Magnum Photos: An insight into mid-century New York

Early Magnum: On & In New York combines classic 1950s images by Magnum members with archival pictures from its NYC office.

Magnum Photos has launched its 70th anniversary program in New York City in conjunction with this year's AIPAD fair, with an exhibition of photographs taken during the early years of the agency in the city between 1947 and 1960.

Early Magnum: On & In New York combines classic images taken in the 1950s by Magnum members such as Bruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt, Erich Hartmann and Dennis Stock along with archival pictures from the agency's New York office. This exhibition portrays the workings of the organisation and its community of enterprising members in dialogue with the city that has been Magnum Photos' US home and a source of inspiration since its founding in 1947.

Man smoking under the Brooklyn Bridge, New York, 1955Erich Hartmann/Magnum Photos

As the story goes, Magnum Photos was founded over a magnum of champagne at the Museum of Modern Art by Robert Capa, and took its name from that particularly generously sized bottle. Empty magnum bottles (see office photo, below) serve as a reminder of Capa's favourite drink.


After opening a bureau in both Paris and New York in 1947 (the New York office was first run by Rita Vandivert, wife of photographer William Vandivert), the agency's independence reshaped the relationship between magazines and photographers, allowing photographers to reclaim the copyright.

Wall Street, New York City, 1956Leonard Freed/Magnum Photos
Magnum Photos office, 64th Street. From left to right: Ellen Erwitt, Lucienne Erwitt, Elliott Erwitt, Olga Brodsky, Sheernah, (unknown). New York, 1953Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

Included in the exhibition are estate-stamped prints and signed contemporary prints of some of Magnum's best-known images of the city and its inhabitants, such as Davidson's intimate portraits of the youthful, self-possessed members of a Brooklyn gang, Stock's iconic image of James Dean in Times Square, Erwitt's image of his wife and first child, and Arnold's Harlem Fashion show. Prices range from £641 to £7,619 ($800 to $9,500)

Early Magnum: On & In New York is on show at The National Arts Club, New York until 29 April 2017.

Burt GlinnErich Hartmann/Magnum Photos
Model Charlotte Stribling aka "Fabulous" waits backstage at the Abyssinian Church. New York City, 1950Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos
New York City, 1953Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson, 5th Avenue, New YorkRene Burri/Magnum Photos
Sammy Davis Jr. looks out of a Manhattan window. New York, 1959Burt Glinn/Magnum Photos
Brooklyn Gang. New York City, 1959Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

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