Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

Not Window Dressing

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

I’ve never worked in the United States (or as they call it, America) or at least only digitally, having been on contract serially with three major US companies over a period of around 7 years. It started well, but ended sadly, at least in part because I wasn’t from the States.

During those years I sometimes had to write about the USA as if I was located there, taking a lively interest in exhibitions at US museums, reporting on some US events and US institutions, and about the US photography culture in general (and more difficult, on Thanksgiving and Independence Day.) In later years I even had to use ‘American English’, though I made no secret of being British and continued to try adopt an international approach, introducing my readers to photography around the world.

There were many ways in which photographers working in the USA had things rather better than us in the British Isles, and perhaps the basis of all these was a culture that took photography much more seriously than here, something that was perhaps most apparent in the number of museums and galleries and in the US press.

And generally books, magazines and papers were happy to pay usage rates that were considerably above those in the UK. I remember getting one request from a left magazine with a profuse apology for what little they could offer me for a picture which was at least twice what a more mainstream British publication would have paid, and was annoyed a few years later when a UK agency sold a picture for text book use at just under a third of the payment I had negotiated directly with the publisher for a previous edition (and then took 50% of that meagre fee for their efforts on my behalf!)

One of the reasons for these differences is the presence of strong organisations representing photographers, one of which is the National Press Photographers Association, NPPA. Of course we have organisations here, but good as some are, none has the same clout.

Newspapers across the USA are now suffering with competition from the web (and some have very fine web sites themselves) and many have made drastic cuts in staffing, with many photographers being ‘let go’, leaving many, particularly the smaller regional and local papers that are much more important in the US than here, without staff photographers and with very limited budgets for pictures. As of course we’ve seen in the UK.

It’s a situation that led Jaymie Baxley , a reporter working for The Pilot in Southern Pines, North Carolina to take pity on his fellow journalists and help them by “creating a resource for reporters in small newsrooms that no longer have visual journalists“, setting up a website offering his own editorial photographs for free.

As you can read on the NPPA web site in a post by Sue Morrow,
Pictures are not window dressing. In fact, pictures are the window, this did not go down well with other photographers. And the NPPA got on the case, explaining their position to Baxley, who quickly took down the website.

Under Morrow’s article is a post by NPPA President Michael P King which makes a great case for professional photography, starting from the premise ‘Photography is valuable‘ and giving some reasons why.

It’s a statement I think is worth reading and which makes a great case for using professional photography – by staff or freelance photographers. As he says it’s a matter of trust and legality and of retaining credibility for news organisations.

Controlling the Image

Thursday, September 5th, 2019

Two stories I’ve read in the past couple of weeks have illustrated an increasing attempt by organisers of events to control the way they are photographed. It’s something that has happened over many years in some limited areas of photography, particularly around the film and music industries, but which seems now to be widening as PR people become more and more involved.

I’ve only rarely worked in areas where accreditation is vital, and have hardly ever needed to get permission before distributing or publishing images. Occasionally when taking portraits I’ve shown pictures of people to them before sending them off, but generally only as a courtesy; fortunately I’ve never had anyone object to my choices. But then I usually try to show people at their best, and generally delete pictures that show people in an unfairly negative light rather than use them. It’s a decision that has almost certainly cost me considerably with pictures of some politicians.

There have been one or two cases where long after an image has been published on a web site I’ve been asked if I would remove it. Unless there is a legal imperative or a very good reason – for example that it might endanger someone’s safety or even life by enabling a violent offender to trace them – I ignore such requests. Being unflattering isn’t grounds for censorship.

Often I’ve photographed aspects of events which the organisers would prefer were not shown, but I’ve not faced the kind of problems which Manchester-based photographer Joel Goodman describes in his blog post about his experiences in photographing Manchester Pride. Of course people have deliberately got in my way (police and security staff are skilled in this) but I’ve not been threatened with removal and ejection from events, though rather too often with arrest.

One of Goodman’s main complaints is about a PR person who tried to prevent him from taking pictures when “a lesbian gender ideology protest attempted to hijack the front of the parade“. Later the same woman came up to him at a candlelit vigil and told him he had to leave, because of his coverage of the earlier incident and also his photograph of Ariana Grande, taken from a public place after he and other photographers had been banned from photographing the event – for which the singer’s team provided a single image for media use.

Goodman, who I’ve met covering various events in London and whose photographic work is admirable, makes his points about this clearly, stating his legal rights as well as making clear what he feels is his job as a journalist, and his feelings as a gay, HIV+ man in being told by Pride’s PR team he was not “on our side” and would be refused accreditation for Pride in future years.

Clearly Pride’s attitude is totally unacceptable and as Goodman says, it “exposes the ever present danger of the sort of expectations PR operatives have of journalists, in exchange for access.”

At the bottom of the post are links to his photographs of the events, and as you can verify they show a totally professional approach.

The second article I read was by photographer Peter Dench in the Amateur Photographer, in a post I don’t care if my documentary shots are ‘unflattering’ about covering several sporting events. On a press trip to a prestigious horse-racing event for The Sunday Times Magazine he met two people who described themselves as ‘journalists and influencers and vloggers’ who he says seemed ‘to have spent most of their day in the hospitality box making saccharine social media posts of the sponsor’s products.’ I’m sure they were the PR’s delight.

At another sporting event he was asked when leaving by the PR to show the photographs he had taken in the VIP marquee. Dent writes: “‘I can’t do that,’ I said. ‘I haven’t seen them yet and after I’ve seen them, the client will be the next to see them, then I can let you have a look’ ” He was then informed that a photographer ‘the previous year had taken a less-than-flattering photograph of a minor royal and was now excluded from all of their events.

Dench goes on to mention other cases of photographers being warned not to take ‘unflattering’ pictures or have accreditation refused. He concludes with the sentence ‘Photographers shouldn’t stop taking truthful photographs of what they witness. They may not be seen immediately but one day, I hope, they will form an important archive of our time.’