This summer has been my final semester in the graduate internship in Public Services at the Harry Ransom Center, a program that has provided me with access to one of the world’s best collections and has given me the opportunity to think about my own research and career in new and dynamic ways. In the two-year program, graduate interns spend the first year answering research queries for remote patrons, teaching visitors how to access the collections, and preparing presentations on collection highlights to visiting guests and classes. In our second year, we are encouraged to develop an extended project that connects our own research to the needs of the Ransom Center. My summer has been spent digging through the Ransom Center’s Magnum Photos Photography Collection, working closely with Steve Hoelscher to develop six short sections of the forthcoming book on the print archive.
The Magnum press print library evolved as a very practical tool for the distributing of photographs to potential clients. There are more than 1300 boxes in the collection, some labeled to indicate the photographer and year, others designated as images of various political figures and celebrities, including Richard Nixon, Ernest Hemingway, and Miles Davis. There are also a few boxes labeled a little less intuitively with titles such as, “Historical Emotions 1970s,” “Monkey Research,” “Nifty Pics” or “Neon Lights.” The Ransom Center has retained the original organizational structure of the press print archive and one of the more fascinating elements of my work requires me to trace Magnum’s distribution process back through the collection as I search for a single photograph relevant to many subjects that may have been placed into several different boxes. For example, an image of kids playing in ruins taken by David Seymour as part of his series on children in post-war Europe might appear as a press print in a box marked “Children of the World,” in another marked “International,” and in a third marked “War.” The backside, or verso, of many of the prints in these boxes have been stamped, annotated, stickered, dog-eared, and captioned by editors and Magnum librarians as they were distributed to news agencies, picture magazines, galleries, and book editors.
It is the reverse sides of the images that I’ve been using to track down the publication history—the subsequent life of the image—for sections of the forthcoming book and exhibition. For example, this iconic photograph (see above) taken by Robert Capa is one of several photographs taken during the second wave of American troops to invade Omaha beach on D-Day June 6th, 1944. On the verso of the print that we have at the Ransom Center are indications that, in addition to its publication in Life Magazine, the photograph was also distributed to Popular Photography and slated for use in Robert Capa’s book Images of War. Tracing Magnum photographs back through their publication history and following Magnum librarians back through their organizational and archival decisions has made for an occasionally maddening but also incredibly fun summer project.