I’m always curious about the uses of photography outside of art and journalism. Whether it’s vintage mugshots, street photographers doing on-the-spot shoot and print portraits at large events, the box cameras of Afghanistan, or the TSA’s instagram, there’s always something fascinating about photography not for it’s own sake or for communication, but rather for a purpose, official or not. Maybe it’s to preserve a memory or a moment, maybe it’s to show that a job has been done….whatever the reason, these photos are different from the sorts of photos I take.
That’s why I found this short video about the death photographers of Varanasi (embedded above) so interesting. The photographers ply their trade on the ghats on the banks of the Ganges where bodies are cremated. They take photos of the dead bodies for a few dollars per print (go to 3:15 in the video above to see a photographer explain his prices). Their clients are usually family of the deceased and they want the images for a variety of reasons: some want to commemorate the cremation, some want photos for loved ones who couldn’t be there, some need images to prove the death to local governments. The video was produced by Seeker Stories, part of Discovery Digital Networks.
This is a followup to our coverage of Justin Cook‘s trouble after a University of North Carolina department used one of his images without permission. After much public outcry and some behind-the-scenes pressure, Cook and the University reached a settlement. The University acknowledged the misdeed, paid for the usage, and agreed to hold a public forum on copyright in the digital age.
If any of our readers are near UNC, you’d do well to attend this. It should be an informative event and it’s good to show support for these issues. Freelance photographers’ livelihoods depend on copyright protections.
If you worked with a fixer, you know how valuable they can be, and also how difficult they can be to find. Typically, one asks for recommendations from others who have worked in a region to find someone to help with translating, transportation, and access. Now, World Fixer aims to create a worldwide database of fixers for media companies to help facilitate their reporting. This is a huge undertaking and one which requires a method to verify safety and reputation on both sides of the equation. Reporters need to know that the prospective fixer knows what they’re doing and won’t sell the reporter to kidnappers, etc. Fixers need to know that people contacting them for work are actual journalists and not just trying to get personal information so they can kill or kidnap the fixer. Columbia Journalism Review has a good backgrounder on some of the issues at play in the fixer-journalist relationship.
I asked Mike Garrod, one of the founders of World Fixer, a bit about how the site works.
It is common that facilitators let their guard down just because an employer is waving a cheque book but it’s important that they know as much as they can find out before engaging on a project.”Mike Garrod, founder of World Fixer
“World Fixer started this year to try and help employers (media, NGO’s and Travel operators) find trusted, local fixers, producers and journalists around the world. The key word here is ‘trusted’ and anyone who has had to use local staff in their ventures will know what can go wrong,” Garrod said over email. So they’ve developed a system for verifying and tracking reputation of both fixers and those who would hire them. Members on the site give confidential references to World Fixer who then call and verify their identity and capabilities. Members can also post testimonials and reviews of individuals they work with through World Fixer. But, he acknowledges that there is “no foolproof system” to ensure trust, and encourages users to perform their own due diligence before working with someone found on the site. World Fixer also offers services to conduct background checks and additional verification of fixers.
Fixers can also work with World Fixer to get background information about the companies and journalists that would hire them. The site encourages users to keep all correspondence on the site so that there is a record in case of any disputes. The fixer-journalist relationship can be unbalanced, Garrod said. “It is common that facilitators let their guard down just because an employer is waving a cheque book but it’s important that they know as much as they can find out before engaging on a project.”
Sites like World Fixer require a critical mass of users to be of any value. Having only started this year, I was curious about how big the database is so far. Garrod says that the founders of World Fixer have 25 years in the journalism business so mined their existing contacts to start. There are now nearly 900 fixers listed in the database and 300 employers have signed up, including independent journalists, BBC News desks, Discovery Channel, ABC, and Save the Children and other NGOs.
Take a look around the site yourself. Garrod said that signups are welcome for fixers, journalists, and media companies. “We are keen to create more work for our fixers in whatever form that comes so [photographers and other journalists] are welcome to [sign up],” Garrod said. Of course, new members must provide contact information so they can be verified before having access to fixer information.
And be sure to check out World Fixer’s blog. There are posts including notes from the field, ideas about physical and data security precautions, and explorations of issues affecting fixers.
Someone was clever and cheeky at Strand Books in New York City. I saw this sign yesterday tucked inside Antoine D’Agata’s book Antibodies. If you’re not familiar with Antoine D’Agata’s photographs, have a look. His work is a nice antidote … Continued
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