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Gamma to Declare Bankruptcy

According to press reports the prestigious Paris-based photo agency Gamma, founded in 1966 by photographers such as Gilles Caron and Raymond Depardon, informed its employees yesterday that the agency will declare bankruptcy on July 30.

Gamma has featured an impressive roster of accomplished photojournalists over the years, including Caron, who disappeared in Cambodia in 1970 covering the war, Depardon, a photographer/filmmaker who has been with Magnum for many years, and others such as Jean Gaumy, William Karel, Catherine Leroy, Francoise Demulder, Michel Maiofiss, and Sebastiao Salgado. Jean-Luc Luyssen, Noel Quidu and Laurent Van der Stockt had been currently employed.

It paved the way for international news agencies such as Sipa and Sygma, both Paris-based, and to a lesser extent Contact, each covering news and features with peripatetic, multi-lingual photographers. Sometimes their photographers worked without an assignment based on the news judgment of the agency, trying to be in place before events would happen. The agency would then sell the resulting photographs to publications that needed them worldwide. It was rarely just a picture with one center of interest, but a photograph with multiple centers–like a juggler who always managed to keep at least three balls in the air.

I was picture editor of the New York Times Magazine during several years (1978-82) of the glory days of these agencies. In fact I had begun working in publishing just as the weekly Life magazine had folded several years earlier, thinking that I had missed out on photojournalism’s heyday–but this was better. It was a pleasure to get on the phone with one of the agency heads (Eliane Laffont, Jennifer Coley, Jocelyne Benzakin, Robert Pledge) and discuss world events–these agents, and many of their photographers, had a larger sense of the world than almost anyone else I knew. And their archives were a treasure.

Agencies like Gamma were more adventurous than many of the American ones both journalistically and photographically–they typically made pictures that were larger than their captions. With Gamma’s bankruptcy this era of the lively, quick-acting and quick-thinking international photojournalist has receded even more, hopefully to be reinvented soon in some other form.

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2 Comments

  1. Ed Thompson wrote:

    Good feature on the end of gamma and decline of photojournalism last night on sky news. On it a culture spokeswoman for the french government said that magazines and newspapers are in decline and it is cheaper to fill them with celebs or use existing photos, rather than educating people about current events. Can’t imagine the UK culture minister having anything to say about the state of photojournalism.

    Saturday, August 1, 2009 at 4:58 am | Permalink
  2. fredritchin wrote:

    In the US it’s even harder, since we have no culture minister. Am not sure though that it’s cheaper to put in pictures of celebs, considering what some cost. A good reportage can still be much cheaper–although it does not generate the same kind of titillation.

    Sunday, August 2, 2009 at 12:04 am | Permalink

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