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Magnum: Fifty Years at the Front Line of History Hardcover – May, 1998

13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough," said Robert Capa, the legendary photojournalist who, with Henri Cartier-Bresson and other documentary shooters, founded the Magnum press agency in 1947. Capa got close to the action, of course; he died under fire in Indo-China in 1954, seeking the perfect image of war. Other Magnum photographers died in places like Afghanistan, Israel, and Chechnya, always at the forefront of battle and strife, always with an eye on capturing history as it unfolded. In this well-written study of their work, British journalist Russell Miller shows how their images have changed the ways in which we respond to war, politics, and crises. --Gregory McNamee

From Booklist

Miller's history of the famous cooperative photo agency Magnum is unauthorized--no surprise, that, for one thing to count on in Magnum is disagreement. After all, "there has only ever been one rule guiding Magnum," says Magnum member Sebastian Salgado, "and that is the rule of anarchy--it is because of this anarchy we have been able to do so many things." Despite that lack of approval, Miller was able to base his lively and fascinating account on lengthy interviews with all current members except Bruce Davidson and Gilles Peress, and it all seems quite credible--at times, credibly incredible. Magnum's role in photojournalism can't be overemphasized, for the quality of the work done and for Magnum's historic role in keeping copyrights for its photographers. Not that the members' business savvy is underemphasized: despite its fame, the agency has been in almost perpetual financial crisis. It stumbles on, part dysfunctional family, part brilliant brotherhood of talent. Miller affords a rich feast of personalities, adventure, world conflicts, and the issues of journalistic ethics. Gretchen Garner

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Pr; 1st American ed edition (May 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802116310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802116314
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,426,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Russell Miller is a prize-winning journalist and the author of eight previous books. His oral histories of D-Day, Nothing Less Than Victory, and the Special Operations Executive, Behind the Lines, were widely acclaimed. His most recent book was Codename Tricycle: The True Story of the Second World War's Most Extraordinary Double Agent. He lives in Britain.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Adam Rust VINE VOICE on December 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
Russell Miller outlines the history of the world's greatest photo agency from its founding shortly after World War II until its advancement into the 90's. He includes personal stories about many of the photographers. The book also charts a course between many of the conflicting visions held by the members for the purpose of the agency. As you read the book, you have to remind yourself that Magnum is a "cooperative," because rarely do the members show this spirit. At its start, Cartier-Bresson wanted pictures with artistic vision. Capa wanted hard core reportage. In later years, Martin Parr's overtly critical portrayals of his subjects tested the agency's humanistic mission. All along, the great photographers prove to be fantastically poor businessmen. Russell Miller's history of does a lot to humanize some of the gods of photojournalism. As someone who has spent several years in graduate school, I enjoyed hearing that not all of these people were perfect. It is genuinely funny to learn that Eugene Smith's seven year Pittsburgh project was actually only intended to be a two week assignment. What beginning photographer hasn't made the same kind of mistake, deciding that a story was worthy of far greater time than budgeted for by your teacher or editor? Miller's account of Smith probably goes so far as to provide a cautionary tale to aspiring photographers about the need to draw boundaries to your work life. This book would be a good addition to a college photography course. It covers its subject expansively, but it tells the story in a chronological narrative that keeps the reader turning pages quickly.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 3, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Given that I had worked at Magnum as well as for several of the members, I thought that the Miller's book fairly depcited the personalities and management of the agency. Alas the book does not delve into why the new members have difficulty in living off as an associate member, or even tries to look into these problems. The history of photography and the timing of Magnum's incorporation came together fortuitously during the acme of the profession. The days of magazines such as Look, Life, and the commercial business of still photography have disappeared with the advent of color TV and Internet. Maybe they should have looked into Web pages. This is not to belittle their brilliant work in the past (I still consider my days at Magnum as the most influential in my life and still have friends in the agency), but given the original format for membership within Magnum, they should reconsider other options. Maybe such treatment would be out of context of the book, although ! it would delve into the many problems of still photography in today's world.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By LEN KATZ on February 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book about people who are passionate about their craft. Miller takes us on a journey into one of the worlds premier photo agencies, showing the reader its inner workings, along with the in-fighting. It is an in depth story of some of the worlds best photographers (past and present)and the agency that represents them. It is a wonderful read, detailing the hows and whys of some of the most enduring images in history. This book is highly reccommended to anyone intrested in photojournalism.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kirill Tigaj on November 27, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is great, it contains such an amount of interesting material, includes photos of Capa and others photographers, and costs almost nothing. This is not just about Magnum Photo - it's about XX century. There also many reference for whom got interesting for further studing photography. This book - must have
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Anthony Amorteguy on August 25, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book gives great insight and details concerning Magnum Photos. I knew quite a lot of the facts about the organization, but to read it in detail and with interviews of the key players was fantastic. I now have a greater understanding and appreciation of the characters in the drama that was and is Magnum.
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Well written, good reading. this is paper-back novels for photographers. :-)

Full of funny quotes along the line of "at any time there are about 50 photographers wanting to leave Magnum, that is the entire agency". This book documents the drama and creative energy of having a agency run by creative individuals.

As a official worshiper of Magnum, I can say, this is required reading.

If you don't know what Magnum is, and could not care less, then honestly this book is going to be a complete waste of money... BUT if you are trying to understand how 50 creative photographers have managed to work together for this long, then this is one of the books you want to read.
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Format: Paperback
Excellent account of the Agency and it's many historic members; their strenghths, weaknesses, idosyncasies, and talent. Most of the best photo-journalists in the world wanted to become a Magnum photographer, but only a few were ever granted the opportunity. If you're interested in the history of some of the best photographic talent of the last 50 years, this is a must read.
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