Three months after announcing an inquiry into its archive, it emerged that Magnum Photos was still selling sexually explicit images of what appear to be children through third-party websites. An image of a half-naked child playing with their genitals was also available for purchase. Further images described as “juvenile prostitutes” were still for sale on the Magnum website itself until they were removed on Friday.
Magnum temporarily took its archive offline in August and a number of images by photographer David Alan Harvey were withdrawn. Shortly afterwards, Magnum’s president, Olivia Arthur, announced an internal review. Despite this, Harvey’s sexually explicit photographs — tagged “teenage girl – 13 to 18” — were this week still available for purchase through third-party websites that license the photographs from Magnum.
A number of images by Patrick Zachmann appear to have been removed from Magnum’s archive on Friday afternoon (November 6) after concerns were raised on Twitter.
Perhaps most problematic is a photograph by Zachmann that shows a young child (described by the metadata as 0-3 years old), drinking from a bottle of milk, naked from the waist down, and holding his penis. The image is accompanied by the title “FRANCE. Paris. Summer 2001” and is presented without further context. It was available to purchase without any restrictions until it was removed from the Magnum website on Friday November 6, but it remained available to purchase as of Monday November 9 through a third-party website.
Three images featured identifiable children photographed in 1993 during a police raid in Thailand on what is described in the caption as a “‘gay’ beach.” Several photographs describe the children — whose faces are visible — as “juvenile prostitutes.”
In the U.K., victims of sexual offenses must be kept anonymous in order to protect the victim from the potential of further trauma. It is now widely understood that children cannot be “prostitutes” but are instead victims of sexual exploitation and abuse.
Another of Zachmann’s photographs from Thailand shows identifiable girls that are described as “young prostitutes” in the image’s metadata, with the keywords “child employment” contained in the keywords.
When asked about the removal of images from its archive last week and the continued presence of problematic images on third-party websites, Magnum provided the following statement:
Magnum announced earlier this year that we were embarking on a re-examination of our past archives, with outside guidance.
Progress has already been made, but with almost one million images sitting across many different platforms and millions more tags amassed across our 73 year history, this was never going to be a quick process.
Everyone at Magnum remains committed to ensuring we carefully examine our archives to ensure we fully understand the implications of past work, both in terms of imagery and context.
Images and tags that have been found to be inappropriate have been removed, but there remains much work to be done. This is a journey with plenty of road ahead of us.
Magnum photographers are assisting by looking at their own archives and highlighting any problematic images. We are also grateful to others outside the organisation who have brought to our attention additional materials that the review has not yet addressed.
To be clear, Magnum is a rights-managed business and images are not licensed without the express permission of photographers and the company. We often refuse requests to license sensitive images and we always require them to be used responsibly in appropriate context as part of our usage agreement.
When asked previously, Magnum offered no comment on whether it had appointed the outside guidance mentioned in its statement on August 14. It also would not comment on whether it has been in contact with law enforcement.
In August, Magnum explained that while its inquiry into Harvey’s photographs was ongoing, the assumption that Harvey’s photographs might feature sexually exploited children was not correct. “It seems that at some point mis-tagging of these photos has led you to a mistaken conclusion that they represent something they do not,” Magnum stated in an email. The spokesperson for Magnum later clarified that “the review remains ongoing and Magnum has not reached a conclusion or made an assertion.”
Last month, in a separate issue relating to a historical accusation, Harvey was suspended by Magnum for one year following an investigation. A statement posted on the Magnum website explained that the investigation was carried out “by an independent investigator, Magnum’s board, with the assistance of outside legal counsel” and has “concluded that the behaviour represented a breach of its code of conduct and by-laws.”
Magnum has repeatedly refused to make its code of conduct public, stating that it is a confidential document.