© Werner Bischof, 1951, Sumo fighters, Tokyo

Although top photographers now enjoy high status and good money, they were once regarded as little better than any other button pushers — elevator girls, say — and were expected to run around, snapping whatever commissioning editors told them to.

This all changed when Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David Seymour set up the Magnum Photos cooperative in 1947. Magnum created the idea of the indispensable lensman, and greatly increased the creative freedom and fees that the best in the business could command.

A key figure in Magnum’s early days was the Swiss photographer Werner Bischof. Along with the Austrian Ernst Haas, Bischof was the first new Magnum member after the four founders, joining in 1949.

In 1951, Bischof’s “Life” magazine pictures from India of the Bihar famine marked him out as the right kind of socially concerned photographer and as someone prepared to cover Magnum’s Asian beat. These factors were important in the decision to send him to Japan. (read more)

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