A video about the Magnum Print Collection.

The Magnum Photo Collection from kirk tuck and will van overbeek on Vimeo.
An interview with Harry Ransom Center curator of photography , David Coleman, about the Magnum Photo Collection which the Harry Ransom Center will be working with for the next five years. David talks about the contents and significance of this collection which includes some of the most important journalistic photographs of the twentieth century.

Imagine standing next to curator, David Coleman, on the quiet fifth floor of the Humanities Research Center, as he carefully opens an old Ilford photo paper box and starts to leaf thru a whole sheaf of vintage Henri Cartier Bresson work prints.  We turn one over and see the penciled signature and the appended, typewritten caption on the back.........

Let's rewind for a second.  A little history.  In the 1940's thru the 1970's most photojournalists  shot their assignments on black and white film and the medium of delivery to clients (mostly magazines and newspapers) was a black and white print.  The prints were intended to be returned to the photographer or the agency after their use.  Over the years the world's preeminent photo agency, Magnum, stockpiled nearly 200,000 work prints by the greatest names in documentary photography.  Now, in an age where most intellectual properties are digitized for delivery, they no longer required these prints to do their business.  What to do with two 18 wheeled tracker trailer trucks full of the 20th century's most important prints?

The answer came from Michael Dell.  He purchased the collection and is loaning the entire inventory to the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin for the next five years.  Students and academics will be able to study all aspects of the prints.  I'm anticipating some really great shows of the work at the Center.

That's the background.  How do I fit in?  I got a call from brilliant advertising photographer and sometime video shooting partner, Will van Overbeek, who asked if I would help him shoot a video about the new collection for online magazine, Glasstire.  When I heard the details of the project I was in. (I would have been in anyway for another chance to work with Will..).

We hauled our usual assortment of gear over to the Humanities Research Center and found a fun location amidst stacks of portfolio boxes with labels like, "Henri Cartier Bresson: China",  "Joseph Koudelka", "Yugoslavia", "Gill Peress".  We interviewed David Coleman, the curator, in the middle of this rich treasure trove of images.

I was amazed to see dozens of new prints from masters whose work I thought I knew well.  Many had never been presented to the public before.  It was a rare privilege.

Will and I shared directing and editing duties.  We used his Canon 5D mk2 for capture.  

Will is no stranger to the Humanities Research Center's photo department.  His 2008 show of Barton Springs is in their permanent collection.  

If you are in Austin the HRC is a must visit.  The first two exhibits when you walk in the front door are the Gutenberg Bible and the first photograph.  Amazing.


petebrook said...


Thanks so much for this little gem. I wrote a piece for Wired about the acquisition and David was very accommodating with his time. Nice guy. Great soundbites.

I do still wonder what happens after 5 years though, don't you?

Here's my piece: http://www.wired.com/rawfile/2010/02/magnum-archive-sale/all/1

Best, Pete Brook

Anonymous said...

Let's see: Lunch with Elliott Erwitt, an afternoon with boxes of never before seen Henri Cartier Bresson prints, making videos with famous photographers, writing books, swimming. Can anyone say "charmed life"?

Dennis Elam said...


Is there any reason in particular to use an expensive Canon DSLR to do this video or just the novelty of using it rather than a camcorder with an external mike jack? Is the larger sensor an advantage over a prosumer camcorder, I am no expert on the latter?

Dennis Elam

kirk tuck said...

Doug, there are two reasons: One is the very limited depth of field you can achieve. Can't do it on the tiny sensors in consumer video cameras. Second, the very low noise in the sensor at higher ISO's means a much cleaner file to work with. That said there's no reason we couldn't do these with an Olympus EP2 for less than half the price.