A History of Magnum Photos in Ten Photographers

Since its founding in 1947 by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour, George Rodger, and William Vandivert, Magnum Photos has come to be the top photographers’ cooperative in the world. Its enduring reputation and quality are due in no small part to its three-stage membership process, in place since 1955, in which applicants advance from nominee to associate to full-fledged, voting member—with portfolio reviews at every step of the way. Here’s ten of our favorites who have made the cut over the years:

1. Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004): After fighting for his native France in WWII, Cartier-Bresson would become one of the original five founders of Magnum in spring 1947, taking on India and China as his regions of focus. The immensely influential photographer would get his first major museum exhibition at MoMA later that year.

2. Eve Arnold(1912-2012): Arnold began working with Magnum Photos in 1951, becoming its first full-fledged female member in 1957. She was best known for her humanistic portraits of luminaries and everyday people alike; her work in China earned several awards and Arnold’s first major museum show—at the Brooklyn Museum in 1980.

3. Robert Capa(1913-1954): Called “the greatest war photographer in world” in 1938, Capa produced some of the most enduring images of the Spanish Civil War and WWII, including the Battle of the Bulge, D-Day, and the liberation of Paris. Magnum was his brainchild, and he was one of its five co-founders. On assignment for Life in French Indochina in 1954, Capa stepped on a landmine and was killed.

4. Paul Fusco(b. 1930): Fusco first joined Magnum in 1971, after photographing the Korean war for the American army and working at Look. His documentary photography and photojournalism often documents social issues like poverty, illness, and tragedy—some of Fusco’s best known series capture AIDS victims in California and the lasting effects of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl.

5. Bruce Davidson (b. 1933): Few photographers have captured the life and streets of New York to as much acclaim as Bruce Davidson, who first joined Magnum in 1958. Davidson tackles the streets of the city in focused projects, like The Brooklyn Gang (1959), Subway (1980), or his documentation of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s that earned him a Guggenheim Fellowship. His most famous project is probably East 100th Street: two years of photographs shot on an infamous block of Harlem.

6. Susan Meiselas (b. 1948): Meiselas is known for her searing, visceral photographs of civil unrest and political revolution around the world, from Central America to Kurdistan. However, it is her “Carnival Strippers” that defines her career for many: the series was published by Farrar, Strauss & Giroux in 1976, catching the attention of Magnum and earning her an exhibition at the Whitney several years later.

7. Steve McCurry(b. 1950): If you haven’t heard of McCurry, you’ve certainly seen his most famous image: “Afghan Girl,” the haunting portrait of a refugee that graced the cover of National Geographic in 1985. Since first disguising himself and crossing into rebel-controlled Afghanistan in 1979, McCurry has gone on to capture the human toll of several wars. “Most of my images are grounded in people,” he says. “I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face.”

8. Alec Soth (b. 1969): Soth is world-famous for his sprawling series that document the American Midwest in all its alluring banality. His works include NIAGARA, for which he photographed the touristic areas around the national landmark, and Last Days of W, a chronicle of Americans exhausted from eight years under Bush’s presidency. He was included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial and received a solo retrospective at Paris’s Jeu de Paume in 2008.

9. Tim Hetherington (1970-2011): Photojournalist Hetherington took on assignments throughout Africa, from Liberia to Angola, and was probably best known for co-directing the film Restrepo, a documentary about American troops fighting in Afghanistan. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2011, the same year Hetherington would be tragically killed while covering the civil conflict in Libya.

10. Mikhael Subotzky (b. 1981): One of the most acclaimed younger photographers working today, Subotzky turns his lens on his native South Africa, documenting the struggles and social injustices of the Post-Apartheid nation. Featured in MoMA’s “New Photography 2008” exhibition, his best-known series is probably “Beaufort West,” which contrasts images from inside a prison with the rural towns that surround it.

Explore Magnum Photos on Artsy.

Share article