Category Archive: discussion
Mishka Henner, a photographer we’ve written about before on dvafoto, has a new project out called Less Américains. It is a photo book of digitally manipulated Robert Frank photographs from the iconic The Americans, printed in an edition almost identical to the original book.
Less Américains is a remake of Robert Frank’s classic photobook, The Americans. Eighty-three new images have been created by digitally erasing most of the visual content from Frank’s photographs, leaving only solitary details from the originals. The sequencing remains faithful to Frank’s 2008 Steidl edition of the book whilst the design of the covers and title pages are influenced by the first Delpire edition printed in France in 1958.
I’m skeptical about this project, at least from seeing the book preview video, perhaps it is different to behold physically, maybe right next to the original. Many re-appropriation works (or musical remixes, which seem relevant) are interesting to me and build on the original or explore new territory; this at first glance just leaves me puzzled. But still it is a somewhat bold proposition: remixing one of the most iconic documentary photo books of all time and to print it as a companion volume. Further, even Robert Frank seems somewhat ambivalent about The Americans now and what the project “means” or “says” fifty years later. Much of Frank’s later work is some sort of deconstruction or re-layering of photographs or video. At least compared to the iconic “straight” documentary nature of the original Americans.
It might even be a trend in photography now (Brauer pointed out this print by Joe Webb as another example) of cutting solid shapes out of photographs while creating new works of art. I’m sure you can show us more examples, good and bad, of this sort of collage.
Henner and Liz Lock together are represented by Panos Pictures, and their work is solidly within the documentary tradition. Henner however has many recent projects that involve reinterpreting or appropriating existing photographs. In fact, the timing of this new work is interesting, as I’ve already been thinking about Henner this week. An interview I’m preparing touches on one of Henner’s projects from 2011, No Man’s Land, which is built on Google Street View images of presumed prostitution. More on that soon. You can purchase the book Less Américains from Henner directly at this link for £80 + shipping. I can’t wait to read a proper art critic’s take on this project, and what it might mean to abstract this type or era of photography with modern methods. I’ll admit, the more I think or look at this project the more interested I become.
“If we don’t get that then we’ll helplessly stare at all these images, to project what we already know onto them. Samuel Aranda’s photograph provides a good opportunity: It’s easy to see the veil, it’s easy to see the pose (the expression of human suffering and of compassion), it’s easy to see (or at least somewhat realize) the very specifically Western visual imagery. But it’s quite a bit harder to put all that together and to then find out what we are really looking at.” -Joerg Colberg, The Problem with Western Press Photo
The winners of World Press Photo 2012 were announced on Friday, and while no awards went to anything as controversial as an iPhone or Google Street View series, there have been varied reactions to Samuel Aranda‘s winning image of a woman in a niqab comforting an injured man in Yemen. I was struck by the image when I saw it published without a photo credit on the cover of the New York Times. The image is strong, but it allows much to be read into it. Over the weekend, everyone came out with an opinion on the image. Some were fawning, others were more measured or outright critical. Of particular note, be sure to read these: Michael Shaw’s Aranda’s World Press Photo of the Year: Pietàs and Burkas and Just Plain Obscurity, Oh My!, JM Colberg’s The Problem with Western Press Photo, Jim Johnson’s Uses of the Pietà ~ Criticisms of World Press Photo Award. Make sure to read WPP juror Nina Berman’s response to Jim Johnson in the comments (that link may or may not go directly to the comment. If not, scroll down to comment #9).
What do you think?
I’m always fascinated to learn how people outside of the insular photo community interact with and relate to photography, especially photojournalism. This Reddit thread, posted to the AskReddit subsection of the site, offers just such a glimpse into how (a section of) the public reacts to imagery, focusing on “powerful” photos. The gallery presented above collects the 10 most popular images in the thread and the most popular opinion posted in reply to those images. I’ve added caption and photographer information where I could find it.
The initial poster posed the question “Reddit, what is the most powerful photo you have ever seen?” and, to start off the discussion, offered this image of a monk praying for a dead man in a Chinese train station. This Reddit thread is particularly notable because of its popularity: the thread was featured on the front page of Reddit (no small feat for a site that receives thousands and thousands of posts each day), was posted to one of the most popular subsections (with 1.2 million subscribers), and, as of my writing, the thread had a total score upwards of 1200 and nearly 4000 comments. It’s a very popular post, to say the least.
The demographics of Reddit are hard to know, but a few attempts have been made. The site’s users are about 80% male, are 80% American, are middle class, have some college education, and are under 35 (most under 25). That doesn’t mean the respondents in the thread fit into this demographic, but it’s a good approximation.
So, taking a few assumptions, the thread shows us the types of pictures that young, educated, American men find important, powerful, and interesting. This is a demographic for which much of our culture is targeted and which I’m sure many magazines and newspapers would love to appeal to.
This selection is striking to me for a few reasons. One, it’s a pretty interesting collection of images from a community whose stock and trade is usually closer to LOLcats and “fail” pictures (~1.5 million subscribers) than great visual journalism (~400 subscribers). Two, it includes some very subtle pictures, especially those by NASA and those focusing on political tensions. The image of the sunset on Mars, in particular, is a wonderful surprise and a sensitive choice. It’s certainly not an “obvious” picture; the image speaks deeply about humanity’s role in the universe, but in a less clear way than, perhaps, The Blue Marble. Three, there are no images from Iraq or Afghanistan (the boy receiving the flag from his father’s casket comes close) and few from the US. The selection reflects some very contemporary events, but few are directly related the community’s own experience. Four, at least half of the images aren’t the sort that win awards, though a few here are from the canon of photojournalism (including the colorized self-immolation picture). In spite of that, the images communicate quite powerfully. Content is king.
Most of all, this selection gives me hope that strong imagery still has the power to reach out to the public, even sections of the public which may have been written off by publications desperate to hang on to their aging and dwindling audiences. Quiet and emotive imagery still resonates with the young and digital audience raised on the never-not-breaking-news cycle.
Taking a page from the Overheard in… series of blogs (New York, the Beach, the Newsroom), POYi Chatroom Heroes has been chronicling conversation in the chat window of the online streaming of 2012 Pictures of the Year International judging process. There’s snark, armchair judging, admiration, and anything else you’d expect to hear among the audience. Worth a laugh.
Thanks to Jonathon Worth for writing in to tell us about this short interview with World Press Photo 2012 juror Steve Pyke (embedded above). Pyke served as chair of judging for portraiture. The discussion offers an interesting perspective of the judging process from Pyke’s own perspective, especially focusing on the discussions between jury members during the process and the influence that each jury member’s own specialty and expertise plays in picking the winners. Particularly interesting, Pyke says (at about 5:45) that the winners in the Portrait category weren’t entered into the category originally. Jurors pulled images from other categories into the Portrait category and chose those as the winners.
There’s also an earlier short interview with Pyke that covers the chore of looking through 8,000 entries.
The awards will be announced tomorrow, Feb. 10.
VII have just announced a series of 5 free, online seminars with member photographers: the Visual Journey Seminars. The first of these will feature Seamus Murphy–one of my favorites,check out his website–speaking with Brian Storm of MediaStorm about his past work and recent videos for PJ Harvey. Other seminars, scheduled for 2012, will feature Ron Haviv (previously interviewed on dvafoto), Jessica Dimmock, Venetia Dearden, and Christopher Morris (also previously interviewed on dvafoto).
Though the seminars are free, space is restricted to those who RSVP prior to the seminars.
Our friend Pete Brook of Prison Photography is still on the road, in the middle of a 12-week trip around the United States reporting on prisons and photographers. He funded the trip with a very successful Kickstarter campaign, which you should visit for a wealth of information about his project and the photographers and prisons he will be visiting. While he is publishing regular and remarkable dispatches and podcasts from the road, I also recommend this short documentary produced by Seattle photographer Tim Matsui as a nice behind-the-scenes peek at what Brook has been up to and the substance of his project.
It is very exciting to see the fruits of Brook’s labor and we cannot wait to talk with him about the project when he is home. Safe travels Pete.
UPDATE (20 March 2013): TurnHere is now known as SmartShoot and remains a rights grab.
We try to publicize good opportunities for photographers through the blog here and our deadline calendar. In deciding whether or not to include a contest or call for entry on our calendar, we look at the terms and conditions of submitting work to the contest. A good contest, in line with Pro-Imaging’s Bill of Rights Standards for Photography Competitions, promotes the winners’ work while respecting them and their work. Usually, this means by entering or winning a contest, the photographer retains all rights to his or her images and that the contest and its sponsors can use the submitted or winning images only to publicize the contest and its winners and only for a short time period. All of the contests on our calendar conform to these basic guidelines.
But we see a lot of contests that have bad conditions for entry, usually in the form of a “rights grab,” which you’ve also probably encountered in contracts for assignment photography. A “rights grab” takes your copyright away from you, preventing you from reselling your work ever again and, potentially, from even showing your work in your portfolio. It’s a dirty tactic, and it’s sad to see how many photo contests have rights grabs. A good rule of thumb is that any contest run by a travel-related company (airlines, luggage companies, resorts, etc.) is a rights grab. For the organizations in charge, running these contests is a quick, easy and cheap way to build an image library for its future use. Why should an airline company, for instance, pay fees to photographers to take pictures of tropical destinations when all of their paying customers will just send in their travel pictures for free? It’s a bad deal for photographers. Your rights have value. Here’s a short mention of one photographer earning upwards of $140,000 by relicensing images to the same client over 8 years. Had the photographer worked under a buyout, work-for-hire, or other rights grab situation, he would have made nothing beyond the initial fee. Had he submitted them to a rights-grabbing photo contest, he would have made nothing at all.
I thought I’d share two rights grabs that recently caught my attention because they at first seemed like interesting opportunities for me to gain exposure and future work.
National Geographic’s My Montana contest features a pretty standard rights grab. It’s particularly sad to see National Geographic taking advantage of photographers in this way, especially since the organization has been so supportive of photography and photographers since the beginning of the craft. Here’s the rights grab, from the contest’s rules‘, Section 4:
Submission of an entry grants Sponsor and their agents a license and right to use, publish, adapt, edit and/or modify such entry in any way, in whole or in part, and to use such entry alone or in combination with other works, as solely determined by Sponsor, in commerce and trade and in any and all media now known or hereafter discovered, worldwide, including but not limited to the Website, without limitation or compensation to the Entrant and without right of notice, review or approval of any such use of the entry.
Reading that section, it’s clear that by entering a photo in the contest, you give National Geographic and the State of Montana the unlimited, perpetual, worldwide right to use and publish your photos anywhere for any purpose. National Geographic could publish your photos in one of their books, or sell it as a poster on their website, and you wouldn’t see a dime. If Montana’s Office of Tourism wants to put your photo on a billboard in Times Square or on the side of a train in Minneapolis, they don’t have to pay you. And they could do it now, next month, or 300 years from now, and you wouldn’t know. I personally know the value of this. Montana’s Office of Tourism recently contacted me to license a photo for this year’s winter tourism guide (page 9 of this PDF). It was a very small usage, but it paid for rent. Had I submitted the photo to the contest, it wouldn’t have won and they could have used the picture for free. I would have lost twice, and possibly many times in the future, too.
I tried contacting National Geographic through the contest website and twitter, but have not gotten a response.
About a month ago I received an email from TurnHere with the subject line: “Hiring Professional Freelance Photographers.” The email said, “We’re growing our network of professional photographers and like what we’ve seen of your work. TurnHere provides paid shoot jobs to our photographers on behalf of some of the world’s premier brands (Google, Microsoft, Audi, . . .) and we’d like to invite you to apply to our network as part of our early access program.” Corporate work is a growing part of my business, and it looked like an interesting opportunity. After seeing the website, it looked even better: more than $12 million paid to creatives, $100,000 made by a single person this year, 600+ jobs currently available through the system. Sounds great! But the Independent Contractor agreement is really ugly. For instance, Section 4.a and b:
TurnHere is the sole and exclusive owner of, and Independent Contractor hereby irrevocably assigns to TurnHere all Deliverables, regardless of whether such Deliverables are specified in any Project description, and all rights, title, interest, and ownership throughout the world in any Deliverable, including all Intellectual Property Rights in and to any Deliverable. Independent Contractor hereby irrevocably and unconditionally waives all enforcement of each of the foregoing rights. All Deliverables are and will belong exclusively to TurnHere, with TurnHere having the right to obtain and to hold in its name, any and all Intellectual Property Rights. … In jurisdictions such as Canada, where moral rights may not be assigned, Independent Contractor irrevocably and expressly waives in favor of TurnHere and agrees never to assert any and all “moral rights” that it may have in any Deliverable.
That’s hard to parse, but what it means is that you never own any pictures you take as part of TurnHere and that you can’t even show them as part of your portfolio. More than that, there’s no requirement that your work will be credited to you once it’s used in an advertising campaign. You’ll get paid (though I don’t know the rates) but you’ll have nothing to show afterward. Everything you do for the job becomes the property of TurnHere. This hurts you in a couple of ways. You can’t relicense any of your pictures to the original client or future clients. This may not seem like a big deal when you’re looking at a commission and don’t have a lot of other work, but subsequent licensing fees can and should be a part of your future business. I know a couple of photographers who’ve recently paid for cars and houses through corporate use of photos that started out in an editorial assignment.
Steer well clear of TurnHere and any other such deals. By taking part in such a scheme, you’re crippling your future earnings and making it difficult even to market yourself through your previous work. TurnHere suggests that by working through them, you’ll be able to associate yourself with some of the world’s top brands, but reading the above excerpt of their agreement about “moral rights,” your name will not be associated with the pictures you make for these companies. The only way to get work is to show your previous work. Here, you don’t have the right to show your photos without permission of TurnHere after the fact. By agreeing to work for TurnHere, you’ve pulled the rug out from under yourself before you’ve even begun.
I emailed back and forth with a representative from TurnHere to try to figure out what was going on here, and they seemed receptive to input from potential contributors. But communication died off without getting an official response from the company.
The sad fact is that rights grabs are becoming more and more common. The good news is that sometimes you can negotiate away a rights grab in a contract. I’ve had to do just that a few times this year. In a couple of cases, I was successful and achieved a decent fee for a limited usage of my work. In other cases, I’ve had to turn down the work because it was a bad deal for me. And I’m not a copyright absolutist. Everything can be had at a price. If someone wants to pay a million dollars for perpetual, exclusive rights to a photo shoot, I’m all ears. I have sold full copyright to one image in my career, and it was for a very nice fee.
Contests with terms such as in National Geographic’s My Montana contest and assignment contracts such as TurnHere’s make the future sustainability of a photographer’s career all but impossible. The best way to protect yourself is to educate yourself and keep your rights. You never know what images will sell down the line, and you don’t want to decimate your future earnings. A good place to start with learning about contracts and rights is with John Harrington’s excellent Best Business Practices for Photographers book. And here are a few tips on how to avoid a rights grab and how to deal with rights grabbing photo releases common in the music industry.
UPDATE (20 March 2013): TurnHere is now known as SmartShoot and remains a rights grab.
With only a few clicks, a blurry image is quickly analyzed, allowed Photoshop to discern exactly how the image was messed up (sic). That is to say, if you accidentally moved your hand slightly to the right and down while the shutter snapped, it’ll pick that up. And then it reverses it—and that’s the totally magical part. – Gizmodo