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Magnum Sees Brisk Business for Photo Sales, Licensing

Despite a slowdown in the art market, cooperative photographic agency Magnum, which has offices in New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, has experienced an increase in licensing revenue and sales of prints in recent years.

NEW YORK—Despite a slowdown in the art market, cooperative photographic agency Magnum, which has offices in New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, has experienced an increase in licensing revenue and sales of prints in recent years.

Magnum was founded in 1947 by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David “Chim” Seymour to manage the sale and licensing of their work. The agency, which is owned by its photographer members, represents 79 photographers or estates, including Elliott Erwitt, Susan Meiselas, Gilles Peress and Alec Soth. The common thread in their work is an interest in documenting culture, politics and society.

Eighty percent of Magnum’s earnings comes from licensing, three-quarters of which is from advertising agencies and corporations, and the rest from editorial usage.

Sales of photographic prints account for the remaining 20 percent of overall earnings. Jennifer Tripp, print sales director in Magnum’s New York office, told ARTnewsletter that 2008 sales were up from those of the previous year. Tripp said that sales in the Americas (mostly in the U.S.) are the highest, between 130 and 300 prints per year, with prices of $2,000/10,000 for images by contemporary photographers and $5,000/35,000 for vintage or historical images. The London and Paris offices sell about half that, while at the Tokyo office, most of the revenue is from licensing images, she added.

Tripp said 80 percent of those sales are of works by contemporary photographers, because of the lower prices and the greater availability. “There are few vintage Robert Capa photographs around,” she said. Not all prints by the earlier photographers are vintage, however. Whereas a World War II–era Capa print, if available, might be priced at $10,000/15,000, more recent editions of such images cost $2,000/2,500, Tripp said.

Collectors can purchase individual photographs or portfolios—a hand-bound 60th-anniversary portfolio of 12 platinum prints by Capa, Cartier-Bresson, Rodger and Seymour, in an edition of 75, costs $14,500—directly from Magnum or through certain galleries with which the agency works. Magnum is also a source of traveling museum exhibitions and sales through commercial galleries. The Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York, is to mount “Black in White America,” a show of 50 black-and-white prints taken during the 1960s by Leonard Freed (1929–2006), priced at $5,000/10,000, May 2–June 13. Verve Gallery, Santa Fe, N. Mex., will exhibit the work of eleven Magnum photographers—Cartier-Bresson, Capa, Bruce Davidson, Thomas Dworzak, Erwitt, Paul Fusco, Constantine Manos, Meiselas, Steve McCurry, Eli Reed and Alex Webb—June 25–Aug. 22.

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