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Magnum Photos archive cleared of ‘unsafe’ images

In an effort to address allegations that some pictures of minors constitutes abuse and exploitation, Magnum Photos has had its archival images featuring children ‘legally cleared’ by expert third-parties, with no content found to be unlawful.

Here’s a selection of images from David Alan Harvey’s now-deleted series on Bangkok Prostitutes, retrieved from Google. This series gained the attention that led to the archive review.In August last year photography blog, Fstoppers, and others began uncovering images in the Magnum photo archive showing what appeared to be identifiable children. One of the most ‘problematic’ pictures was by US photographer, David Alan Harvey, of a topless sex worker in Bangkok.

The image was tagged with keywords suggesting the woman was underage. A Magnum investigation found it was a tagging error, and Harvey claimed the women in the series were adult dancers, not sex workers or children.

Magnum subsequently flagged an archive review ‘in relation to child safeguarding’. In an update, Magnum highlights this has involved commissioning lawyer, Peter Glenser, to provide legal opinion of 476 images brought to the agency’s attention featuring children ; it joined the UK-based Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which specialises in removing online child sex abuse content; and having the IWF assess 1621 pictures showing children.

‘As a collective of photographers, we understand the serious responsibility that comes with the work we do and the power of the images that we create,’ said Magnum Photo president, Olivia Arthur, in the IWF press release. ‘Making work that documents difficult subjects in the world is an important pillar of freedom of expression, but we recognise this must be done in a responsible way that protects the people involved. This means going beyond what is simply legally required, and ensuring we are always upholding the high ethical standards expected of us.’

Trained IWF analysts didn’t find a single image breached the IWF ‘thresholds for action’. While Magnum appears to not have broken the law, the agency has apologised for its ‘mistakes’.

Here’s what Magnum has to say:
We recognise that we made mistakes and we are deeply sorry for these. In making sensitive work openly available on the internet we haven’t shown enough care for the vulnerable people in the images, and in failing to give the right context to images, we have in some instances misrepresented photographers’ work. Not only has this caused offence to members of the public, it may also have had implications for some of the people shown in the images.

We are determined to learn from this and put better protections in place. Whilst the images of children have been legally cleared by the Internet Watch Foundation, we are working hard to fully contextualise work, add appropriate warning information, and put the right levels of access restrictions in place.

We will also ensure that Magnum has better oversight in future of the partners who add keywords to our images. We accept full responsibility for this and are actively reviewing the best way to set up a system which ensures work is always accurately and appropriately represented.

Magnum is currently rolling out a program to address the legal and ethical questions relating to every image, caption and keyword in the archive. This will continue for another six months or so. So far the collective has performed an ‘eyes on’ review of 148,000 images in its archive, which consists of 893,000 image files. So far 3559 images have been ‘flagged as sensitive and set aside for further consideration’. This equates to almost 2.5 percent of all images reviewed.

Read more here.

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