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University of Texas at Austin

Magnum Photos:

An Inventory of Its Photography Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Magnum Photos
Title: Magnum Photos Photography Collection
Dates: 1929-2004
Extent: 920 boxes, 1,860 oversize boxes, 39 portfolios (3,097.77 linear feet; approximately 200,000 prints)
Abstract: The collection consists of approximately 200,000 photographs from the New York bureau of Magnum Photos, an international photographers' cooperative. The photographs, which are primarily gelatin silver press prints, date from 1929 to 2004. Also included are a few color prints, inkjet prints, and copy transparencies. The collection documents major world events and leaders, social affairs, celebrities, and all aspects of the human condition.
Call Number: PH-02276
Language: English, French, Japanese, Spanish, German, and Italian.
Access: Open for research. Slides and other transparencies cannot be paged to the Reading and Viewing Room without 48 hours advance notice, and Portfolios 1-39 cannot be paged without permission from the Curator of Photography and advance notice. For additional information or to make an appointment, please contact the Curator of Photography. Researchers must create an online Research Account and agree to the Materials Use Policy before using archival materials.
Use Policies: Ransom Center collections may contain material with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in the collections without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Ransom Center and The University of Texas at Austin assume no responsibility.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation Magnum Photos Photography Collection (PH-02276). Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.
Acquisition: Deposit, 2010 (09-12-010-D), then gift, 2013 (13-09-021-G)
Processed by: Mary Alice Harper, 2010; Rebecca Wells, 2020

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

The Magnum Photos agency was founded in 1947 by photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, George Rodger, and David “Chim” Seymour, in partial response to their respective experiences throughout World War II. The photographers saw themselves as storytellers and spent time pursuing stories that artfully defined their own versions of storytelling through photography, photojournalism and art. Throughout the cooperative’s history, it has gained talented photographers through invitation and a rigorous selection process. Membership in the agency continues to be prestigious and highly sought after.
As a cooperative, Magnum photographers get to choose the stories on which they work. Through the support—rather than dictation—of staff, the photographers can choose where to travel and how long to stay. Originally, this led to the founders covering large selected areas of the world. For example, Seymour took Europe while Cartier-Bresson took India and the Far East. Rodger covered Africa, while Capa covered the United States and elsewhere. Since then, Magnum photographers continue to cover stories from across the world.
A defining characteristic of the agency was its fight for the photographer’s rights. This included their push back against the common practices of that time regarding copyright. Rather than granting the publishing magazine the negative and copyright to the photograph, the authors maintained their copyright and the magazines paid for the single use of the photograph(s) in a particular run. In this way, the photographers’ works could be run in different magazines across the world. For the photographers and the agency—with offices in Paris and New York as well as London and Tokyo—this was valuable. Through these avenues, the Magnum members retain more control over their works and the stories they tell.
The agency has adapted overtime to society’s different requirements and expectations of photographs and photographers. Through exhibitions, books, and media, Magnum's photographers continue to document the reality of the world, its events, and its people. Magnum Photos functions today with a living archive of active and non-active members’ works at


Ritchen, Fred. “History.”, Magnum Photos, accessed 2 July 2020.
“Overview.”, Magnum Photos, accessed 2 July 2020.

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of photographs from Magnum Photos' New York bureau, dating from 1929 to 2004. Black-and-white (gelatin silver prints) photographs make up the bulk of the collection, but also included are a few color photographs, inkjet prints, and copy transparencies (slides). The photographs show the world and its people, events, issues, geography, and personalities as captured through the lenses of Magnum members. The images in this collection were made to distribute to publishers, the media, advertisers, museums, and galleries from around the globe. Nearly half the photographs were sent out for assignments and returned, and thus show evidence of much handling. The backs of many of the photographs are marked and stamped, evidence of their usage and the different filing systems used by Magnum. Many of the marks, stamps, and notes are in English, but there are a variety of other languages present throughout the collection. While many of these are noted in the Language statement, it is possible other languages are present.
Since its foundation in 1947, Magnum has used a number of filing systems (the current system arranges photographs by story number). The original physical order of the collection is largely preserved, but in order to facilitate search and retrieval, some original folders were moved so that the photographs could be grouped into following five series: Series I. Photographers; Series II. Personalities; Series III. Subjects; Series IV. Geographical; and Series V. Magnum. All subjects and titles in this preliminary inventory are those assigned by Magnum; additions by Ransom Center staff appear in brackets.
The first series, Photographers, is comprised of boxes containing the works of single photographers only, and it is in alphabetical order by photographer. In general the boxes follow each photographer's career chronologically, occasionally ending with a portfolio of exhibition prints. Box descriptions that are seven digits long (e.g., 1944001) are for specific stories; the first four digits represent the year of the story and the last three digits represent the story number within a given year.
Series II. Personalities, consists of images of notable figures from around the world. Included are portraits and snapshots of world leaders, politicians, artists, authors, activists, sports figures, actors and actresses, designers, architects, musicians, and other celebrated people. Each personality received his or her own folder, so the majority of boxes show a range of names rather than a single name. Individual names are displayed either as they appear in nationally recognized authority sources, including the Library of Congress Name Authority File (LCNAF), the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF), or the Getty Research Institute's Union List of Artist Names (ULAN), or have been formed in accordance with the American Library Association's guidelines for Resource Description & Access (RDA). Dates appearing in conjunction with names are the life and/or death dates of the subject.
The third series, Subjects, consists of generic, domestic topical subjects, and excludes personalities and foreign countries. All subjects are listed alphabetically.
Series IV. Geographical, is divided first by continent or world region, and then subdivided by country and listed alphabetically.
The final series, Magnum, is comprised of portraits and snapshots of Magnum photographers, staff, contributors and meetings. Additionally there are groups of images collected by Magnum members for specific projects. Individual names are displayed as they appear in nationally recognized authority sources. Dates appearing in conjunction with names are the life and/or death dates of the subject.
This finding aid replaces an earlier preliminary inventory, which was created when the collection was on deposit, that described much of the collection at the box-level. Since that time, all materials were archivally housed in accordance with current preservation standards for photographic materials. All photographs were placed in protective sleeves and new boxes. For the protection of the materials, photographs measuring more than 8 1/2 x 11 inches were separated from the smaller prints. The smaller prints are housed in folders and stored vertically in standard document boxes. All larger prints are housed in sleeves with a backer board for support. In order to minimize the handling of these prints while still maintaining access to the information contained on their versos, the versos were reproduced on archival paper and placed in the sleeve, on the opposite side of the photograph, behind the backer board.
Researchers seeking additional information about the original arrangement of the collection or any of Magnum's original filing schemes may contact the Head of Description and Access, Visual Materials. Errors in the finding aid should also be brought to her attention.
Acknowledgment of Potentially Harmful, Offensive, and Graphic Language and Imagery
The materials in this collection are a product of their time and may use language or depict scenes and acts that are not acceptable by today’s standards. Further, due to the nature of the collection and the broad range of subjects, people, places, and events covered, some materials depict and describe sensitive or graphic scenes and acts that could be emotionally triggering. The original folder titles may not always sufficiently indicate the breadth of content held within the folder, leading to encounters with potentially disturbing content without direct warning.
This statement is not intended to censor, divert, or discourage users from accessing this collection. Instead, the aim is to provide users with the opportunity to consciously engage with the materials along with their historical context. Through their study, users may develop new and deeper comprehension, while fostering thought and discussion pertaining to the various topics covered within the Magnum Photos Photography Collection.
Statement on Language in Ransom Center Descriptive Records
The Harry Ransom Center aims to describe collection materials in a manner that is respectful to the individuals and communities who create, use, and are represented in its holdings. The Center's cataloging departments follow standards and guidelines recognized by the American Library Association, the Society of American Archivists, and the American Alliance of Museums. Despite these efforts, users may encounter offensive or harmful language in the Center's descriptive records, such as terminology or language that is racist, sexist, outdated, or exclusionary. In some instances, this language was used by the people and organizations that created the material or by outside sources describing materials prior to acquisition by the Center. In other cases, past practices and language used by Ransom Center staff was not or is no longer appropriate. The Center recognizes that descriptive practices and terminology evolve over time and that efforts to create respectful and inclusive description must be ongoing. The Center encourages users to provide feedback to support these actions. Please contact the Center if you encounter concerning or inaccurate descriptions by notifying Ransom Center staff at Staff will review the description and determine what updates or changes are available. Revisions may include providing additional context and/or replacing problematic terminology.

Related Material

Additional and related holdings by and about Magnum photographers are found in the Center's library, in single-photographer collections and published portfolios, and in the Postcards from America Photography Collection (PH-02395).

Index Terms


Magnum Photos.


Civic leaders.
Economic conditions.
Religious leaders.
Social conditions.
Vietnam War, 1961-1975.
World War, 1939-1945.


Central America.
Middle East.
South America.
Soviet Union.

Document Types

Digital prints.
Dye coupler prints.
Film transparencies.
Gelatin silver prints.

Container List