Founded in 1947, Magnum was the first photo agency organised as a cooperative of freelancer photographers. This manner of organising provided its members with bargaining power to promote their copyrights, which were rarely granted to photographers by picture magazines of the time. Promoting professional values such as photographers’ independence, excellence, and integrity, Magnum doubled its membership during the first seven years of its existence. It also hired John Morris, a legendary figure in magazine photography and former picture editor of Life, to raise the quality of reportages produced in-house. But, after the tragic death of its founder Robert Capa in 1954, Magnum Photos with its two offices – in New York and in Paris – was at the edge of disintegration. By this time retaining copyrights by photographers was gradually becoming a norm in the field, and at the same time, there were no monetary incentives for commercially successful Magnum members to support the cooperative. Without Robert Capa’s charismatic leadership, there was no consensus among Magnum members on whether to continue this enterprise. Despite this droop, in 1955, John Morris began to actively advocate for expansion to the newspapers market, characterised by significantly lower quality of images and faster speed of operating. Such expansion required massive hiring and entailed risks of losing homogeneity of membership. Absence of hierarchy impeded effective and efficient decision-making: members of the cooperative were disoriented in this antagonistic situation, searching for a way to restore organisational cohesion and decide on the proposed expansion.

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Sergeeva, A. (2022). Interplay Between Organisational Culture and Strategy: The Case of Magnum Photos (1947-1996). RSM Case Development Centre. Retrieved from