A profile of one of the most influential and prestigious photo agencies in the world, told through the lives of its founding...


MAGNUM: Fifty Years at the Front Line of History

A profile of one of the most influential and prestigious photo agencies in the world, told through the lives of its founding members. On the occasion of Magnum's 50th anniversary, Miller, a British journalist and author of ten books, has written a lively, sympathetic history of the organization and the characters who defined it. Magnum has always been synonymous with outrageous talent. Founded by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour, and George Rodger in 1947, the agency was intended to release its members from the dictates of magazine editors and allow them greater artistic freedom and copyright control. Its cooperative mandate, for which Capa--a charming hedonist and talented war photographer--was responsible, immediately set it apart from other purely commercial ventures. So did the visions of its founding members. With their lightweight Leica and Contax cameras, Capa and his brethren were able to travel to the most distant lands and dangerous conflicts and bring back images that mesmerized the world. Miller skillfully juxtaposes their compelling stories--of military offensives, celebrity-gilded parties, and perfect shots--with equally detailed information about the more quotidian challenges they faced, from rivalry to financial ruin. Miller devotes an entire chapter to the story of Eugene Smith, a brilliant photographer who joined Magnum in 1955 and subsequently wreaked havoc. Although he was known to be difficult, few of his peers anticipated that he would not only endanger the agency financially (he borrowed thousands from it to support his drug and alcohol addictions) but also divide its ranks. By the time he resigned, his fellow photographers were relieved, yet still compassionate--typical, Miller believes, of Magnum's solidarity. ""Even those members who have decided to resign,"" Miller writes, ""almost invariably leave with some smatterings of regret."" Miller debunks lingering myths about the agency and provides an entertaining account of the mesh and fray of personalities associated with it.

Pub Date: May 1, 1998


Page Count: 336

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

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