The Construction of Photojournalism: Visual Style and Branding in the Magnum Photos Agency

Michelle Woodward

Michelle Woodward

This thesis defines the visual style of photographic representation that has been developed by the Magnum Photos agency, the most prestigious international agency for photojournalists. The parameters of this visual style are delineated through a detailed visual analysis of Magnum photographs as seen in their own publications. A classic Magnum style is shown to have emerged from particular historical conditions and personalities involved in the founding of the agency in 1947. Additionally, a new postmodernist visual mode that has emerged within Magnum since the early 1980s, alongside the classic style, is described and analyzed. The classic style and the new postmodernist mode are then discussed in the context of Magnum’s need to maintain a differentiated product as market conditions change over time. Magnum’s actual exploitation of particular markets as well as the agency’s discourse about markets are examined. While in recent years Magnum has promoted their postmodernist mode, after the events of September 11, 2001, Magnum shifted to emphasize their classic style in a book project documenting the attacks in New York city and the aftermath. This thesis contends that the classic Magnum style remains the definition of “good” photojournalism and thus has important implications for the way viewers perceive events that are mediated through photojournalism.

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Michelle Woodward

Michelle Woodward

Photo Editor, Middle East Report magazine