understanding that has been shared, how they have educated and informed, helped others understand the truth of what is going on, behind the lies and rhetoric we are so often force-fed in this world.

    Long-term work does offer the potential to shift the dialogue at times in crisis and people who can do this well are very rare – it takes a peculiar kind of way of seeing or ‘genius’ for story-telling with images. It is important that we do not forget this and to respect those who are the best teachers for helping create change in the world…

    And when it comes to Larry Towell, who I do not know personally, I have been touched by his efforts to include those who offered support in his ‘process’ and the progressing of his plans. I do not think it was necessary to give the updates that he did. I have not experienced that on the other Kickstarter projects and I am very appreciative.

    As David Alan Harvey has invited questions, it would be great to know more about the Magnum Cultural Fund – its purpose – and also what Magnum hopes to achieve as a group.

    • falling soldier says:

      I agree.

      (Though actually he’s not being judged on the basis of 1 or 2 lines – it’s worse that that, its 5 words.)

      • duckrabbit says:

        The original comment was a response to the video as posted by Larry. I think its important to point that out.

      • Iamnotasuperstarphotographer says:

        @ falling soldier

        It is deeper than those 5 words.

        Look at the relative value analysis I did on Kickstarter on another post. Whoever set those price points on Kickstarter for Towell needs their head examined.

        Maybe they think “Good job, we got our $12,000” and good luck to him on his shoot. Better it gets done than does not. 7 people gave 60% of the pledges. 7 people gave $1,000 each. Who in their right minds devised such a stupid value system and encouraged Towell to be exposed like this. I believe I used the word “expose” in the original reply to DAH.

        That is what I mean by organisational problems. Only people who can afford to buy as many houses as they like can afford to buy a house they dont need for charitable purposes. What kind of audience is that for a human rights story????

        It is not 2, 5 or how many words. It is not the beautiful shots Magnum take. It is the organisational capabilities of the photographic industry with a valuation problem who’s bubble burst decades ago.

    • duckrabbit says:

      Hi Jenny,

      I think I need to point out the original comment was in response to the work as presented in a video.

      • falling soldier says:


        “…the original comment was in response to the work as presented in a video.”

        I never realised that? Maybe I’m missing it but I can’t see that video referenced in the original post. Any chance of a link?

        • duckrabbit says:

          Thats the problem with this debabte, the whole thing got sidetracked.

          The woman who originally commented actually wanted to support Towel, but then she watched his video and that’s why she commented.

          Her comment realated to his work and the way it was presented in the video.

          You have to go to Kickstarter to view it. That’s what the debate should have been about and I think in the context of the video she asked some decent questions. Especially if we think about how pictures of Afghanistan have been used.

          Infact in the video Towel asks for your money because his work will be important part of the debate.

          This could have been an interesting discussion.

          • falling soldier says:

            Bloody hell! I wish I’d known that sooner.

            It may have lead me to not posting half of what I have done.

            @IAMNOT: lesson learnt – always provide the full context (because the average blog reader generally can’t be arsed to research it themselves before letting rip).

    • Iamnotasuperstarphotographer says:

      @ Jenny Lynn Walker

      Please see my other comment re: Respecting the audience is NOT ABOUT THE IMAGES. It is how you run yourself as an organisation.

      “It is about how you act as an organisation. All things being equal, Towell could have acted better, Gilden could have shown linguistic restraint and DAH could actually say “we want you to enagage” instead of a sort of like it or lump it approach. Making these changes will give them the better opportunity to do more than survive so the talk is only about their work.

      I stated before on other posts about Kickstarter that I have bought his books before and I had intended to buy his book on Afghanistan.

      The problems of photojournalism as a business will not change unless the organisation of photojournalism changes. This whole curatorial led ideology in fact.

      If you read my comment to DAH, I actually state that I believed that “The world needs a thriving Magnum”.

      Talking to people invovled in this industry, they can never get their minds outside the photographic frame as their point of reference, so it is very hard sometimes to discuss organisational problems.

      Look at the Steve Mayes interview posted earlier about the internal battle about what the medium stands for. Further evidence that the wrong people are leading the change needed to keep photojournalism in the minds of socially networked generation.

      In no way was this a qualitative discussion on the merits of any particular body of work. In fact I praised it where I saw fit for the purposes of balance.

      I should have been in the financial section of duckrabbit… much less interesting but actually for all you shooters out there.. much more important for your futures.

      Now what would be very cool is for the MD of Magnum, an ex-Private Equity guy to say something as although DAH is on the board, I assume he runs the business.

  9. Jenny Lynn Walker says:


    I realised that although I did not read her comments. I had already watched the video before I supported it.

    Actually, I think this is a interesting discussion as it stands even if it did go slightly ‘off-topic’. Thank you very much.

  10. Eloquent and thought-provoking response from blogger on comments of David Alan Harvey re photojournalism http://bit.ly/har23X

  11. Duckrabbit…ALL.

    my apologies to everyone on this forum and to Duckrabbit for not returning when i thought i would…things just got crazy for me on every front…so i literally just had no time to come back…at the same time, new information and other blogs etc all focusing on Larry and funding etc keep coming in…it is definitely a topic worth discussing, so i will not dodge it, i just need to be totally informed before i start some uneducated response…make sense??

    what i think i should do is to take this over to Burn…otherwise i am going to be all over the place…..Duckrabbit, does this make sense to you?? seems the most logical thing…we can link back and forth can’t we? i will have you linked on Burn starting today…actually i thought we had linked you before…

    one thing i will say is this: IAMNOTASUPERSTARPHOTOGRAPHEREITHER just a photographer… so we start from there and see how we can make sense out of all the rhetoric…

    peace, david

    • duckrabbit says:

      Hi David,

      thanks for this.

      No need to apologise! The posts have seemed to stretch out everywhere, but I’m glad most of all that Larry came back with a really great response. You see he doesn’t need an apologist!

      Burn is a great place to continue the debate but I do think important questions have been asked here and it would be good to get your response on these.

      The positive thing for me is that photographers are engaging.

      I am also fed up with the rhetoric and some of the massive generalizations written on this blog and others.

    • David,

      You make an assumption about me being a photographer. Actually David Campbell has quite rightly pointed out that anonymity should not be an excuse for not explaining my position, my angle, my perspective or where I am coming from so bothered or not, thats fine but here my position:-

      I am not a photographer. I am not a journalist. I do not see any of those two facts changing anytime soon.

      I am not going to start a photo agency as that does not solve the principle problem of distribution – having an audience to speak to so I am not a potential competitor.

      I actually studied a MA in Photojournalism ages ago as a career break but I went back into the industry from where I came from because of what I saw. I accept that from this, I could be labelled a “failed wanna be photographer” but that was years ago and I got my old job back during my MA so it was my decision not to try.

      3 months prior to my MA, I spent 10 days on a “How to use a Camera” course and learnt what ISO and aperture was. I never attended portfolio reviews outside of my MA, I am not or have not shown any work to any agencies, I have no economic interest in duckrabbit (so no conflict of interest there), I have not showed any work to galleries and I have not applied for any photographic grants. So by definition I have not failed in any of those tasks because I have not tried.

      During my MA, I was told my major project was doomed to fail, I was told by an agency photographer who was teaching that he “wanted to see black kids doing what they do, mugging little old white women” and when I presented that info to someone who had just left Magnum (retired I think and from a non shooting capacity) when they went to look at the work of the MA students in an educative capacity, I got nothing, no support, no response, no sympathy. Wow.. I thought. Nobody reported that further, nobody asked me further information and I saw no incentive to make more of a deal out of it when I had a job lined up already. So I am sensitive, more sensitive than most I believe to that very touchy issue so I might as well be honest about it.

      From my experience in the finance sector, they do so much more to defend minorities and women that I felt more comfortable being part of that industry. It was also much more meritocratic where measurable performance made up a considerable part of achievable success.

      My partner is Russian and read that Gilden Guardian article. I am not Russian and I read it too. Link that with the above. Link that to the debate William Klein started with his “Shanty Town” speech. Link that to the WPP awards being shown in a public space in London where foreigners are displayed deceased in horrific circumstances but people tragically lose their lives in newsworthy circumstances all over the world, every single day.

      I did not leave photojournalism because I did not love the medium – I do. I left for all the other reasons that have obviously not changed from the evidence I have outlined elsewhere. That was 6-7 years ago and nothing has changed. The imagery, the journalism, the demographics of who produce and the state of the industry financially. I am not a woman but there needs to be many more of them shooting.

      I am an enthusiast staying on the outside looking in. I am a consumer of camera’s, a lover of photo books, politically active with my local political party, carry my camera with me when I go on holiday and I am pretty good at analysing business structures and finding solutions that make a difference when things get dysfunctional as I did that without getting sacked for over 10 years in a global environment.

      So my rhetoric does not come from being a failed photographer. The rhetoric comes from the sheer frustration that something you love is being tainted by the behaviour of a sizeable minority and I see why it is not in better health.

      One thing is for certain, the industry has gotten far too used to talking to itself so when someone like me comes out and provides a critique, I am a presumed jealous photographer!

      Sigh… it was not me who coined the phrase “the scene that celebrate itself”.

      I am not a jealous photographer who did not get in, ranting about some injustice that happened to me because someone said my images were rubbish looking for acceptance. Quite happy to say that my shots are rubbish if that is what it takes. I am a change manager, look at economic viability, audience engagement and that sacred all important brand value enhancer. The one time I asked to get into Magnum was in that capacity, tongue in cheek and most certainly not to take photo’s. You do not lack great taker of beautiful images.

      Enjoy the debate.. I shall stay out of it unless invited to be part of it. Will read with interest though as it will most certainly be much more to the point and much more concise without my contributions!!!!

    • David White says:

      Thanks David. I have put up a post with a few questions on it about the MCF…
      ’tis here.

    • David White says:

      Thanks David. I have put up a post with a few questions on it about the MCF…
      ’tis here.

  12. (oops… might have misread you David Alan Harvey – geeeez… sorry about that.. too many things on my mind at the same time – that is a full unreserved apology!)

  13. dear iamnotasuperstarphotographer..

    i think you may have misread me…OR i did not write clearly!! i was certainly not challenging you because i feel you make some good points… in any case, many thanks for your explanation on what you do with your life….one on one eye contact is always the best way to communicate and this is less perfect…in any case, it does seems that your business acumen surpasses mine..let me get all my facts straight so that i might properly answer some questions here…and i do plan to write a piece for Burn as well…somehow in our efforts to provide incentives for photographers in a failing magazine business climate, some controversy is coming out of it…i do not totally understand this, but i am listening….the dialogue shall continue…

    cheers, david

    • iamnotasuperstarphotogrpher says:

      Thanks David.

      I got my apology in there first!

      It was me who misread you. Apologies once again.



    thanks for the questions…as i have said, i am surprised there is any controversy whatsoever in the various fund raising going on, either Kickstarter or the Magnum Foundation since they are both efforts being undertaken to simply help committed photographers continue their work…after the magazine industry failed to continue to provide documentary photographers support, it seemed something had to be done…for me the support of private funding turns out to be way more “honorable” than taking magazine advertising dollars..whisky ads, cigarette ads, military recruitment ads, Enron, Exxon, etc etc all supported photographic efforts through magazine advertising..it seems to me the new way of raising funds is a whole lot cleaner than the old way…yet i do want to answer your concerns and plan to do so…i think i should copy and paste your questions and pop them in here or on Burn..i am trying to decide…so just bear with me..i am also trying to finish off the work on my new darkroom and also planning a shoot in Brazil and trying to get my food expenses approved by a magazine and edit my contact sheets for American Family project…so i am a bit overwhelmed , but i will not ignore your questions….stay tuned please…

    cheers, david

  15. Dear Iamnotasuperstarphotographer

    you have asked many questions and it would take me all day to answer them all..smiling…basically the answer to all of your questions about Magnum in general is YES we could be doing things better…we SHOULD be all that we can be (damn, isn’t that a Marine Corps banner?) the one thing you do have flat out wrong is that we take in members after they have earned money…this is absolutely not correct…we turn down established photographers with reputations and money all the time..other agencies do take in the earners , but not us…we are much more likely to take in the unknown..Magnum photographers care about legacy, not about money…please go back and look at when photographers came in an whether or not they were known before Magnum…perhaps this is a small point,and maybe you can find an exception, but this is definitely not the rule..at least not since i have been involved in the meetings since 1993…

    cheers, david

  16. Dear David,

    If that is incorrect than appreciate the clarification of how Magnum choose their photographers. Appreciate that although sometimes things are said in absolute, the reality is always more complex when managing the position between legacy/brand value and balance sheet considerations.

    I am happy to hear of the importance of legacy though. This interestingly leads us back to the public conduct of the Magnum photographers in the public realm and the legacy that leaves (or any other photographers, any other agency or in indeed any other walks of life to be fair so lets not single anybody out).

    Taking the view that if the xbox generation may not be so sentimental to the history of Magnum, would it be fair to say that they are more likely to judge the present and what they see rather than past performance?

    In the examples I have previously highlighted, they were not as a result of any form of entrapment or irresponsible bloggers pointing the finger at nothing. All you have to see is the public response to the behaviours described without the intervention of this blog or myself. One can of course debate which was the catalyst for all of this but the actions being debated were not the actions of the bloggers (duckrabbit’s external interventions excluded!).

    8 people gave over 50% of the funds available to Larry Towell’s trip at a $1,000 a pop. If that is a sign of success than there is no incentive to change. If one cannot see what the fuss what all about, then there is no need to change. That is totally within the rights of any organisation including your own to make your own conclusions.

    Well structured Kickstarter models, indeed other business models, personal conduct, responsible debating, conflicts of interest, audience engagement, choice of imagery, stereotyping the developing world, editorial choices, the awarding of grants and prizes all come down to the same thing. The establishment of trust between the medium and the audience.

    Everything else is a sideline.

    What I see is a trust issue. Kickstarter reflects this and I agree, it is an amazing vehicle but is genius its that it is neutral. It just reflects both the users and the donators so the behaviours witnessed so far were predictable and I discussed them already on David Campbell’s blog back in October.

    I stand by what I said then and in my response to you. The mentality of much of this industry is based on selectorial structures instead of electoral ones with punitive barriers to entry placed everywhere. This prevents access for the aspiring to gain entry to the coveted position of selecting. Selecting who gets in, selecting who gets what paid assignment, selecting who wins that grant, selecting who wins that award. That was pretty much the way the command economy functioned and it failed, promoted bad behaviours and was always criticised for being open to corruption because judgements were always qualitative.

    The structure incentivises complacency though lack of scrutiny. Without scrutiny you get no discipline and without discipline you get no quality control outside of the opinions of those inside the selection committees. When someone gets its wrong and selects a bad assignment, you set the agenda for others to follow when they look at what is defined as “good” and say “I want that so I need to act like that”.

    I believe Magnum are the role models for many. You may disagree. I see huge efforts being placed on effective networking the selectorial elite over focusing on practice. You might disagree but ask any graduating photographer. How many of them have had emails ignored by editors and agencies? How many agencies charge to get people access to the selectoral elite in the form of portfolio reviews and workshops? They are able to charge because they make the whole industry so very exclusive. So exclusive in fact that they have excluded the audience!

    The structure breeds complacency and rigidity. People act like they do because the structure lets you get away with it as once you are in, you are in no matter what you say about people in Russia, Afghanistan, Africa et al who have all let you into their most intimate lives.

    The selection committees will always be conservative because they will always believe that their choices are based on their expert judgement. There is no incentive to really ask the critical questions that are needed to be asked every second of every day to affect calm and stable evolutionary change.

    With no audience you get no feedback and without feedback you have no idea what you are doing wrong. So when Kickstarter feedbacks a bit of a fuss, you are surprised yet if you read my previous posts on Kickstarter you will see them as entirely predictable.

    We always have to “take their word for it” that the judges are the best, or that the photographer is a moral individual or that their intentions were worthy because trust is not built into the structure of what you do. IN MANY MANY MANY cases they are worthy, the best and brilliant projects full of wonderful intentions (http://www.duckrabbit.info/2010/11/no-inbreds-just-people/)

    I am certainly no journalist, I sit on no debating panels, I am not looking to get paid for my commentary nor do I lecture at any University MA’s as an expert on what is going on in the world of photojournalism. There is no conflict of interest anywhere in what I say and I just say what I see (to be fair my partner is now asking me why I bother to be fair when I am not fighting to protect my own income – I can only describe this as like fighting for a dysfunctional love relationship at the critical moment, supporting a bad football team, being a moderate Republican (I am not!) and watching Sarah Palin get sniff of power!)

    So I see a lack of democratic values in a system that has protected itself from the need to evolve over a period of time. I favour the market system because it means that the public vote with their feet so in its very essence – it is much more democratic than what exists. After all, what is the point being a journalist when nobody is watching and everyone is trying hard to please the club that gets to select?

    Sorry if that does not count as responsible or reasonable debate. In business, less time is spent commentating about the process or need for change but on the ideas that will actually produce change as the world does not wait for anybody. So forgive me for my directness at times as laying out the problems explicitly is the first part of that and it will always carry an element of risk to it as it will always sound unsettling to those who defend what I describe.



    (p.s. sorry David White.. bust my limit 🙁 )

  17. …again, that has been said by my lovely girlfriend… I should listen to her more!

    Why muck around when the problem is obvious? No point looking at all the various symptoms. Better look at the cause!

    • eva says:


      If I understand you well (not sure) you think the lack of democracy is the cause? So you would envision grants, awards, funds would be given in a more democratic way? Nominators, jurors would be choosen by the audience maybe?

      Heaven helps. On what would that be based? What would be the base of knowledge? Or how would you want to achieve more democracy? Dictated by the market, as you say? I’d see a huge problem there..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.