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Cover for The Decisive Network

The Decisive Network

Magnum Photos and the Postwar Image Market

Nadya Bair


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Since its founding in 1947, the legendary Magnum Photos agency has been telling its own story about photographers who were witnesses to history and artists on the hunt for decisive moments. Based on unprecedented archival research, The Decisive Network unravels Magnum’s mythologies to offer a new history of what it meant to shoot, edit, and sell news images after World War II.
Nadya Bair shows that between the 1940s and 1960s, Magnum expanded the human-interest story to global dimensions while bringing the aesthetic of news pictures into new markets. Working with a vast range of editorial and corporate clients, Magnum made photojournalism integral to postwar visual culture. But its photographers could not have done this alone. By unpacking the collaborative nature of photojournalism, this book shows 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 changing market conditions led Magnum to consolidate its brand. In that moment, Magnum’s photojournalists became artists and their assignments oeuvres. 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.

Praise For The Decisive Network: Magnum Photos and the Postwar Image Market

"Ms. Bair’s book excels at revealing Magnum’s secret history as a supplier for companies eager to appropriate Magnum’s empathetic point of view."
— Wall Street Journal

"In this impressively researched study of the early decades of Magnum, Nadya Bair uncovers the complex interactions of artistic ambition and business acumen that somehow produced a kind of order out of chaos. . . . An important contribution to the growing reassessment of photographic history. "
— Inside Story

"Bair’s independent thinking ?. . . and the innovative premise used to map them is just the kind of thing photo history needs more of.?"
— Critical Inquiry

University of California Press, 9780520300354, 336pp.

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

About the Author

Nadya Bair is a Getty/ACLS Postdoctoral Fellow in the History of Art.