Magnum Photos, the cooperative agency, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this month with dozens of exhibitions, talks, and other events — and with a $12,500 book, Verso Limited Editions's first release, "Magnum Founders, In Celebration of Sixty Years."
The book, which was unveiled earlier this week at a party at the photography collector Henry Buhl's spacious SoHo loft, is being released in a limited edition of 75. It includes photographs by Magnum's four founders, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger, and David "Chim" Seymour — 12 bound platinum prints and one unbound print, suitable for framing. It is the only time Cartier-Bresson's estate has approved new prints of the photographer's work since his death in 2004.
Tomorrow, Magnum's 60 photographers from around the world will converge in New York City for their annual meeting, at which they will vote on whether to admit new members. After the meeting, which the photographer Martin Parr described as always "very passionate," the photographers will have a Champagne toast at the Museum of Modern Art, where Capa, Cartier-Bresson, and Seymour formally decided to launch the agency over a lunch in 1947.
At the time, Magnum's managing director, Mark Lubell, explained, magazines like Life and Look would send photographers out for hire and then control the rights to their images. The founders realized that owning the rights to their images "would give them a lot more leverage in the type of stories they would shoot," Mr. Lubell said. "They would not just be dropping in somewhere and shooting for a few days," but instead doing the kind of in-depth photojournalism that they were interested in.
The images in "Magnum Founders" reflect that seriousness of purpose. There is Capa's famous "The Falling Soldier," Rodger's image of a young boy on the streets of London during the Blitz, and the shattering 1948 photograph by Seymour, captioned: "An orphaned girl, Tereska, traumatized by her experiences in the German concentration camps, makes a troubled attempt to draw a picture of her home."
Not all the images are depressing: On the lighter side are Seymour's charming 1955 image of Bernhard Berenson in the Borghese Gallery, and the loose print of Capa's 1951 photograph of Picasso on the beach, holding an umbrella over his wife, Françoise Gilot.
The president of Verso Limited Editions, Glen Serbin, also publishes a number of trade magazines for photographers and illustrators, but at this stage of his life, he said, he felt he wanted to do a project in which he would make no compromises, and do it "without really looking at cost." He decided he would publish one photography book a year. (The next will be photographs of Central Park by Bruce Davidson.)
"Nothing was spared" on the Magnum book, Mr. Serbin said. Platinum printing is an early hand-printing method favored by photographers like Alfred Stieglitz. Because the emulsion actually sinks into the paper, a platinum print has a softness and depth that a silver gelatin print does not. The photography dealer Howard Greenberg, who will exhibit the book at his gallery in the Fuller Building starting Friday and will sell it when it becomes available in September, said he could imagine some people objecting to using platinum prints, which lend a certain sensuality, for documentary photographs.
In platinum prints, he said, "The paper becomes very important and tends to add a layer to the image that's not about the photograph itself. Some people might feel that's irrelevant in a documentary photograph. On the other hand, though, beautiful is beautiful."
Stan Klimek, who did the prints, said that one reason for using the platinum process is that it's the most archival and stable of all the black and white printing processes.
The rest of the book was done with a similar level of old-fashioned craftsmanship. The text is letterpress printed (the old-fashioned process in which the metal letters are placed individually), and the book is hand-bound. On Monday evening at Mr. Buhl's loft, a staff member of Verso Limited Editions wore gloves to turn the pages of the book, while the book's designer, David Skolkin, teased her by pretending to spill his glass of white wine.
The first copies of the book will be available in September. Books purchased during the "pre-publication period" (i.e., before February 2008) will include a second loose print, of a photograph by Rodger of a Masai boy participating in a circumcision ceremony, and will be priced at $12,500. As the number of available books dwindles, the price will increase.
Mr. Greenberg said that the current interest in photography books follows the publication of several histories of the photobook, include Andrew Roth's "The Book of 101 Books: The Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century," and Mr. Parr's two-volume "The Photobook: A History."
"Suddenly, book collecting has gone gaga," Mr. Greenberg said, "and the value of books is skyrocketing. And I believe that's a good thing, because the book is a great vehicle for photographs."