My friend Jimmy Fox, who died at the age of 86, had a long and influential career at Magnum Photos. He worked as an archivist, editor and curator with the greatest photographers of the 20th century, and his exceptional “eye” was recognized by the photojournalist Cornell Capa (brother of the war photographer Robert Capa) who asked him in 1966 to create a professional photo library for Magnum in New York, the beginning of a distinguished association with the collective of photographers that has lasted for more than 30 years.
The youngest of five children, Jimmy was born in Dikkebus, Belgium, to Jack Fox, a former British soldier who remained in the country after the end of the First World War and was a gardener at the Imperial War Graves Commission, and his wife, Adrienne (née Dumortier). They were part of a proud mixed Belgian-British community based in Ypres, where Jimmy attended British Memorial School. Evacuating the family by boat after the German invasion in May 1940, when Jimmy was four years old, was a traumatic experience that marked him for the rest of his life.
The family lived in Burnt Oak, north London, throughout the war, but Jimmy returned to Belgium with his parents in 1946 and attended a French-speaking secondary school in Ypres. After Adrienne’s death, Jack returned to Britain in 1952 with the now 17-year-old Jimmy.
Fluent in English, French and Flemish, Jimmy was posted to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (Shape) in Paris in 1953 as part of National Service with the RAF. This is where his passion for photography was awakened. In 1956, he joined the NATO press service, where he established working relationships with photojournalists and agencies that would help shape his future career.
After five years in New York at Magnum, he moved to Paris in 1971 as photo editor for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, then as founding collaborator of the Sygma photo agency. But he returned to Magnum in 1976 as editor-in-chief in Paris, becoming editor-in-chief the following year.
The work was intense, with tight deadlines. Jimmy oversaw the extraction of films from war zones and supported photographers in the field, then chose the right one from hundreds of incoming images. He inspired admiration for his understanding of what makes a beautiful picture and his kindness. Above all, photographers entrust their work to him.
Jimmy was also an accomplished photographer. This hobby remained a private hobby until the 1970s, when Cornell Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson encouraged him to exhibit his pictures of the boxing world – a lifelong interest. Exhibitions in Paris and Madrid followed and a volume of his work, Ringside, appeared in 2001.
After retiring from Magnum in 2000, Jimmy spent much of his time tracking down former members of the British community in Ypres and recording their testimonies. His dogged research resulted in a BBC documentary, The Children Who Fought Hitler, and a book of the same title co-written with me, both released in 2009.
Jimmy’s four older sisters predeceased him. He is survived by a nephew and two nieces.