Flagging the #tags

It’s not just the photos available for viewing and sale by the Magnum Agency but how they are tagged:

Magnum Photos, one of the world’s most celebrated photographic agencies, is to re-examine the content of its archive of more than 1 million images after accusations it made available photographs that critics said may show the sexual exploitation of minors. …

“Recently, we have been alerted to historical material in our archive that is problematic in terms of imagery, captioning or keywording and we are taking this extremely seriously,” she said.

As of Friday the Magnum archive was offline. …

While photo essays documenting sex workers and sexual exploitation have a long history in journalistic reportage photography, Magnum admitted it had been caught out, both by the presence of some images in its archive, and by the way they had been labelled in search terms accessible to the wider public. …

Several of the photographs, which were sexually explicit, were tagged in the archive with the search term “teenage girl – 13 to 18 years”.

“Some of the search terms are problematic like referring to a 13 to 18-year-old girl,” the spokesman said, adding that it was not clear who had supplied the tags for the pictures or whether the photographs in question depicted what was described in the tags. He said some “tags and images were not appropriate” for the agency’s publicly searchable archive. …

“I think the whole photographic industry, across the board, are questioning their assumptions, not least the power structures and inherent way that photography has predominantly reflected male gaze, which leaves it very open to very strong arguments of exploitation.”

Librarians and curators – really anyone involved in the licensing of archive photography – have to revisit and reassess their archives continually. I’m confident Magnum will meet this requirement in an enlightened fashion; perhaps I am swayed by the agency’s great history. Some photographers are not sanguine, though.

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