Magnum signs five new photographers after its lack of diversity comes under attack

New Magnum member Khalik Allahs 25th Street and Lexington Avenue; Harlem NYC; August 2018 (2018) © Khalik Allah

Magnum Photos has announced five new members to its roster, including three Americans of colour, as well as the agencys first female president. The news comes after the photography collective—considered the worlds standard-bearing agency—endured sustained criticism from voices throughout the photography world for a perceived lack of diversity among its membership in the wake of the global Black Lives Matter protests.

Olivia Arthur, the British documentary photographer, hailed the collectives recent “growth and change” as she was appointed president at Magnums 2020 annual general meeting. Sohrab Hura, meanwhile, was announced as Magnums first Indian full voting member. The outgoing president Thomas Dworzak hailed the increasing diversity of the agencys membership as the key to “what builds the future”.

Caitlin Hughes, Magnums chief executive officer appointed in October 2019, placed furthering agency and membership diversity at the top of the agenda. The issue dominated conversations throughout the four-day meeting, which was conducted online for the first time as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

“The last few months have been an important moment for Magnum,” Hughes says. “Weve reflected on the question of diversity and what that means in terms of our unrelenting search for talent. Weve asked ourselves whether were looking broadly enough, whether we have a broad enough gaze to recognise talent when we see it. Magnum has a fantastic reputation with roots in a certain tradition, and were very proud of that. But in a globalised world where everyone is able to take photographs, we recognise there is no longer an absolute authority on what quality means. Were open and vulnerable to that in a way that will progress the collective so its a truly diverse collection of talented voices.”

But Chris Steele-Perkins, the British-Burmese photographer and Magnums first British member of colour, also raised concerns that Magnums new drive to include different perspectives and backgrounds might run the risk of being tokenistic—with debates around affirmative action taking place repeatedly over the course of the AGM between 24-28 June.

Why has it been so hard for the agency to fully welcome new voices in? It's because the old guard have struggled to give up power Mark Sealy, director, Autograph ABP

“The difficulty arises because you dont want to do a box-ticking exercise,” Steele-Perkins says. “You want people to come into Magnum on the same terms youve applied historically, but from a wider variety of backgrounds. The Black Lives Matter agenda has affected everyone, and its turbo-charged our thinking this time round. But positive discrimination could come back and bite you. If you get tied into an agenda, what happens to the people who dont deliver if it appears youve given them a hand up?” The influential curator Mark Sealy, the director of Autograph ABP, also called on Magnum to publish a “strategic action plan” on its pledges to open the agency up to new perspectives. “They need to come out with a strategic plan that includes measurable achievements and that properly address the things they want to change,” Sealy tells The Art Newspaper. “Until then, its just rhetoric.”

Colby Deal, Image 32. August 31, 2017 © Colby Deal

Magnums identity as a collective, in which each voting member has equal say in a non-hierarchical system, combined with a strenuous four-yRead More – Source