The catalyst for this week’s episode was the controversy happening in and around Magnum, the preeminent international photography collective. I don’t want to go into too much detail here because I think Sean, Chris, and I have an excellent conversation about it in the episode, but the quick version is as follows: late last year, it came to light that long-time Magnum member David Alan Harvey had an extensive and well-documented history of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations. There is evidence that the board of Magnum knew of these allegations and failed to act, and, until early this year, it appears Magnum lacked any formal code of conduct or mechanism for ejecting problematic or dangerous members.
This part of the story is—unfortunately—not new. The #MeToo movement has made two things strikingly clear: these abusers exist everywhere there is power to be had, and far too many of the organizations and corporations who control our world lack the means or will (or both) to do anything meaningful about them or the culture that creates them. What I believe makes the Magnum story particularly important, though, is just how little attention it has gotten. I think the major reason for this is because, despite its historic and artistic significance, very few people outside of the photography world know what Magnum is.
This speaks to bigger issues about photographic education and how most people consume photography. I don’t need to tell you that art education and appreciation has been severely lacking in this country for decades, and only now are we beginning to see the full effects of sustaining such a culture. I am also not suggesting that photography has until now escaped the consequences of #MeToo, as there have been reckoningspriorto this. I feel, though, that the conversations around implicated photographers—whose works are as widely published and celebrated as comparable work in any other medium—are happening almost exclusively in photography circles. This would be one thing if photographers were the only people who purchased fine art photographs, but we are not. Why should we be the only ones talking about it?
While this week’s episode begins with the allegations against David Alan Harvey, our conversation extends well beyond that into what photography stands for in our culture. If you’re new to all of this, I hope you find the conversation enlightening; but if you’re like me and hold Magnum and its members in a place of esteem, I hope this conversation complicates that viewpoint in a productive way. Magnum is an incredibly important organization, but I’m no longer sure that it should be.
Thanks for listening,