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Saturday, 11 July 2009


Tough call--finders keepers--if the fools did throw them in the bin without destroying them.

"He was a co-founder of the Magnum agency in Paris in 1947 with, amongst others, Robert Capa, David Seymour and William Vandivert."

First time I've seen William "Bill" Vandivert's name associated with Magnum--most of the time they forget to list him--I was his assistant in the early '60s--He was extra cool and had some great stories to tell. His wife Rita was also involved and worked for LIFE at the time.

Just to pin down more information on the issue of provenance, would the museum have stamped the back of the prints, or placed some other kind of identification on them? I assume a curator would not handle a one of a kind oil painting in this fashion, but are photographs handled in this fashion? Or would they have been stored in labeled envelopes?


"(I'll trust Martine Franck, Cartier-Bresson's widow, who recognizes the prints as having come from the archive.)"

55 year-old prints? I suspect the madame is recognizing dollar signs, not prints. I'd be amazed if my wife could pick out one of my prints if it were shown to her with another, and that's giving her a 50/50 chance...

I agree with Carl. Finders keepers.

"Finders keepers" doesn't mitigate the museum's responsibility. If they were supposed to destroy the prints, then putting them in the trash where a "finder" could find them is negligent.

Martine Franck is a Magnum photographer herself. The prints came from a high-profile show that she would remember, and as I understand it, some of the pictures were only printed for that show and would have been unique to the archive. Furthermore, she and Henri might well have gone over the roster of the show prints together in 2001, when the first suspicious print showed up on the market. I have little doubt that she would legitimately know if a suspicious print coming up for sale was from the disputed archive or not.

In any event, Madame is not seeing dollar signs, because she doesn't benefit from any sale of the prints whether they were filched or not. The issue for her is Henri's legacy and having good-quality prints in the marketplace that fairly represent his work.


Yes. If the prints were in fact from the museum, then the museum acted irresponsibly.

No offense meant to Martine Franck. The point I was trying to make about the dollar signs is that a new supply of vintage prints would decrease the value of the existing supply through legitimate channels.

Thank you MIke for the addendum re: 'Madame' and for the story in general

The museum is at fault if they did chuck them in the bin. Bottom line in the chain of command is if you want some thing done, it's best to do it yourself. I just shredded thousands of negatives after scanning the best, putting them in the land fill intact may have just put them in some one else's hands. I know I used to dump and dumpster dive myself.

I have a friend who has worked at a major European and a middle to minor US art museum. She told me once that there is a very strict process that is generally required when a work is de-acquisitioned (sp?) by destruction (and that this happens more often than one might realise apparently).

The actual destruction needs to be documented (filmed I think from memory) and often requires the presence of several people. The thing I most rember is that they did it wearing white cotton gloves so as not to damage the work. Must keep up archival standards .....

Admittedly she was doing this in the last 10-15 or so years, so after this no doubt happened, but still ...... 1991 is not that long ago.

Tangentially, I also recall a story about people trawling through Sugimoto's rubish looking for discarded prints. I believe he punched holes in them and tore them but even this didn't seem to slow them down.

Dave wrote: "I'd be amazed if my wife could pick out one of my prints if it were shown to her with another, and that's giving her a 50/50 chance..."

According to Agnes Sire, director of the HCB Foundation, display panels of the 1955 Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition were photographed.

In a letter dated 18 January 18, 2002 to Claude Allemand-Cosneau, HCB wrote that prints of the 1955 exhibition had a specific print size used for that exhibition only and that some images were also unique to that exhibition, never to be reprinted again.

I should also mention that Martine Franck, is also president of the board of directors of the HCB Foundation.


In the cited article from Le Monde (07/08/2009), Cartier-Bresson notes
three additional points tending to support his interpretation of what
happened. In translation, (somewhat freely translated, to both
accurately retain the sense of the French, and to achieve felicity in
English, with my hopefully clarifying interpolations in brackets), the
relevant passage goes:


In a letter to Claude Allemand-Cosneau, dated January 18, 2002, Henri
Cartier-Bresson adds three other factors that support his position:
some of the photos were never printed except for the 1955 exhibition;
the dimensions of the prints are specific to that
exhibition and are known; some of the prints, after their
destruction, were given to a restorer, who was instructed to separate
them from their mountings, undoubtedly so that they could be sold.


Minor aside to indicate indifference to potential criticism: I reject
the pedantic "hopefully" restriction (as well as that on "singular

Burton Randol

If Kafka had his way, all of his work would have been destroyed and most of it unpublished. My feeling is that if an artist wants to destroy their work, they should do it themselves. Once it's out of the artist's hands it takes on a life of it's own. This is of course separate from the issue of copyright and publication.

On the other hand I used to know some people who "moved" Sol Lewit wall drawings and Dan Flavin sculptures, which pretty much consisted of destroying them at one location and recreating them at another.

I just shredded thousands of negatives after scanning the best

That's crazy!

Hugh Crawford: This is different. Kafka wanted his work destroyed because he (incorrectly) thought it was worthless, and his friend Max Brod knew otherwise and failed to burn them as instructed. Cartier-Bresson wanted these prints destroyed because they were good, but became damaged (imagine reading a copy of The Metamorphosis, or worse, Kafka's short stories and little vignettes, with random words and passages cut out with scissors) and no longer represented the work properly, whereas other places it is, so their destruction would've been no permanent loss to the world. Apparently there are a few one-off prints, but if he only showed them once in 1955, he couldn't have been too warm on them, and I don't think Cartier-Bresson was nearly as angsty and harsh about the quality of his work as Kafka was. Plus there's always the negatives.

And of course the motivation in this case clearly isn't to let the world see, enjoy, and be edified by the genius of these works, or to vindicate a friend's life's work; it's to sell them for top dollar to private collectors where they'll never been seen again by the general public, only perhaps other wealthy buyers.

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