Photographer David Alan Harvey has announced his resignation from Magnum Photos, the renowned international photo agency, following an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment. The agency and Harvey have been mired in controversy for months since accusations that he photographed sexually exploited children first surfaced online, opening the floodgates for women to share separate stories of abuse at the hands of the artist.
In August 2020, photographer Andy Day published an article on the website Fstoppers denouncing Magnum Photos’s sale of images featuring children exploited by the commercial sex industry, citing a body of work by Harvey titled THAILAND. Bangkok. 1989. Thai prostitutes. Featured in that series is an image of a topless young girl that appears to be shot by the photographer from a bed. The keyword tags on Magnum’s website, Day said, included “Prostitute,” “Breast,” and “Teenage girl – 13 to 18 years.”
The agency pledged to conduct an internal review of its archive and took its website offline temporarily, eventually making the site available again without Harvey’s Bangkok series. Later that month, Harvey was suspended over a separate allegation of sexual harassment by a female colleague.
By December 2020, eleven women had come forward with claims of harassment and abusive behavior by Harvey, including lewd comments and unwanted sexual advances and exposure reported to Magnum as early as 2009, published in a revelatory feature by the Columbia Journalism Review. (CEO Caitlin Hughes denied that Magnum management had received a complaint about Harvey’s behavior before August 2020.)
The article prompted over 600 photography students and professionals to sign an open letter demanding greater accountability from the agency. In January 2021, Magnum enlisted the London-based firm Hodge Jones & Allen to conduct an independent investigation into Harvey. The inquiry was led by senior lawyer Susie Al-Qassab, who concluded that Harvey’s behavior constituted “a breach of Magnum’s Code of Conduct.”
“In response to this breach, the Magnum Board decided to remove David Alan Harvey from the organisation, prior to a final vote on the decision by Magnum’s members,” a Magnum spokesperson told Hyperallergic. David Alan Harvey subsequently decided to step down from the agency, announcing his resignation in a post on his Twitter this Wednesday, March 17.
“Magnum is grateful to those people who cooperated with the investigation and is sorry to the victims and survivors,” the Magnum spokesperson continued. “We are committed to working in an open and accountable way that builds trust and confidence with those in our industry and with the people we collaborate with as part of our work.”
Magnum’s Code of Conduct for members was issued in 2018. Since then, it has appointed two women, Olivia Arthur and Hughes, to top leadership positions — both of whom have apologized for not making the text public until January 2021, when the investigation into Harvey began, despite repeated calls for Magnum to do so.
Some Magnum members felt that coverage of the Harvey scandal flattened the views of individual photographers associated with the agency and failed to account for their perspectives.
“In the chain of press and twitter communications, many people were left with the impression that nobody in Magnum Photos cares about the feelings of the women who have been abused and who courageously shared their stories,” wrote photographer and Magnum member Carolyn Drake in a statement on her Instagram. “For what it’s worth: I care, I give a shit, and I know many others in Magnum who do also.”