Jimmy Fox obituary

Other lives: Editor-in-chief of Magnum Photos’ Paris office who devoted his retirement to researching the history of a British community in Ypres

My friend Jimmy Fox, who has died aged 86, had a long and influential career with Magnum Photos. He worked as an archivist, editor and curator with some of the 20th century’s greatest photographers, and his exceptional “eye” was recognised by the photo-journalist Cornell Capa (brother of the war photographer Robert Capa), who in 1966 asked him to create a professional photo library for Magnum in New York, the start of a distinguished association with the photographers’ collective lasting more than 30 years.

The youngest of five, Jimmy was born in Dikkebus, Belgium, to Jack Fox, a former British soldier who had stayed in the country after the end of the first world war, and was a gardener with the Imperial War Graves Commission, and his wife, Adrienne (nee Dumortier). They were part of a proud mixed Belgian-British community based in Ypres, where Jimmy attended the British Memorial school. The family’s evacuation by boat following the German invasion in May 1940, when Jimmy was four, was a traumatic experience that stayed with him for 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 Jimmy, now 17.

Fluent in English, French and Flemish, Jimmy was posted to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe (Shape) in Paris in 1953 as part of national service with the RAF. There his passion for photography was fired. In 1956 he joined Nato’s press service, where he established working relationships with photojournalists and agencies that would help shape his future career.

After five years in New York with Magnum he moved to Paris in 1971 as photo editor for Encyclopaedia Britannica, then as a founder-staffer with the photo agency Sygma. But he returned to Magnum in 1976 as senior editor in Paris, becoming editor-in-chief the following year.

The job was intense, with punishing deadlines. Jimmy oversaw the extraction of film from war zones and supported photographers in the field, then picked out the right one among hundreds of incoming images. He inspired admiration for his understanding of what makes a great picture, and his kindness. Above all, photographers trusted him with their work.

Jimmy was also an accomplished photographer. This remained a private hobby until the 1970s, when Cornell Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson encouraged him to exhibit his photos of the world of boxing – a lifelong interest. Exhibitions in Paris and Madrid followed and a volume of his work, Ringside, appeared in 2001.

After retirement from Magnum in 2000, Jimmy devoted much of his time to tracking down former members of the British community in Ypres and recording their testimony. His tenacious research resulted in a BBC documentary, The Children Who Fought Hitler, and a book of the same title co-authored with me, both of which appeared in 2009.

Jimmy’s four elder sisters predeceased him. He is survived by a nephew and two nieces.

Sue Elliott

The GuardianTramp

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