1200 Troops to US/Mexico Border

Undocumented migrants gather along the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, California before attempting to cross into the US.

President Obama put immigration back on the front burner by announcing today that he’s sending 1200 National Guard troops to the US/Mexico border in an effort to stem drug and migrant smuggling.

Coming weeks after Arizona forced the administration’s hand by implementing a racially charged law requiring all immigrants to carry papers proving they’re in the country legally, President Obama looks to be taking the fight to the Republicans in a effort to show he’s tough on immigration too.

Will the added enforcement put a crimp in smuggling? Probably in the short run, but history has proven that as long as there is a desire to seek a better life, or a desire from a drug hungry society, the suppliers will always find a way to fill the demand.

As ingrained as politics is in the immigration debate, it remains to be seen if the move to place National Guard troops on the border is the first step in a concerted effort at reform or a way to appease the right. Any reform, as the President has indicated, will have to encompass a means to deal with the millions of undocumented already in the country.

$75 for Worldwide Use Forever in all Media? Uh, No Thanks.

A young teenager makes his way to the Owens River near Benton Crossing in the Eastern Sierras.

When major media companies start working to limit the amount of money they pay to license photographs, it’s time to speak up. I’ve seen this trend coming for years now, as have many of my friends and colleagues. Getty pushed the ball off the mountain years ago with a scheme to take over the world with low price, high usage licenses in a financially stupid attempt to own the market for stock imagery. Now, as the ball has rolled into a massive landslide, they are in the same boat as the rest of us as their model is hardly sustainable. They helped drive the prices so low that now they can’t even make money off of them and must rely on other ventures to stay solvent.

But they had help as well. From where, you ask? From the legions of naive and, to put it in plain language, stupid photographers who thought they had an opportunity to “get published” by agreeing to let Getty and Corbis and others sell their images for next to nothing. Don’t even get me going about Flickr. Even worse, there is a large network of people out there, professionals included, who think giving their work to places like the NY Times Lens Blog is a good way to “brand” themselves, to use marketing lingo. Well, brand away, because the business of giving away images or licensing for insanely cheap prices will drive your now “branded” business straight into bankruptcy.

Folks, once the genie is out of the bottle, it will be next to impossible to stuff it back in. Once publications are used to garnering content for nothing or next to nothing, they will NOT go back to licensing at a standard and fair price. Yes, it’s the Walmartization of the photography business. Cheap, inexpensive and, usually, not very high quality.

As I’ve noted before, I simply won’t participate. Going back to  the first days of my freelancing in the early 90’s I chose not to give away my work, and I won’t start now, no matter who is asking. I’ve walked away from very good, respectful clients, like the Sporting News, for whom I shot many, many assignments years ago. Once the copyright grabbing contracts emerged, I politely tried to renegotiate, but to no avail. TSN at the time simply wanted to own my images because they saw the actual value of the images in the licensing arena. In other words, why let the photographer who created the images earn the licensing money when the company can demand copyright transfer and then earn the licensing revenue themeselves. Many other companies, including Gannett and the Washington Post Company initiated similar contracts that required the photographer to relinquish massive rights to the company in exchange for assignments. No thanks, I’ll pass.

Yesterday I received a request for a image from someone I did not know. It was a somewhat vague request yet stated clearly the budget for usage was $75. The usage was not spelled out. Respectfully, I asked for the basic information (size, placement, duration, languages, region, revisions etc, etc) so that I could provide a quote. When the response came this morning, it was from one of the largest and most respected publishing empires in the photographic world. Again, the tone was nice and respectful, yet the request included these terms:

“1.     Licensor grants [company name] the non-exclusive right to reproduce an Image in the Production and to distribute the Production of the Material or any portion of the Material in the Production on any  [company name] branded web site page, in a [company name] branded product or service, or a product or service under [company name] editorial control distributed through any digital platform with the following rights: perpetual, non-exclusive, worldwide, in any and all languages as part of the Production and any edition or version of the Production.”

Translate: For $75 I would grant this publishing empire the right to use my image on any of their websites, on any product, to advertise any service through any digital platform forever throughout the world. Now, why would ANYONE agree to such terms?

Many of these contracts that I’ve dealt with have come with notes lamenting the sour economy and insinuating, or clearly stating in some cases, that the economy has driven them to such low prices. That’s simply erroneous as this trend began well before the economy tanked. Did the prices paid go up during the bustling economy? No.

As I’ve said before and I’ll say again, I politely decline to participate in destroying my own business. It should be noted here that there are enough publishers and companies (non profit and for profit) that offer fair prices for the licenses requested. In the past two weeks, Random House negotiated respectfully and fairly with me for two images to grace front and back book covers.  The last couple of days I’ve dealt with a designer who is exceptionally fair in dealing with licenses for a series of political advertising promos. That’s why it’s easy to decline the bad offers. I know there are fair offers out there.

When to Donate

Another request today for an image that an organization would like to use without paying. Although in the majority of cases I respond with a standard request for usage information so that I can create a quote, this time was a bit different.

My concern over the evolution of photography has been well documented here. Even recently I wrote about the devaluation of images due to the availability of distribution platforms as well as the proliferation of digital cameras among the every day consumer. In other words, higher volume, easy sharing/distribution and general a disregard for quality or value has contributed to the belief that most images can be acquired for free. Well, that’s not the case for me, although I always weigh the request. Today’s request was just a bit different.

The Independence Fund, a non profit that helps disabled veterans acquire equipment, especially the iBot wheelchair that retails for $25, 000-$30,000, as well as raise funds used by the vets in leisure and athletic activities, requested the image below.

Participants in the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego, California

The request was to use the image in the header of a soon-to-be redesigned website in hopes of making it more attractive to potential contributors. After some basic research on The Independence Fund, I decided this was one of those times where it would be pathetic for me to charge anything. It’s a relatively small organization built around volunteer efforts to aid disabled veterans. In other words, it was time to donate.

There are countless ways to provide help to others, and everyone has a cause that is dear to them, but it’s essential that we all try to contribute in some form or fashion. This was just one of those opportunities and I’m glad for it. I know many of my friends and colleagues do the same (with a favorite among photographers being Do 1 Thing.)

To make a donation to the Independence Fund, click here.

Fear and Loathing

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Los Angeles on May 1, 2010 to protest against the new Arizona law, SB 1070, that forces immigrants to carry papers.

I have had a couple of assignments in the past week that revolve around hate. Combined with the attempted car bombing in NY and the unabashedly strict new immigration law in Arizona, it makes me wonder how so much animosity can be so pervasive. Where does it all come from? Is it human nature to despise that which we don’t understand, those who are unlike us? Has extremism gone mainstream?

I was in San Francisco last week to photograph a young man named Jamie Nabozny. Jaime is the kind of person who anyone could hang around. A man with a kind demeanor who heralds from Wisconsin and works in corporate America. But I wasn’t there to photograph Jamie because he’s a nice, middle class, typical American male. I was there because a documentary is being made about hate and Jamie is at the core of it. Seems this mild mannered man had anything but a mild mannered adolescence. Realizing he was gay at an early age, Jamie encountered hate growing up that had San Francisco high school students gasping in disbelief during an assembly. Beyond the taunting and name calling, Jamie was regularly assaulted and even urinated on but found little or no support from his school teachers and administrators. After moving around to different schools and hoping to simply be left alone, Jamie resorted to multiple suicide attempts. Thankfully, he eventually found an administration at another new school that would not tolerate the hateful actions and crimes committed on Jamie. He now spreads the word to high schools with the hope that he can teach tolerance to the intolerant, to appeal to the people who would rather spread hate than understanding. His story brought tears to many a hardened high schooler in the crowd.

I flew home on Friday and ended up shooting the large immigration protest in Los Angeles the next day. With the state of Arizona leading the way in immigration reform, albeit in a hateful and remarkably stupid way that will create difficulties for Arizona police and citizens alike, tens of thousands of protestors gathered near City Hall to be heard. Black, brown, white, Asian, it didn’t matter. The multiethnic crowd wanted to be heard that hate toward the undocumented would not be tolerated. Too often when economic times are challenging and crimes are committed, people choose hate over dialogue, turning to scapegoating as opposed to working for a meaningful solution. And once again, as it has before especially during the 90’s with California’s Prop 187, hate rears it’s ugly head and the undocumented are singled out as the reason for society’s ills.

Immigration reform is no doubt necessary. Even the horde of demonstrators acknowledge that. But reform has to come with the acceptance of divergent opinions and the denouncement of hyperbole and propaganda disguised as facts. For example, again the people of this country are led to believe that the undocumented take more from social services than they give, thus depriving the taxpayer of needed services. It’s simply not true, but it’s used by those that spread hate as fact and indisputable despite reports to the contrary. As a NY Times article clearly pointed out, the strict standards in place to employ anyone, including immigrants, includes a demand for social security numbers by all employees. The undocumented, of course, purchase fake social security cards and papers to gain employment. The employers take the social security taxes out of the immigrant’s paycheck and send them to the federal government. But since those numbers are fake, that money is placed in a account for the government to use. The immigrant never sees a dime of it.

Seeking answers should always include a heavy dose of tolerance.