02 February 2010

Magnum Archives Sold, Moved

Archives. I am not all that knowledgeable about them. But Magnum has just sold its press print archives (through 1998) to MSD Capital (D stands for Dell, stands for computer) who have had them shipped to the University of Texas where they will be housed. Reports are here at PDN and here at The New York Times. Such purchases of cultural/historical resources by the wealthy is obviously nothing new. But it always makes me slightly nervous. According to the PDN report MSD "has purchased only Magnum’s press prints, not licensing or resale rights to the images" while Magnum "still holds all negatives and contact sheets." This sounds like a complicated legal arrangement and the question of who holds rights to what is important in terms of the control of public access and, ultimately, public memory.

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Blogger Noah said...

In terms of "who holds rights to what" ... it seems (albeit, this is daring naiveté, seeming is not being when it comes to legalesse) as thought the Dell family has purchased the thing (print) while Magnum still holds rights to the idea (the photographic content).
While I'm in this speculative mood I'll further venture: The Ransom center will (per the NYT article) scan all of the prints (front & back, providing the ephemera provenance for historians) and mount gallery based shows of the works.
The reason this seems to me not to tread too heavily on the issue of "who owns the rights to the images" is that in effect what is happening is a BIG blob of images from the press world (press, magazine, et. al. -non art photo world) is going to be digested by eggheads.inc. Meanwhile, (note the bluster of unfounded guesswork) the two interests maintain an amicable distance because the press and publication world isn't too bothered by gallery showings or books about images in an archive... and vice versa. The former is concerned with selling thousands of millions of "copies in print" for fractions of a cent each, while the latter wants to know the "who.what.when.where.why & how" of the image, and what impact it may have had.

Um...Cliff's notes:

Commercial interest ≠ academic interest.

Magnum retains all the negs, thus the capacity to produce any image it still owns, or possibly even have first dibs on the high res. scans of their prints should it need it, and the Ransom Center can dissect the under-scrutinized corpus of images which would have otherwise remained inaccessible on Magnum's own crowded shelves.

Seems like the only loose end I don't get yet.. what's in it for the Dell's? A tax write off? A long term investment?
Inscrutable from where I'm sitting.

05 February, 2010 01:57  

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