Ransom Center Acquires ‘Rock Star’ Photo Collection

One of the world’s great photography collections has arrived at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, where UT and Austin soon will be able to see glossy prints of some of the most striking images taken in the 20th century.

The collection is the storied Magnum collection, which includes 180,000 prints taken by famous photographers like Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and 80 other top-flight journalists and artists.

The announcement, made today, is big news — the New York Times broke the story this morning, and other news organizations quickly followed. The Ransom Center also described the collection and its plans for it in in a statement.

The photos range from approximately the 1930s to the end of the century, depicting everything and everyone from the D-Day landings to Queen Elizabeth, from Ghandhi to the U.S. civil rights movement. 

Adding to the value of the images is that they are “press prints” that were circulated among magazines and other publications. On the backs of the photos are signatures and notations of how the images were used.

David Coleman, director of photography at the Ransom Center, says that ever since the collection arrived in December, it’s been a thrill to open the original Magnum boxes and page through the striking prints.

“You have a wonderful coalescence of the history that’s in the images and the history of the images themselves too,” Coleman says. “The prints reveal the workings of the most respected photo agency in the world. It’s the materiality that’s so wonderful about these photographs. Scans give you one part of the story, but they can’t give you access to the whole thing.”

The Ransom Center hopes to develop an exhibition using the collection within a couple years, Coleman says.

The Magnum photos, which are insured for more than $100 million, are owned by MSD Capital, the private investment firm for the family of computer giant Michael Dell, ’83. MSD reached an agreement with the Ransom Center to have them kept there.   

The Ransom Center has been on a tear in the past few decades, acquiring some of humanity’s greatest treasures. The Alcalde profiled director Tom Staley and his winning ways in a March/April ’09 feature.

The Magnum collection fits in nicely with other Ransom Center holdings, Coleman says. “We already had some imagery from many of these photographers, but this — this is the motherlode of work from many of the names in photography,” he says. “The names associated with Magnum are photography’s rock stars.”



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