Posts Tagged ‘USA’

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.