Magnum Print Collection Sold to Michael Dell

One of the most famous print collection in the world was this week acquired by the private investment arm of computer man Michael Dell. All told, over 185,000 photographs from the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Elliott Erwitt, Ernst Haas and Eve Arnold were unloaded. I was shocked. I couldn’t find details of the actual sales price, only estimates which indicated the sale was valued at around $30 million, and insured for $100 million.

There’s a third party involved too–thankfully, the well reputed Ransom Center–has been tasked with scanning and cataloging the work. From all I can tell, they have the chops to do things right. They’re taking care of the images will scan every print, front and back, which will inevitably lead to uncovering new insights and new material.

The good news: during the 5 years that the Ransom House will be doing its work, the collection will be able to be studied, with more historical work of epic quality and proportions being uncovered and shared.

The other good(-ish?) news: we think our friends at Magnum (respect) just sold the print collection off and not the rights to reproduce those images. Lots of pluses for our community there–if that indeed is the case–but I haven’t heard the definitive word. I know that the photographers keep their copyright, but I haven’t heard if the scans derived from those prints (the MEAT of the archive) are license-able by Dell’s group after the Ransom House finishes their handy work. Could be great to have some of the images in the public domain for educational reasons, could be a shared rev model with Magnum photographers, but unsure how the Dell machine might pull this one off.

The bad news: if you ask me…[click the ‘continue reading’ link below]

…If you ask me, there doesn’t seem to be any bad news. As of now. Something smells a little odd, but I can’t find reasons to sink this ship. I think kudos might go out to Magnum. I’m guessing that Magnum sewed this up pretty tightly, and my fingers are crossed that, as much as I’m not crazy about Mr. Dell’s computers, that there is a “historical record/buying art for its value as investment” thought from his investment group.

I’m an optimist and have a solid belief/high hopes the collection is celebrated and tastefully popularized, and doesn’t get churned into some ugly machine. Gotta believe…

Only time–and some more details from the deal–will tell.

Photo: Burt Glinn.

(Via Wired.)

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17 Responses to Magnum Print Collection Sold to Michael Dell

  1. Omless Wanderer February 13, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

    Wishful thinking would point to a museum… At the very least, introducing the catalog to artstor would be an amazing asset to the community at large!

  2. Craig February 13, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    From another report I saw online, it seems that Dell has only bought a collection of prints, not negatives, copyrights, or anything else. If that's true, then I don't see any reason to be worried about this.

  3. Anonymous February 13, 2010 at 1:24 pm #

    Details here:;=aUqS3HtFt6OU&pos;=9

    "Magnum retains the copyright and licensing rights to all of the images."

  4. Kurtis February 13, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    Wonder what the purpose of buying the collection is if Magnum retains copyright and licensing rights to all images…? Are they going to put together a huge gallery, or lots of galleries, and rotate the work between them? Surely, profit comes into play somehow.

  5. Anonymous February 13, 2010 at 3:39 pm #

    Wired story here.

  6. Edmund Rek February 14, 2010 at 5:50 am #

    I wonder if Dell will become a Magnum sponser?

  7. Scott MacKenzie February 14, 2010 at 7:16 am #

    Trust Your Nose with this one.
    With my experiences, I wouldn't trust that man with a sandwich, and I'm about the most loyal person I know.

  8. Nick February 14, 2010 at 5:23 pm #

    I think its pretty clear why he did it. Arguably it is the largest and most definitive photo print collection available at any price. There is some important things that make it unique too. All the prints are from originals, and have a perfect pedigree. There aren't any duplicate slides or digital reproductions. UT's Ransom Center already has The First Photograph in its collection. The RC has also been entrusted with other large collections of material that hasn't been properly catalogued or made available to the public yet (Woodward and Bernstein archive on Watergate.) I'm looking forward to seeing it when they start putting some of the photos on display.

  9. Ken Kaminesky February 14, 2010 at 7:49 pm #

    While on one hand we can and should be happy that this very valuable collection of historical images will be preserved, on the other we need to remain a bit skeptical about Mr. Dell's motives.

    Years from now all these photos will hopefully be in the public domain for all to enjoy and learn from. However until that day arrives let's hope that the photographers who are the creators of these images will retain their copyright and that no attempt at claiming copyright on the scans will be accepted.

  10. Scott Hargis February 15, 2010 at 10:04 am #

    Maybe I'm naive, but if you don't have reproduction rights, what's the point of scanning the prints?

  11. sundeee February 15, 2010 at 12:39 pm #

    The article said, "MSD Capital will lend the photos for five years to the Harry Ransom Center." Why is Dell "lending?" Simply for the research? What I am curious about is Dell's and Ransom's relationship. Is this partnership solely because they are both located in Austin? And after that 5 years of "lending" does Dell get the images back? And then what about the research?

    The article continues on and then says, "The deal was initiated by Magnum director Mark Lubell." I am confused about the correlation between these three entities. I want to know what the conversations were before the deal was made.

  12. amy February 20, 2010 at 3:35 am #

    Here's hoping we get to see some seriously awesome photos in the next few years…

  13. Anonymous February 21, 2010 at 7:27 am #

    Leave it to photographers who constantly whine about lack of revenue stream for their work to look a gift horse in the mouth. Alternatively, hope for the best, and realize that a) regardless of potential motives, a massive income stream has occurred into the photog world and b)work that likely wouldn't have been substantively available might be.

  14. Ash February 24, 2010 at 12:34 pm #

    As a past resident of Austin and UT alum, I can vouch for the Harry Ransom Center. It is a top shelf facility, the envy of many an ivy league school for its collection. Whatever the motives of Dell, the photos will be in very good hands at the HRC.

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