Visualizing Data from The Money Chair

The Money Chair

I loved to tip-toe into my grandfather’s den and sit in the world’s most opulent seat- The Money Chair. Overstuffed and a deep green, this chair earned such an esteemed nickname not because of its hue but because of the earthy smell of leather. 

“You smell that? That’s the smell of money!” my grandfather told me when he first brought it home, his retirement present to himself. 

I would sit in The Money Chair and stare at his endless shelves of magazines that stood taller than me.


National Geographic.


Issue after issue lined up neatly. My small hand would pluck a magazine at random off the shelf and marvel at the photos as I slowly leafed through the pages. The earliest issues my grandfather kept were marked with dirty thumbprints, dog-eared corners, and pages bent from being curled up for storage in the back-pocket of machinist’s dungarees. A small ephemeral archive of my grandfather’s life. The later issues slowly became much tidier and must have featured photos of world events, the Cold War, Civil Rights struggles, international conflicts, and photos that defined an era.

But I saw none of that- my mind was too dazzled with the animals, the people, the cars, the faraway lands.

New visuals, old habits

The Decisive Network briefly brought me back to that childhood wonder in The Money Chair. The stunning interactive site is a visualization of the networks of the cooperative photo agency, Magnum. This visualization is the project site for a historical monograph by Nadya Blair, The Decisive Network: Magnum Photos and the Postwar Image Market. The narrative focus of the book winds through the project site, giving it structure and purpose that can sometimes be lacking in other similar projects.

 The interconnectedness of the photographers and staff, their agents and clients, and the photo essays that made the agency a household name are presented with compelling, but not overwhelming, network visualizations. Take, for example, the timeline that visualizes editor Inge Bondi’s connection to the network of Magnum magazines. The nodes of Bondi’s network include her and the magazines she edited, and the edges are represented by colored lines. Because Bondi’s magazine network is presented as a timeline, it intuitively reads as unidirectional with the breaks, or shifts, in the network clearly communicated. Now, this might not technically be a network visualization, but I think it could be used as such. What is even more delightful is the multimedia aspect of this. The timeline is annotated with memos that inform that reader about shifts in Bondi’s relationship to magazines. Additionally, the site’s use of maps is structured similarly. It presents meaningful network analysis with visualizations that are known and familiar to many people


The color-coding, minimalist but bold design choices, and people-first approach to all aspects of this visualization is a master-class. The Decisive Network uses just enough tech to present history in a compelling new light while still maintaining the spirit and agency of the historical actors and (in my opinion) the visual impact of the analog materials. Further, the visualization encourages its readers to be inquiring. When digitally flipping through the “Stories” visualization, questions written for a general audience invited engagement with the photos.

For the “Robert Capa in the USSR” story, the following is posed: 

Questions to consider

  • Are these photographs news pictures, travel photos, or human interest photos?
  • How does the presentation and use of Capa’s photographs in the New York Herald Tribune, a daily newspaper, differ from the magazines that published his work?
  • What are the effects of the picture spreads in color vs. black-and-white?
  • Do any layout strategies or picture editing techniques (from selection to cropping) seem universal?
  • To what extent is Steinbeck presented as an important collaborator? In which publications? What is the relationship between his text and Capa’s pictures?

These are questions that both kid me sitting in The Money Chair and adult me seated in my officer can understand and engage with meaningfully. 

My one critique of the site is the inability to “flip” back-and-forth smoothly through the site. Beyond improving the navigation and utility, that would truly complete the recreation of reading magazines in my grandfather’s den. Because, let’s face it, sitting in a small graduate office is nowhere near as glamorous as being in The Money Chair, so anything to recreate that is very welcomed.

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