Since its founding in 1947, the legendary Magnum Photos agency has been telling its own story: its photographers were witnesses to history and artists on the hunt for decisive moments, and their pictures were humanist documents of the postwar world. Based in unprecedented archival research, The Decisive Network challenges this mythology to offer a new history of what it meant to shoot, edit, and sell news images after World War II.
By unpacking the collaborative nature of photojournalism, Nadya Bair focuses on how picture editors, sales agents, spouses, and publishers helped Magnum photographers succeed in their assignments and achieve fame. Bair concludes in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when, amidst the decline of magazine publishing and the rise of an art market for photography, Magnum turned to photo books and exhibitions to manage its growing picture archives and consolidate its brand. In that moment, Magnum’s photojournalists became artists and their assignments turned into oeuvres. Such ideas were necessary publicity, and they also managed to shape discussions about photography for decades.
Bridging art history, media studies, cultural history, and the history of communication, The Decisive Network transforms our understanding of the photographic profession and the global circulation of images in the predigital world.