Category Archive: internet


Defamation, Girls, and pictures through a window: recent legal news affecting photography and copyright

There’ve been a bunch of legal developments in the world of photography and copyright in the past couple weeks. Here are a few things that have been on my radar that all have relevance to freelance and staff photographers in the US:

First-world problems or real problems? Western journalists are whining about Sochi Olympics hotels (updated)


I’ve spent about 10 months in Russia over the past eight or nine years, in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but also in more remote cities such as Vorkuta, Ufa, Petrozavodsk, and Voronezh. Even in Moscow, where the hotel stood next to the Russian Foreign Ministry and the rooms was listed at about $175/night, there were substantial issues with water and heat.

Travel in Russia is not easy, and that’s why some of the viral complaints by journalists at the Sochi Olympics seem naive and privileged. Much of the world can’t flush toilet paper down the toilet. Much of the world can’t depend on clean water. Much of the world doesn’t have American breakfast food in the morning.

But there are valid issues coming through in the reports from the media village in Sochi. There are security issues. Some of the water is unfit even for bathing (West Virginia knows about that all too well). Much of the infrastructure is unfinished. There are stray dogs in hotels. By connecting to wifi in the Olympic village, you can be assured that your computer will be hacked and your data will be stolen. (See Update II below)

The Washington Post has the largest collection of journalists’ complaints about their hotels, calling the experiences “hilarious and gross.” Deadspin got in on the act, saying “Staying in Sochi is a Hilarious Adventure.” The Wire has a wonderful analysis of some of these complaints, classifying them either as “real problem” or “first-world problem.” Can’t flush the toilet paper? First-world problem. Water unfit for bathing? Real problem. Margaret Coker, blogging for the Wall Street Journal, tells journalists to stop complaining, offering a good read on the scope of these complaints.

In fact, many of the images purported to be from the Sochi Olympics site are not from Sochi or Russia at all. The Telegraph leads their story about these complaints with a picture of three office chairs facing a toilet. Gizmodo busts some of these photos, finding that many of them have been passed around online for a year or more. The Wire has a similar analysis.

As usual, BagNews has a deeper read on what these reports mean, warning that by saturating news sites with “hilarious” (and sometimes fake) complaints about hotel conditions, readers and viewers lose sight of the real issues surrounding these Olympic Games. Real infrastructure problems need to be reported, but so does the conflict in areas close to the Olympics, Russia’s abuse of human rights, corruption in the construction and production of the Sochi Olympics, and anti-gay legislation and sentiment in the country. These issues deserve the media attention now being diverted to pictures of toilets.

UPDATE: Dmitry Kozak, the deputy prime minister responsible for the Olympic preparations, told the Wall Street Journal that they have surveillance footage of shower usage in journalists’ hotel rooms. A spokesman for Kozak quickly said they don’t have footage of anyone in showers or hotel rooms.

UPDATE II: The reports about Sochi wifi hacking seem to be exaggerated. Vice’s Motherboard site has a deeper look at NBC’s report, which served as the basis for the Yahoo piece linked above. The device infection demonstrations were done in Moscow and required the user to click on malware on a website, just as would happen anywhere in the world. The Trend Micro security expert in the NBC piece has a blog post and white paper detailing the method of infection used in his demonstrations.

Handout Photos as Propaganda

A week or so ago I posted this photo from Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant on dvafoto.tumblr.com, but in retrospect we wanted to feature it on the main blog as well. It is an important demonstration of what press freedom and access to power is all about and the inherent hazards in allowing government entities (or any other group) to provide their own coverage. The images may emerge from a democratic government, but they really won’t look much different than the propaganda released from a dictatorship.

Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, December 30, 2013.

This is the essence of a debate that has been raging since the Fall about access to President Obama’s White House (and before that, honestly: Scott wrote about issues of photography in the White House days after Obama took office). Ron Fourniner’s article in The National Journal titled “Obama’s Image Machine: Monopolistic Propaganda Funded by You” has a thorough account of a meeting that took place on October 29 in the office of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. At that meeting New York Times photographer Doug Mills laid out the complaints of the White House Press Corp about access to the President’s activities, and likened the White House’s activities to the Soviet Union’s state-run news agency TASS, whose successor ITAR-TASS, and fellow state-run media RIA-Novosti, is more recently known for supplying famously heroic images of Vladimir Putin to the international media.

Doug Mills’ meeting with Jay Carney was followed up by a letter hand delivered to the White House on November 21st (PDF), signed by a number of prominent media and media advocacy organizations, including the National Press Photographers Association, The New York Times, The White House News Photographers Association, ABC, CNN, NBC, Getty Images and the Associated Press. The AP also issued their own statement about this issue. Santiago Lyon, AP Vice President and Director of Photography, answered questions on the AP’s own blog:

The photos on that page [The White House official Flickr page] are visual press releases and are carefully vetted by administration employees before distribution. Such images are increasingly offered to the media by the White House in lieu of real journalistic access and we and other media organizations find this unacceptable. Media organizations generally do not reproduce written press releases verbatim, so why should we settle for these official images?

Santiago Lyon also penned an op-ed for The New York Times on December 11, 2013: “Obama’s Orwellian Image Control”. If you are interested in this topic, it is a critical piece to read. He reiterates his point above:

The official photographs the White House hands out are but visual news releases. Taken by government employees (mostly former photojournalists), they are well composed, compelling and even intimate glimpses of presidential life. They also show the president in the best possible light, as you’d expect from an administration highly conscious of the power of the image at a time of instant sharing of photos and videos.

And he ends with strong and wise words:

Until the White House revisits its draconian restrictions on photojournalists’ access to the president, information-savvy citizens, too, would be wise to treat those handout photos for what they are: propaganda.

Part of this issue is the distinction between public and private events. Some editors and photographers are arguing that when the White House releases its own images from events on social media – such as Presidents Obama and Bush meeting on Air Force One en route to Nelson Mandela’s funeral, which was off-limits to the press corp pool also onboard the aircraft – they are demonstrating that the events are not private and are indeed newsworthy. BagNews’ discussion “As Press Battles WH Over Photo Access, Did Media Cross its Own Line Publishing Obama/Bush Mandela Trip Pictures?” provides many good examples of the difference between White House coverage of events and that of the free press, including the Obama/Bush pictures on Air Force One. Another post at BagNews, “Photo Ops and Staging: Beyond White House Access, the Larger Issue is What We Have Access To” by David Campbell, has more examples of the exclusive framing of events that the White House photographers have that they deny members of the press access to.

For more context, photographer David Hume Kennerly talks about his time in the White House in an interview with James Estrin of the New York Times’ Lens Blog. Time Magazine’s Lightbox blog also published an article by former White House photo editor Mike Davis: “The Backstory: Why Photographers Need More Access In The White House”.

Furthering their terrific studies of these issues, BagNews announced this week that the subject of their next salon would be The Debate over White House Photo Access. It will take place on February 9, 2014. I also want to thank Michael Shaw, Publisher of BagNews, for providing me with resources and his insight on this topic.

BagNews argues, rightly, that, “One thing we need are images that address the construction of the image, including pictures showing photographers in the photo, the set-up of the photo-op, or using particular visual strategies such as different angles, depth of field, and framing.” One important function of the press is to create transparency about how the political machine works. Being able to have an independent look at how events are set up and designed is critical in understanding what exactly the events mean.

Time magazine points this out in other ways too with another of Phil Bicker’s great edits of handout photos in a post called “Public Service or Propaganda? Top Handout Photos of 2013″. Bicker posts often on Time Lightbox under the title “Man on the Wire”, and we wrote about one of his post’s last year: “Déjà Vu in 2012″. In this post he shows off all manner of official photographs that have been published in the press.

Besides the White House, Kremlin and the North Korean official news agencies, other notable sources for handout photos include the NTSB (for photos of the crash of Asiana flight 214 in San Francisco and a train crash in New York), NASA (for photos of space research, manned space flight and an unfortunate picture of a flying frog during rocket launch), the Government Communication and Information System of South Africa for pictures of Nelson Mandela’s funeral, the U.S. Army for a photograph of Chelsea Manning.

I’ll finish this roundup with two examples of images that cross more obviously in to the sphere of possible-propaganda, images that look like they could be news photographs but are in fact handed out by political organizations: a photo of bodies of victims that Syrian rebels claim were killed in a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces in eastern Ghouta and a photograph that the Kenyan Government provided from the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi showing the collapsed roof of a parking garage.

BagNews also provides startling examples of powerful official imagery that has, in one way or another, been made available to the press. “Ready, Aim, Backfire: Police Photographer’s “Rolling Stone Retribution” Photos” examines the photographs of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev leaked by a Massachusetts State Police official photographer. This is an interesting example of how official photographs might actually undermine the official narrative; see BagNews for more on this argument. Another post, from January 6, 2014, “Even if the Police Report Wasn’t Buried by the Holiday, What Photo Would Make Us Understand Sandy Hook?” is a powerful anonymous essay about the police report and evidence photos taken by Connecticut State Police from their investigation into the Sandy Hook school shooting in December 2012. This post looks closely at the photographs, ponders their meaning (or lack thereof), and asks why they were buried in the Holiday news cycle and rarely published.

The prevalence of handout photos being published in news sources demonstrates the success organizations are having in shaping the narrative they prefer by controlling the photographs that are available of an event. This is something that we should all be aware of, and wary of. There are times and places – for example, the President’s private family dinners and on the launch pad during a rocket ignition – where restrictions on access are acceptable and logical. But so many other times, as clearly laid out in the photos and articles above, this power is being abused. And we the media and the people are right to resist this.

Manipulative headlines and listicles: Upworthy and Buzzfeed are reshaping the internet

Upworthy Generator parody site - Before You Say Africa Is Getting Better, Listen To This One Verb From An Eight Year-Old

Upworthy Generator parody site – Before You Say Africa Is Getting Better, Listen To This One Verb From An Eight Year-Old

“Upworthy rankles some journalists partly because, even as it innocently coos Web readers with tender headlines, the repetitiveness of its style suggests a rather cynical ploy to lasso cheap attention rather than fully engage an audience hunting anything more than a dopamine rush.” -The Atlantic, Upworthy: I Thought This Website Was Crazy, but What Happened Next Changed Everything

For the past year, Upworthy-hosted videos and Buzzfeed listicles have been taking over my facebook feed. It’s been interesting to watch how these sites, and others like them, have come to dominate our news culture. Their headlines are manipulative, almost guaranteed to make you click, but rarely are the informative. You already know the style, and it’s creeping into other news outlets. Here are a few examples from a USA Today story about the emotionally charged headlines employed by Upworthy, Huffington Post, and Buzzfeed:

  • A sexist reporter tried to box her in, but she took everything and threw it right back in his face.” -Upworthy
  • Come on! Homeless man who returned $850 loses benefits after doing good deed.” -Huffington Post
  • JPMorgan shows exactly how to not use Twitter.” -Buzzfeed
  • Coming from journalism, I hate these headlines, and so do others. They editorialize, tell the reader very little about what I’m about to see, and make the reader feel guilty if one doesn’t click them. But it’s been enormously successful for these companies. Upworthy is the fastest growing news site in history, with 30 million unique viewers in May 2013. While at first glance, the site seems like it only repackages videos hosted and created elsewhere, it’s making money through sponsored content and partnerships with organizations such as the Gates Foundation.

    Marketing companies now offer advice on how to apply this viral-style headline writing to your small business. And it’s invading the internet. There are a ton of sites trying to clone Upworthy and Buzzfeed’s success, such as ViralNova. They use focus groups and a/b headline testing to find the most clickable headlines. There’s Godvine, a Christian site with headlines such as “See Why These Dogs Are Singing… It’s Way More Important Than You Think” and “He Has Strength, Faith in Jesus and Cerebral Palsy – This Video Will Make You Cry.

    Mainstream news outlets are taking note. The Atlantic recently published “The Case Against Cars in 1 Utterly Entrancing GIF“; Time, always one for Top # lists, has a Viral section with stories such as “The Absolute Grossest Way to Have Your Fortune Read;” Slate’s headlines are starting to change into writing like “This Awesome Ad, Set to the Beastie Boys, Is How to Get Girls to Become Engineers.”

    Buzzfeed has been able to do the same thing with photos and gifs. Slate interviewed Buzzfeed founder (and Huffington Post co-founder) Jonah Peretti about how they make photos go viral. As of this writing, “21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity.” And while not every post there is a hit–”84 Things That Aren’t On An Everything Bagel” didn’t post quite the same numbers (~41,000 as of this writing)–the site has figured a way to reliably draw traffic to photography. Of course, it’s not the sort of photography that we often write about at dvafoto. But just as Kony2012 showed that it’s possible to get the public interested obscure international issues, there might be something for the photojournalism community to learn from Buzzfeed.

    Not all is well at Buzzfeed, though. The provenance of many of Buzzfeed’s images is often a bit questionable. They frequently lift images or whole lists from other sites without attribution or concern for copyright. The 21 Images That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity came from a combination of Ned Hardy posts and Reddit. The site often steals images without asking for permission, particularly troubling when the copyright infringement is used in a sponsored story. One photographer fired back at Buzzfeed, and got them to pay $500 to a charity of his choice, for stealing his photo: “10 Good Reasons BuzzFeed Is Going to Pay My Invoice for Copyright Theft“.

    While Upworthy’s sole positive is drawing eyeballs to some worthy stories (here’s a story from my hometown which aired on Rock Center, which I wouldn’t have seen had it not been for Upworthy), I have been impressed by Buzzfeed’s longform journalism section, BuzzReads. Though the headlines can be sensational, the content is good and original. Here are a few stories which have caught my eye recently: I Was Drugged By A Stranger, William Suess Thought He Was An American Until The Day He Was Deported, Was An American College Student Kidnapped By North Korea?, Wildcatting: A Stripper’s Guide to the Modern American Boomtown. Poynter has a nice article about what Buzzfeed’s push into longform reporting might mean.

    “What would a Snopes for ViralNova or Upworthy even look like? It could question the sources of the stories and the details of the anecdotes, or provide context for their claims. But could it correct sentiments like, ‘man is fundamentally good’ or ‘we should do better?’ A site specific to this purpose would be more un-viral than anti-viral. Correcting a post like this is like fact checking Chicken Soup for the Soul, or refuting a prayer.” -Buzzfeed, “How Internet Chain Letters Took Over The Media

    Buzzfeed itself has one of the best pieces on how and why this emotionally-charged or nostalgia-infused content is taking over Facebook and the rest of the web. The article argues Upworthy, Buzzfeed, and their ilk substantially resemble chain letters and email forwards (what one MetaFilter commenter called “‘Jesus and kittens love you’ fwd-mails for twentysomething liberals.”).

    Snopes.com arose to fact-check viral chain letters, but that doesn’t quite work with Upworthy and the like. Their posts are factual but packaged and reframed in an inspirational or otherwise emotional way. One can’t correct the sentiments in Upworthy headlines such as ‘man is fundamentally good’ or ‘person is brave for confront adversity.’ The best you can do is satirize the style, and thankfully a few people have:

  • Upworthy Generator randomly creates pitch-perfect Upworthy headlines, probably using Markov Chains.
  • Up Worth It‘s twitter feed regularly publishes spot-on parody headlines such as, “This Brave Young Woman Proves In Spectacular Fashion That She’s Allergic To Gluten, Not Life.
  • XKCD reimagines 20th Century Headlines Rewritten to Get More Clicks
  • McSweeney’s Internet Tendency‘s Suggested Buzzfeed Articles (and Buzzfeed actually made a few of the lists)
  • Make your own lists with the Buzzfeed Article Creator.
  • FeedBuzz
  • By the way, here are two fantastic satirical exploitations of the Buzzfeed style on Buzzfeed itself: 22 Amazing Things Only a 90s Kid Would Understand, and 7 Fantastic Ways To Distinguish Between Sense And Nonsense. The first was created by what seems to be a Buzzfeed performance artist under the name Spacedog Escargot.

    Also, if you use chrome, you can install an extension called Rather to filter Upworthy links, baby pictures, tv spoilers, and anything else you don’t want to see.

    Technique For Photographing Close To Animals

    Maybe our own M. Scott Brauer, recently returned from a hunting trip in Montana, can give us some better advice than this guy, who just sort of hung out with an Elk while he was trying to take pictures. The video is awkward and asks a lot of questions.

    Scott, did this guy do good? Should he have run away screaming? Or stood up and scared the Elk off? (Which was what I was rooting for). Or. better yet, gone for a close-up? Strange video.

    (via Peta Pixel: Photographer Gets in a Tussle with an Elk, Fortunately Escapes Unharmed)

    President of Chechnya posts stolen photo on Instagram

    You might not know that the President of Chechnya is pretty active on Instagram (181,248 followers as of this writing). The posts are mostly from official meetings and his travels. Yesterday, a post featured a beautiful photo of sheep on a hillside in the Alps. The photo was actually taken by Herbert Schroer, who posted about the image theft on twitter and instagram. Ordinarily, addressing a copyright issue such as this would involve a pretty straightforward plan of action, but what do you do when the violator is the president of a far-off country?

    (via Lenta.ru)

    Tumblr of the day: Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh (UPDATED)

    Left: Photos Rendered in Play-Doh / Right: Andreas Feininger—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images - Photographer Dennis Stock holds a camera in front of his face, 1955

    Left: Photos Rendered in Play-Doh / Right: Andreas Feininger—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images – Photographer Dennis Stock holds a camera in front of his face, 1955

    So far, we’ve seen iconic photos recreated with Lego (comparisons), children, more children, Instagram (analysis), Star Wars figures, the elderly, and with their subjects removed. I’m sure there are more…

    Now, a new tumblr showcases photographs recreated in Play-Doh. The site’s barely a week old, and there’s no information about the creator on the tumblr, but here’s hoping the project continues.

    (via James Estrin)

    UPDATE (27 Aug 2013): Just found the creator of the blog. Eleanor Macnair is behind the playdoh creations.

    The Walmart of Photography makes $120,000/week selling old newspaper photos on eBay

    Rogers Photo Archive on eBay

    Rogers Photo Archive on eBay

    This is weird. Old press card photos of staffers from the Miami Herald are up for sale on eBay. Above is a 1981 image of columnist Edwin Pope, a print of which can currently be had for $28.88. Wait…what?!

    I knew that newspapers have been selling off their photo archives, and had heard about the Arkansas-based John Rogers Photo Archive buying up many major newspapers’ photos. But I didn’t know what Rogers was doing with the photos. He started with the Detroit News and then eventually acquired the licensing and print sales rights to the photo archives of the Boston Herald, the St. Petersburg Times, the Denver Post, and other storied news organizations and individual photographers. It’s a good deal for the newspapers. The cash-strapped publications get a one-time payment and a searchable digital archive of their work. For Rogers, the deal was less clear immediately. He’d managed to parlay old sports photographers’ archives into major deals with trading card manufacturers. Images of celebrities and politicians in the newspaper archives would be valuable, but Rogers also began to put ordinary newspaper images up for sale on eBay and the money started to roll in.

    The Rogers Archive is now one of the largest stores on eBay, with over 2 million images for sale (I’m not sure if there are other seller profiles operated by the Rogers Archive, but here’s one with 50,000+ images). In a 2012 interview with the Arkansas Times (That’s a great link, by the way, and where Rogers calls his archive the “Walmart of Photography”. Read it for a good background on all of this), Rogers says that eBay sales of old newspaper images bring in $120,000 a week. That’s not a typo. And that’s not the Rogers Archive’s only source of income. But that’s why and how prints of old press card photos of newspaper staff are showing up on eBay.

    The Rogers Archive website says that a stock licensing portal will be made to facilitate licensing these images, but promises says it will be coming soon in 2011. Digital Stock Planet‘s website just says “under construction.”

    Weird.

    (via Romenesko)

    Mindbending landscapes: Postcards from Google Earth

    Postcards from Google Earth

    Postcards from Google Earth

    We’ve written about Google Street View-based projects before. Rather than look for serendipitous street photography, Clement Valla‘s project Postcards from Google Earth looks for errors in the algorithm and finds images where roads, bridges, and buildings bend and melt around the landscape in a surreal way. While the website doesn’t have much information, an article at Rhizome explains the process and thoughts behind the project.

    Daylight Digital launches with new work by Alec Soth

    Daylight Digital

    Daylight Digital

    Non-profit photography publisher Daylight has started an iPad magazine called Daylight Digital. Published twice a month at $2.99 a month, Daylight Digital focuses on individual artists.  The first issue, which is available for free, features new work on Florida by Alec Soth. Here’s a direct link to iTunes to get the magazine.

    And while we’re on the subject, the Daylight Photo Awards deadline is May 1.