Category Archive: Links


Charges dropped against Photography Is Not a Crime blogger for posting police media relations number online

This is a local story for me since it involves the Boston Police Department. I’m happy to see a positive resolution, though disappointed that it the situation even arose. At its essence, a blogger was charged with witness intimidation and faced 10 years in prison for posting the publicly-available media relations phone number and email address for the Boston Police Department in a post about police harassment of a man taking video of police activity (video above).

Carlos Miller is the very active blogger behind the Photography Is Not a Crime site, which catalogs instances of photographers and videographers being arrested, detained, harassed, or otherwise interfered with by authorities while taking pictures or video. The blog is a valuable resource in the fight against increased limitations placed on visual media, especially regarding police activity. Miller frequently writes about intimidation and harassment of photographers by police, and entreats readers to write to police departments and lawmakers to fight against these injustices. We’ve covered laws preventing recording police activity before, in addition to other parts of the war on cameras.

In August 2013, Miller published a blog post about a video in which a Boston Police sergeant shoved and harassed a man taking video of police action on a public sidewalk. At the end of that post, Miller told readers to call the Boston Police Department and listed the Public Service Desk customer service number available on BPD’s own website. One reader did just that, recording a short conversation with Boston police spokeswoman Angelene Richardson, who found the recording online and filed a charge against Taylor Hardy for illegal wiretapping (Hardy maintains that permission was granted to record the call; the charge was later dropped). In a post discussing these wiretapping charges, Miller again asked readers to call a publicly available number to ask that charges be dropped. In a later post, Miller said he posted the number to “[allow] readers to contact them to show [BPD] we are paying attention.” After numerous readers called in about the charges, Boston Police Detective Nick Moore filed witness intimidation charges against Carlos Miller and threatened similar charges for anyone who called in.

Miller launched an indiegogo campaign to help with legal fees, ultimately raising $4300 to hire a lawyer. Readers continued to call in to the Boston Police Department, the lawyer mounted legal challenges to the charges, and the case started to draw some media attention. The Boston Police Department eventually folded and agreed to drop all charges against Miller and Hardy. You can read other summaries of the case by PBS and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Of particular note related to the BPD’s actions that started this whole chain of events, in 2011 a federal appeals court ruled against (pdf) Boston police arresting a man for using his cell phone to record police activity in public without permission. The court noted that “changes in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw.”

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.

    Gilles Peress’ book The Rockaways distributed for free

    The Rockaways - Gilles Peress - Concord Free Press

    The Rockaways – Gilles Peress – Concord Free Press

    Working with Concord Free Press, Gilles Peress‘ latest book, The Rockaways, is being distributed for free via independent bookstores and the internet. The imprint will distribute 3000 copies of the book for free with the stipulation that recipients donate money to a charity of their choice and then pass the book on to another person. It’s an interesting model for fundraising, and the book looks great. In addition to Peress’ photography (there are some images at Feature Shoot, and others at Metro), there are short essays by people affected by Hurricane Sandy, from long-time residents to journalists to youth to artists.

    You can request a copy of the book from the Concord Free Press website. The Concord Free Press website also tracks donations reported by recipients of the book. You can also support Concord Free Press by buying one of the items listed in their online shop.

    French newspaper publishes issue without photos in support of photographers

    A spread from the 14 November 2013 issue of Liberation. The entire issue was published without photos. Photo by British Journal of Photography.

    A spread from the 14 November 2013 issue of Liberation. The entire issue was published without photos. Photo by British Journal of Photography.

    If you were following dvafoto on twitter yesterday, you would have seen our retweet of Jon Levy’s photo of a Libération spread without photos. The British Journal of Photography has a bit more information about the stunt: the French newspaper published an entire issue without photos in concert with the opening of Paris Photo. It’s intended as a show of support for photographers. A note about the special on the front page reads, “Libération vows an eternal gratitude to photography, whether produced by photojournalists, fashion photographers, portraitists, or conceptual artists. Our passion for photography has never been questioned – not because it’s used to beautify, shock or illustrate, but because photography takes the pulse of our world.” This is the first time since the newspaper (wiki) was founded in 1973 that it published an issue without photos.

    As you can see above and at the BJP’s coverage, the pages seem empty without photos. Just as when Russian media blacked out photos in protest of the imprisonment of photographer Denis Sinyakov, this Libération issue serves as a stark reminder about photography does for the understanding and communication of news and ideas. Bravo!

    NYC mayoral candidate Joe Lhota steals photographers’ work for campaign ad

    Screenshot of Joe Lhota campaign ad Can't Go Back with Q. Sakamaki image used without permission.

    Screenshot of Joe Lhota campaign ad Can’t Go Back with Q. Sakamaki image used without permission.

    Released on October 15 as the New York City mayoral race heats up, Joe Lhota‘s newest campaign video “Can’t Go Back” uses still photography of violence in New York’s past to scare voters away from voting for his opponent Bill de Blasio. However, Lhota did not pay for the licensing of many (perhaps any) of these still images, which includes work by Richard Sandler, Matt Weber, Q. Sakamaki (image from Tompkins Square Park riot in 1991 above), and Eli Reed. Sandler and Weber have reached a settlement with the Lhota campaign, but Sakamaki and Reed have both told Newsday that they are still upset at the usage and infringement. Newsday has identified all of the images used in the campaign ad, finding that one is actually from Bloomberg’s term in office.

    According to Newsday, a spokesperson from the campaign says they found the images on flickr and they were tagged as “royalty-free,” and that they did their best to contact images owners given that information. That seems like a object lesson in the difficulties faced both by photographers and image users.

    Rob Hornstra denied Russian visa; Moscow exhibition of The Sochi Project cancelled

    Screenshot of The Sochi Project website - October 2013

    Screenshot of The Sochi Project website – October 2013

    Rob Hornstra and writing partner Arnold van Bruggen have been working on The Sochi Project since 2007, examining the city as it prepares for the 2014 Winter Olympics. At the beginning of October 2013, Hornstra was denied a visa to return to the country in advance of a planned exhibition opening Oct. 17 at Winzavod, Russia’s premiere museum for contemporary art. Russian officials have declined to giver a reason for the visa denial, but, in an interview with RiaNovosti, Hornstra suspects it might have to do with his coverage of the volatile North Caucasus region, including the recent publication of the book The Secret History of Khava Gaisanova. The Moscow Times also has coverage. It’s unclear whether Hornstra will be allowed to enter Russia again.

    As a result of the visa issues, Winzavod has just announced the cancellation of the Sochi Project exhibition, though the museum leaves open the possibility of showing the work at a later date (Winzavod press release).

    Who owns the copyright to Vivian Maier’s street photography?

    “In Illinois, if a person dies without a will, their property goes to their closest living relatives. But if they literally have no living kin anywhere in the world, then the decedent’s property will ‘escheat’ to the State of Illinois. That rarely happens, though, because the law is written so that the property will go to the decedent’s relatives, even if they are very distant.” – Steven Dawson, a trusts and estates lawyer with Bryan Cave LLP, speaking to Gapers Block

    We’ve written about Vivian Maier before (first all the way back in 2009), and you’ve probably read or seen much more. I just saw one of the traveling exhibitions of her work at Brandeis University outside Boston, and it’s well worth going to see her work in person, if you can. There’s a recently-released documentary (trailer above, IMDB) that seeks to get the bottom of just who this woman was. There may be a biopic in the works. There have been exhibitions and publications of her work all around the world. Two books have anthologized her photos: Vivian Maier: Street Photographer and Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows.

    All of these books and movies and exhibitions stem from three separate collections of Maier’s work bought at auction after her death. The larger and more well-known collection is John Maloof’s, but Jeffery Goldstein also controls a substantial number of images (here’s a piece on Lens about that collection. A third man, Ron Slattery, bought a smaller collection of negatives and prints in 2007, before Maier’s death, though I can’t find a link that collection. A forthcoming book, Vivian Maier’s Fractured Archive, tries to make sense of all of these different collections and the woman herself.

    The question remains, however, of just who owns the copyright to these photos. Ordinarily, copyright of unpublished works with a known author stays in place for 70 years after the death of the creator. Maier died in 2009, which means her copyright belongs to her heirs until at least 2079. But because Maier left no will and had no known heirs, the ownership likely goes to the state of Illinois, where Maier died. As Chicago-area web publication Gapers Block reports, “First, the state could do nothing, which would allow the owners of her work to continue with their ventures. Second, if the state decides it is the rightful owner of Maier’s work, cease and desist letters will be sent to the current owners explaining the laws of succession, how the state is now the main beneficiary, and that any selling of her work needs to stop and all profits made would need to be paid to the state.”

    Maier’s photographic legacy now is worth thousands, if not millions, of dollars, so the state and the stewards of the various Maier collections have a compelling interest to maintain and exercise their ownership of these materials. It will be interesting to see how this legal situation plays out over the coming years.

    American government keeps files on “suspicious” photographers

    (pdf link) - Suspicious Activity Reports from Joint Regional Intelligence Center Los Angeles Region - released by the American Civil Liberties Union

    (pdf link) – Suspicious Activity Reports from Joint Regional Intelligence Center Los Angeles Region – released by the American Civil Liberties Union

    We’ve covered the war on cameras many times before. In some cases, police harass photographers for taking pictures of police action. In other cases, photographers are reported or stopped for taking pictures of buildings and bridges in plain view (previously, and also here). In the US, it’s not illegal to take pictures of people, places, and things visible while standing on public property, but that doesn’t stop security guards and policemen from interfering with photographers using their cameras. In a security awareness poster, in fact, the Transportation Safety Administration has equated photographers with terrorists.

    The ACLU has just released a slew of “Suspicious Activity Reports” (← pdf link) from the FBI’s Joint Regional Intelligence Center in Los Angeles. An NPR report about the documents’ release details the case of photographer Hal Bergman, who has been questioned both in person and over the phone multiple times by FBI agents. Bergman likes to photograph industrial scenes, and that’s enough to raise the suspicion of the federal government. In the screenshot of one of the reports above, a report describes the investigation of a pair of photographers who were photographing empty lots and streets around a manufacturing plant.

    Many of the incidents and investigations contained in these “Suspicious Activity Reports” end, as above, with a line similar to “No further police action/investigation was taken.” However, the reports show that individuals are being targeted for being unfriendly, taking pictures for an art class, or buying water. It’s a waste of resources and potentially quite harmful to the people whose actions are being investigated. In a recent unrelated case, a dark-skinned man was pulled aside for additional screening by the TSA while passing through airport security. Though TSA and the NYPD cleared him after several hours of questioning, Jet Blue refused to allow him to board his plane. Sometimes having a record of being investigated, regardless of whether a crime was committed or not, is enough to make ordinary activities inconvenient or impossible.

    Here are some resources to help photographers know their rights in the US:

    National Geographic launches photography blog

    With the inspirational video above featuring a diverse collection of National Geographic photographers talking about why they take pictures, the magazine has launched a new photography blog called “Proof.” There’s not much there just yet besides a welcome message, which says the blog will feature behind-the-scenes looks at National Geographic’s storytelling process, and an odd little post called “Musings: Bonnie Briant.” It’s not clear whether Proof will publish long-form journals like what John Stanmeyer has written on and off again on his personal blog or shorter snippets like what many National Geographic photographers have been posting at the Photo Society blog. Nevertheless, it’s a space worth watching.

    BagNewsNotes looks at recent graphic execution images from Syria

    Time Lightbox's warning about graphic images in their gallery showing an execution in Syria

    Time Lightbox’s warning about graphic images in their gallery showing an execution in Syria

    “Is it curious, for example, why the military would censor every and any image of a wounded US soldier, the media colluding with the blackout, while at the same time, after a supposed terrorist attack on an American marathon race, domestic media would be scrambling to outdo each another to disseminate the most bloody images of mangle limbs? And then, would there be any reason why the images of the public massacre of pro-Morsi demonstrators by the Egyptian police a couple weeks back would earn only cursory display while the media seems so eager, these Syrian photos in hand, to open an artery?” -All that Syrian Decapitation in the Media Lately: The New Abnormal? (GRAPHIC) / BagNewsNotes

    Yesterday Time’s LightBox blog posted photos of the execution by decapitation of an unknown man by unknown assailants in Syria, photographed by an unknown photographer. It’s a graphic gallery, but they are not the only recent troubling images of executions in Syria. Recent coverage in Paris Match and the New York Times have focused on brutal executions committed by both Syrian rebels and the Assad regime. BagNewsNotes offers a reading and interpretation of what these photos, and their recent publication, mean in relation to broader political conditions. The pictures and reporting linked here are important in our understanding of the current Syrian problem and how our leaders are acting. So too, BagNews’ analysis is worth a read.