The Magnum Photos archive-a collection of more than 200,000 photographs by some of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries' greatest image makers-is the most comprehensive accumulation of prints made by the distinguished photo cooperative. Consistently and with striking artistry, Magnum's photographers have done more than simply document the far reaches of the globe; they have helped shape generations' understanding of the world around them. While many of its photographs have been widely published, until now no one has examined the Magnum archive itself. In Reading Magnum, experts from several fields investigate this visual archive, now residing at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, to discover how a select, influential group of visual authors has used the camera for an ambitious project of cultural interpretation and social commentary.
The chapters in Reading Magnum are devoted to themes generated by a close reading of the archive-war and conflict, portraiture, geography, cultural life, social relations, and globalization. These themes are further developed by evocative portfolios of images, which suggest something of the depth and range of the photo agency, and by tracing the trajectory of several iconic images from annotated press print to distribution to eventual publication. Volume editor Steven Hoelscher provides an overview of the Magnum enterprise, and Alison Nordström offers an appreciation of the Magnum archive as a material record of information about the making and disseminating of photographs that is being lost as images on paper are replaced by images on screen. As a whole, the book's unique reading of the Magnum archive reveals patterns of intention, aesthetic vision, and political perspective that become legible only by viewing both the physical objects and the recorded images that constitute this remarkable collection.