Archive for October, 2009

Roy DeCarava 1919-2009

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

You can read a tribute to Roy DeCarava with a set of images on the Lens blog of the New York Times, and there is longer piece about him in the newspaper. DeCarava was one of the finest photographers of his generation, but somehow failed to quite get the recognition he deserved.

If you don’t already own a copy of his ‘The Sound I Saw‘ which he conceived, wrote and designed in the 1960s but was unable to get published until around 40 years late you should get hold of one now (copies of the softback edition are currently available second-hand at under a tenner – or you can pay about four times as much from other dealers.)  What he subtitled as “improvisations on a jazz theme” became a legend long before it appeared in print. He wrote in it that it “is a book about people, about jazz, and about things…. images for the head and for the heart, and like its subject matter is particular, subjective and individual.

DeCarava was born in Harlem and spent his life there photographing everyday domestic life, producing a unique insider’s view into black experience, although his work also reflects the other ethnic groups in the areas in which he lived. That he also photographed many of the giants of jazz who performed there gives his work an added piquancy for those of us with an interest in the music.

Apart from the retrospective volume by Peter Galassi that accompanied his NoMA show in 1996 (long out of print and very expensive) it was his first book since the famous collaboration with Langston Hughes, ‘The Sweet Flypaper of Life” in 1955, and contains many of his best images.  Three years earlier in 1952 he had become the first black photographer to win a Guggenheim Fellowship.  You can see 10 of his pictures on line at the Smithsonian, and some at Masters of  Photography. But the best resource I’ve found on-line is at  Monoscope, which presents some of his images along with a TV talk with Charlie Rose, who is a sympathetic listener who lets DeCarava talk for most of around 12 minutes, producing a fine interview.

ICO Plans Attack Press Freedom

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

If the suggestions  – as reported in the  Amateur Photographer –  of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) about a ‘Privacy Code for online use of photography‘ on the streets were to be adopted it would be the end of photography as we know it on the web. Their proposals seem to me ridiculous and unworkable – and my immediate reaction was to check the date of the article by Chris Cheesman. But to my surprise I found it was written on 27 Sept rather than April 1.

The proposal are frankly ridiculous in several respects, but particularly in the attack that they make on news reporting, with the suggestion that it would become necessary to blur many faces in images for publication in newspapers and also on websites – except for social networking and similar sites. The AP reports that while “background shots of passers-by will not normally breach the Data Protection Act, images of a small group of clearly identifiable people, sent for publication to a newspaper for example, may be considered an infringement.” So it becomes clear that this is not just a threat to what can be published on the web, but also to the freedom of the press as a whole.

The proposals according the AP report  “will not prevent someone taking photos in the street without the subject’s consent, provided that the images are for ‘personal use’ and the camera is not being used to harass people” but it will severely restrict what you can do with them. Stick them on Facebook or in your family album and you are fine, but publish them – even on Flickr – and it looks as if you may be damned.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Taking part in a demo on the street implies a willingness to be seen and photographed. More picture from ‘Bring the Troops home from Afghanistan

I mainly photograph public events and demonstrations, where those taking part know they will be under the gaze of cameras and thus implicitly grant permission to be recorded. At times I photograph the people who are standing on the street or in shop windows watching (and sometimes also photographing) events and it seems only a fair reciprocity that they too should expect to be watched and photographed.  And it is clearly important that in situations involving crime, potential crime or unrest that journalists – including citizen journalists – should where possible record both potential criminals and the activities of the police, and that news media – print, broadcast and web – have a public duty to publish such images. Whatever the feelings of those who appear in them, or indeed the Terrorism Act, unless the pictures would clearly be of aid to terrorists.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.
Reporting on the police is important for a free press. More pictures from this incident involving football supporters attempting to disrupt the Bring the Troops Home rally.

I actually follow my own test that differs significantly from that which the woman speaking for the ICO suggests. Rather than asking “whether the subjects would object to their picture being published in this way”, I think “whether a reasonable person photographed in this way would have a reasonable objection to having this particular picture published.”  It seems to me to be an important and fundamental difference, not least in that a “reasonable person” is also a reasoning person, while many of the objections that people have made about the use of their pictures have been purely on emotional grounds.

If someone walks down a street with a silly hat on, I don’t think they can reasonably object to a picture that shows them wearing a silly hat on the street, but if I have managed to catch them at a moment or from an angle that makes a perfectly normal hat look silly their objection might well be sustained. There is sometimes a fine line between being amusing and demeaning the person, but in general I think the distinction is clear.

Any test should probably also distinguish between people “in the public eye” who have chosen to live and profit from being public figures, and those in whom there is no genuine public interest. Although I usually chose to delete or not use images of – for example – politicians in which a momentary gesture makes them look silly, it would make the reporting of party conferences in particular rather boring if all were disallowed. And of course our current London mayor has made his political career on being seen as a buffoon (so perhaps we should not encourage him.)

So far as privacy is concerned, at present we have a fairly clear position –  “a reasonable expectation of privacy” – which offers a reasonable degree of protection to people while allowing publication of news etc. There seems little if any need for any further restriction. We also have the law of defamation that restricts the use that can be made of images of people, and although too it isn’t entirely satisfactory it largely does the job required in limiting the activities of publishers.

It is perhaps an interesting question whether a photograph in isolation is actually personal data. If I publish a picture of you without any accompanying text, only those who already know what you look like will be able to identify the picture as being of you. Without being incorporated into a structure with accompanying data the image to the wider public remains anonymous.

Photographs only truly become data when, for example, they are put into a police database and used to produce “spotter cards” for use by police at demonstrations, or when they are displayed on a right-wing hate web site along with names and other data with the intention of encouraging violence or other illegal acts against demonstrators and journalists (thanks to Marc Vallée for the anonymised link posted on Twitter.)

I’ve published literally thousands of pictures of children over the years, but I’ve always been careful not to give names except in very special circumstances. At times I’ve blurred name badges on them – (and some pictures of adults) – in order to preserve a certain anonymity. I’ve generally only named adults in pictures who are in some sense public figures – if at times in a very local and minor way. There might I think be some sense in restricting or at least reviewing the local paper practice of giving names and ages in picture captions, although local papers are becoming a thing of the past in any case.

Increasingly we are moving from still images to the use of video, and here the problems that the suggested regulations would produce seem more or less insuperable. Could we really have online newspapers without news pictures and online TV without news film from the UK? It does appear to be what the ICO proposals might produce.

Jane Bown

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Last Thursday I read a post on Twitter about the Guardian Interactive feature on Jane Bown, which accompanies a show of her work next door to the Guardian at Kings Place, on until 21 Nov 2009 and a new book of her work.

The site has an excellent collection of her portraits and a video in which she talks about her time at Guildford School of Art studying with Ifor Thomas, her first assignment for the Observer in 1949 and some key sessions since then, including photographing the Beatles, The Queen, Francis Bacon, Samuel Beckett and others.

She has really had an incredible career as a portrait photographer, and I’ve always admired her simple and straightforward style both as a photographer and a person. Once well-known for carrying her camera in a basket, she never worried much about equipment. She got an Olympus OM1 with a standard lens when it came out in the early 1970s and is still using it.  When the Queen, awarding her an MBE, asked what she did, the reply was “I’m a hack.” Later she got a CBE and when both women were 80 the Queen sat for a session with her.

You can also view an earlier presentation on her work, made at the time of the publication of ‘The Unknown Jane Bown’ and an essay about her written in 2007  by Germaine Greer.  Photographers will find some details interesting, such as her “40-year-old Olympus OM1 cameras, with a 50mm F2.5 lens”  wondering how she managed to get the camera in 1967 when Olympus only announced it in 1972 and thinking that the lens looks rather like the more familiar and very fine f1.8 that most of the rest of us used, but it still makes interesting reading.

Bert Hardy Talk

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Years ago I remember going to hear Bert Hardy  talking about his own work at the Photographers’ Gallery. It was an entertaining evening, but a rather predictable one, as by that time he had a rather carefully worked out script that he followed almost word for word about his life and work on every occasion. It was good to go and see him and watch him perform, but there was little if anything new in the actual content.

The selection of pictures too was predictable. Not least because back in the “good old days“, the “golden years of photojournalism“, photographers worked for hire and the publication owned the pictures, which in the case of Picture Post, disappeared into the Hulton empire. Getty, not am organisation I usually have much praise for, deserve credit for having preserved material that might otherwise have been lost from the Hulton Archives.

And on November 10th, 2009,  Graham Harrison is giving a talk, The Unseen Bert Hardy, showing images recently rediscovered in that Picture Post collection at the Photographers’ Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW,  at 7:00pm. The PG also has a nice little selection of his images for sale on line, although the thumbnails are a little misleading*. Harrison, whose Photo Histories site I’ve mentioned before and should visit more often (don’t go there unless you have a lot of time to spare!), was able to look through hundreds of original Picture Post contact sheets and find many Hardy pictures and stories that were never used.

There is a taste of what is in store in Doorstepping a city: how Bert Hardy captured life in Barcelona during the Franco dictatorship on Photo Histories. Spain was under the powerful thumb of Franco’s fascist dictatorship and times were tense as a general strike was taking place in Barcelona as Hardy arrived. Some of his pictures were published together with a story by James Cameron in ‘Barcelona: city in ferment‘ on April 15, 1951, but the others have just sat in the archive until now.

Although Hardy had got into photography with a Leica, in Spain he was using a square medium format camera, presumably a Rollei or Rolleiflex*. This gave the distinct advantage in tense situations of working with a camera held at waist-level with a quiet shutter. One disadvantage was its fixed standard lens, but this was an age where the publishing climate didn’t expect the kind of close intrusion and ‘big close ups’ we take for granted in the press today.  Much of the time he was on the street the camera was probably largely hidden in the folds of his coat. It must also have helped that people generally were much less aware of cameras and their possibilities than today, although some of his subjects have clearly realised they are being photographed, most seem to have remained unaware of the photographer.

Cameras then were simpler beasts, and although they lacked the automatic functions that we now take for granted (but curse when they let us down)  experienced photographers could set the aperture and shutter speed they would need without having to look at the camera (and without of course the help of a light meter.)

Focus with medium format might need some attention, but experienced photographers  became precise judges of distance, in more active kinds of work preferring to set focus by scale rather than relying on the much slower process of viewing the image on the viewing screen.  For many situations they would focus in advance on a particular distance – perhaps 10 ft – and then move or wait to be at exactly that distance when taking the picture.  (This is something street photographers still do, even with modern cameras that may have autofocus, though generally using closer distances and wider lenses with greater depth of field to give a zone of focus ; turning off autofocus – and autoexposure – cuts the lag between pressing the release and the picture being taken.)

Framing with the larger negative was also less of an issue, although some of the contacts on the slide show suggest that at times Hardy did it with great care. In general photographers were advised to leave plenty of space around the subject to allow for cropping that was almost always applied by editors both to fit images into the page layout but also as a way of showing they were doing their job (sometimes even when it meant ruining the pictures.)   Only two of his eight images printed in the Barcelona story are used in the square format they were taken, although that figure is probably higher than average and perhaps reflects the higher regard for images by Picture Post than most other publications.

* On the PG site, all the thumbnails are square but many of the images aren’t, having been taken on 35mm. Presumably apart from his Blackpool girls on the promenade rails, taken with a Box Brownie, the remaining square format images were largely made with a Rollei.

Quite incidentally in this set of pictures I notice the Spanish dancer in his 1954 image complete with leering British sailors in a Gibraltar bar is wearing pants under her swirling skirts, while I was embarrassed to find from some of the pictures that the flamenco dancer I photographed in London a few years ago wasn’t. Only slightly embarrassed, but I did choose not to publish the images that had revealed more to a fast shutter speed than was clearly apparent to the naked eye.

Worldbytes Defend the Freedom to Film

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Worldwrite is a Hackney education charity which teaches youths how to make film, putting out the efforts made by 16-25 year olds on the web as an alternative news channel,, and increasingly they are running into the same problems many of us face when taking photographs on the street.

Under English law, photography and filming is allowed in public places. You don’t need to get anyone’s permission or a licence to film on the streets, but more and more some people are taking it into their hands to try and stop it happening. As Worldwrite say: “we are finding it increasingly difficult to film in public places in Hackney: security guards, community wardens and self-appointed ‘jobsworths’ are refusing us ‘permission’ to film on many of our streets.

On Sunday 18 October, Worldbytes visited several of what they call ‘film-free places‘ in Hackney where their crews have run into difficulties and photographing to make a film about the problem, coming as a group to challenge these attempts to restrict our freedom, talking and interviewing people and handing out fliers explaining what they were doing and why.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

I met them at Ridley Road Market in Dalston, where I’ve photographed a few times over the years. Its one of London’s more interesting and multicultural markets, and there are always some interesting people on both sides of the stalls. I’ve had no problems there in the past, though there have been a few things I’ve decided it wouldn’t be wise to try and photograph. But Worldbytes crews have been told they can’t film there, not by the stall holders or other market users, but by employees of Hackney Council.

Worldbytes had issued an invitation for photographers and film-makers to go along and take pictures in support of their protest, and so I did. After talking to them, I decided to walk along the market and see if anyone working there objected to me taking pictures. Or indeed if council employees tried to stop me.

I took some general views without asking anyone for permission, but as usual, where I wanted to take pictures including stallholders or other people I asked if I might. Not because I need to, but out of politeness, and I shrugged my shoulders and moved on if they refused. Of course at times I photograph people who don’t want to be photographed, but this wasn’t appropriate here.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

As I was using flash most of the time, it was clear that I was taking pictures and some people asked me to photograph them who I might otherwise have walked by. At one place I did stop to argue after having been refused – and eventually managed to get permission to take a picture; at another I got profuse apologies from an employee who was obviously sorry that the stall owner had decided not to cooperate with Worldbytes.

After around 20 minutes taking pictures I was asked if I would do an interview for the programme Worldbytes crews were making about the right to film, and although I much prefer to stay behind a camera I agreed. Though I do hope that my contribution is going to end up on the cutting room floor.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

The council employees didn’t turn up to stop filming while I was there; probably Sunday is their day off. But it’s very hard to understand why Hackney Council should allow or instruct their employees in this way. They should know the law after all.

From what I was told it appears to be a case of misguided zeal around concerns about children and vulnerable adults, but the law is clear. As the Worldbytes flier put it:

There is in fact NO LAW against filming or taking photographs in public places and permission or a licence is NOT required for gathering news for news programmes in public spaces.

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

Contrary to what many people think – possibly including Hackney Council – you don’t need permission to photograph children, though now even being seen with a camera anywhere near them arouses suspicion. Cartier-Bresson wouldn’t now get away with his great image of a boy on a street corner proudly bringing home the bread and wine without being attacked by vigilantes or questioned by the authorities and getting on the sex-offender’s register. Of course there are good reasons to be very careful when approaching children, and often photographers will now want to have the permission of the responsible adults, but it isn’t an offence and should not cause any problems to take pictures of normal activities in public, for example of children accompanied by their parents shopping in a market.

Some areas of the market may be privately owned, as increasingly is the case with public places, even those where the public has more or less unrestricted access. Canary Wharf, where photographers held a protest against restrictions on photography last month, is an prime example, along with most shopping centres. In these privately owned places the owners can make their own rules, and usually ban photography, though amateurs and tourists may be tolerated.

But the problems photographers face in most public places are linked to the current paranoia over terrorism, which has been pandered to by parliament with panic-driven legislation and by the police with advertising posters that suggested that a camera is a terrorist weapon. But even parliaments misplaced zeal looks almost reasonable when you look at the way these laws have been misapplied by police and public employees.

Laws meant to deal with terrorists have been used against peaceful protesters, against innocent tourists and against photographers. The police did get a small rap across the knuckles from the Home Office in a recent circular which reminded them that they should only use the terrorist legislation where there is a reasonable suspicion of terrorism, and it is clearly time that councils and other employers attempted to teach reason to their staff as well.

The last thing that would-be terrorists are likely to do is to walk around their prospective target areas with large cameras and tripods, making themselves obvious. They are unlikely to take photographs at all, but should they choose to do so, their most likely tool is a camera phone and they will definitely not want to be seen as photographers. In most cases the visual information already readily available from on-line high-resolution satellite photography or Google’s Street View is likely to be of more use.

Photography and film are important media of visual expression, and the freedom to take pictures, especially about the society in which we live, is a vital part of the freedom of expression that makes our society a free society – and we all need to be vigilant to keep it free.

Edited versions of this post have appeared on Demotix and Indymedia. More pictures from Ridley Road on My London Diary.

Griffin BBC Protest

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

The BNP are a pretty nasty lot who I’ve photographed several times over the years but they weren’t around outside the BBC on Thursday night, just a thousand or two anti-fascists who are considerably more pleasant to be around and to photograph.

© 2009 Peter Marshall

But I did have problems taking pictures. The biggest was me, but also there were other photographers and videographers, as well as my camera and flash playing up.

This was a very high profile event taking place outside the largest media organisation in Britain, so it was hardly surprising that there were a great many photographers there, both professional and amateur – and more guys with video cameras than I could count.

© 2009 Peter Marshall

This isn’t a great picture but it gives you some idea. It was taken very shortly after a group of demonstrators had surged through the gates at the left, and the police had grouped too late to stop about 30 or so. I was actually up with them, but decided not to go onto the BBC site but moved to one side to photograph. I’m always wary of getting into situations where I might get trapped, but here there were several photographers who were on the other side of the gates who might have got better pictures.  Those in the picture here probably didn’t get a great deal, but they mightily outnumber the few demonstrators trapped between them and the police.

There were just so many people taking pictures it was hard to get a decent position – and when you did it was 100% sure that some guy with a large video camera would push in front of you. One of my friends – even though he takes video – was actually trampled on by a BBC crew, so I guess I was lucky.

Although I’d planned to get on site early, things kicked off just as I arrived, and I rushed into taking pictures. Somehow, without my noticing it, my camera had decided to reset itself to the default settings, which frankly are extremely odd.  You might think I should have noticed, but I didn’t, probably because I wasn’t wearing my glasses. I can’t get used to using a camera with glasses on, but without them I can’t read the LCD screen.

So I shot everything on JPEG rather than RAW, which was a real pain, especially since the lighting was pretty tricky. But I contrived to mess up even more, taking pictures for quite a while on too low ISO and so getting problems with camera shake and lack of depth of field. But the camera was also up to some tricks, giving occasional frames with exposure that was way out of line with what was needed for no apparent reason.

Since it was beginning to get dark, I slotted the flash into the hot shoe, but in the excitement of the moment forget to check it was still on its usual setting. It wasn’t, and before I realised I’d shot quite a few frames hideously over-exposed. It wasn’t immediately obvious on the viewing screen as often I’d shot several frames fairly rapidly and when I checked on the back of the camera saw only the last – where the flash hadn’t fully recharged and the exposure was more or less ok.

Once I realised the flash wasn’t doing what it should I put on my glasses and tried to sort it out.  Whatever I did it didn’t want to work normally, although eventually I managed to get more consistent exposures.

Of course sometimes things going wrong can produce interesting results. I was using flash with a shutter speed of 1/60 to combine with ambient light at ISO800 on pictures like this one:

© 2009 Peter Marshall

and when someone with a video camera barges into you the results can be quite interesting:

© 2009 Peter Marshall

There are around 50 pictures from the event on My London Diary, and a tighter edit of around 15 from these on Demotix, where the feature made the front page.

Paris Photo 2009

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

I don’t think I’m going to make it to Paris for Paris Photo this year, although I always enjoy a visit there and there is so much to see not just at the show but also elsewhere in the city.  Even though this year it won’t be ‘Le Mois de la Photo’ – which only takes place every other year – there is always a lot of photography to see at this time.

© 2008 Peter Marshall

It’s also a good place to meet a few old friends from around the world, and those who live in Paris, including Jim and Millie Casper. Lensculture is one of the truly essential photographic sites and partner in Paris Photo and Jim has put a great set of one hundred and sixty-seven images on line from the show to whet your appetite for a visit there. I just don’t have time to write about them all, but there are some fine images there (and just a few things I hope never to see again.)    But I can’t resist mentioning a lovely Inge Morath colour image I’ve not seen before.  There are also of course other things worth taking a look at in the new ‘issue’ of Lensculture.

Just thinking about it again to write this short note has made me think again, tempted by the idea (and I’ve even downloaded the accreditation form.)  But given the value of the pound and my lack of commissions and sales at the moment a trip like this is very hard to justify, at least to my accountant and the tax man.

© 2008 Peter Marshall

You can read and see rather more than the above two pictures from my trip last year in a ‘PARIS SUPPLEMENT‘ on My London Diary. And perhaps I’ll save up to make the trip again in 2010.

Taken in London at TINAG

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

This Is Not A Gateway (TINAG) is a voluntary organisation that creates arenas/platforms for those whose point of reference is the city. Working across disciplines, TINAG encourages inter-cultural dialogue and rigorous production through four strands: FESTIVAL, SALONS, PUBLICATIONS and ARCHIVE.

The TINAG 2009 Festival is taking place now – 23 – 25 OCTOBER 2009 – in Hanbury St, Spitalfields, between Brick Lane and Commercial St, just across the road from the old Spitalfields Market. And on Sunday morning in a session that starts at 11.00 am, Paul Baldesare and myself will be doing a 5 minute presentation on our show Taken in London. Assuming the technology works, we will be projecting all 41 pictures from the show during that time, as well as talking very rapidly!

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

You can download the festival programme as a PDF, and it does give details of all the sessions and events in Hanbury St, though I was disappointed to find that there was no listing of the events outside this area – such as Taken in London.

Bike Power at the nabokov Arts Club

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Another first for my work tomorrow when it will be projected for the first time by bike power!

© Peter Marshall

The nabokov Arts Club returns with another extravaganza of live theatre, music, comedy, poetry and visual art in a vast, atmospheric Victorian warehouse in the heart of Shoreditch … at Village Underground, recently named ‘Top Venue for Wow Factor’ by Time Out Londonthe Arts Club will be joining tens of thousands of people from over 150 countries for the biggest ever day of climate change activism. We’ll be part of a global action coordinated by to urge world leaders to take bold and immediate steps to address climate change and reduce carbon emissions. Within our solar-powered venue we will have a bicycle-powered art installation showcasing climate change photography…”

Which will include the set of 24 pictures – including the one above – that I put together for Foto Arte 2007 in Brasilia. Just in case you can’t get along to Shoreditch for what looks like a very interesting evening (and I can’t make it myself) you can see the full set of pictures here. As well as showing a number of demonstrations in London there are also some pictures from the Manor Gardens Allotments, which were bulldozed to make way for the London 2012 Olympics – see London Olympics – Green Disaster for my thoughts on that and links to some more pictures.

© 2007 Peter Marshall
The venue for the Brasilia show  – more snaps from my Brasilia trip

The partying in Shoreditch goes on from 8pm until 2am – including an extra hour when we change back from Summer Time to GMT, always a sad moment for those of us who like to photograph out of doors. The people there are going to produce a banner which will be photographed on the rooftop with the City as a backdrop and become part of the campaign to put pressure on world leaders to actually agree to some effective action at Copenhagen in December.

Village Underground is just a few minutes walk from Hoxton Market, where the exhibition ‘Taken in London‘ with work by myself and Paul Baldesare continues until the end of the month at ‘The Shoreditch Gallery‘ in the Juggler – see Opening Night, Hanging Day and Taken in London for more details. And just before lunch on Sunday, Paul and I will be giving a five minute illustrated presentation on the show as a part of the ‘This is Not A Gateway‘ festival in Hanbury St, Spitalfields, again about a five minute walk away. Things really are all happening in this part of London – and Photomonth 2009 really is keeping photography very much at the heart of them.

Getty, Yahoo, Flickr & Picscout

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

The title Might Picscout Ultimately Cause Yahoo to Acquire Getty? is probably enough to put most people off reading  Dan Heller‘s latest post on his Photography Business blog, but if you want to see what the future so far as buying and selling photography on the web is likely to be I’d suggest you struggle through it. What follows come from my own attempt to understand what he is suggesting – and doubtless to put my own spin on it. It also helps to read some of Heller’s other pieces he links to, and in particular his comments about  Picscout’s Index Registry Connection (IRC.)

I’m not sure that there is a lot of good news for those of us who try and make a living – or a part of one – selling stock images. Heller sees a future in which image use will be integrated into applications such as DTP software so that when someone putting a page together wants an image to use, the software will find suitable images on the web using image recognition technology, identify the ownership of the image and licensing fee (if any) required and carry out the appropriate payment transaction.

Of course all the companies involved in this process are going to want their cut – the software provider, the search company and the company providing the licensing data etc – as well as the site hosting the images, whether it is an on-line agency or a social networking site.

So, as others have also pointed out, with so many taking their cut, there is going to be less for the actual creator. Heller does however suggest there will be a silver lining in that the actual volume of sales should increase greatly, so in total we may do better.

Agencies he suggests will also change; they will need to work at getting good rankings in search engines (at present some are virtually invisible) and Heller also suggest they will need to give up their current policy of acting as editors and instead aim for volume content – the more the merrier, never mind the quality.

I’m not sure that this is the case. Some agencies at least have a reputation for quality that enables them to charge premium fees. Years ago I remember being rather shocked to find that some photographers working on the same project as me were getting paid exactly twice the rate I was, not because their pictures were better but because they were Magnum. There were two prices for the same job.

Whatever new system emerges I’m sure that such differences in licence fees will continue, and that quality control will be essential in maintaining them. When the putative buyer is presented with a page or two of thumbnails of similar images, it will perhaps be even more important that your image stands out to attract sales.

Virtually every photographer will be familiar with the experience of opening a paper or magazine and thinking “why on earth did they use that picture?” when you know you had a much better image. With a much more comprehensive search based on image-recognition, your picture might have a chance too.

As to Getty, Yahoo and Flickr I think perhaps the writing is on the wall for Getty. I certainly wouldn’t mourn its passing.