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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2003-12-01
Let's Talk Business: Flowers in the Weeds
By Rick Rickman
I've been writing business columns for the Sports Shooter News Letter for over 2 years now. Sometimes I start to feel like it's a huge waste of time. I see photographers decide to sell out by giving away their copyright, not charging for their work, giving away their material to publishing interests that they feel they want to work for because they think that doing so will garner favor for them with that publication. It's sometimes a little depressing.
Recently however, I started to feel that there actually is hope in this industry. I had a young man come up to me at The Luau and tell me how appreciative he was of my writings. He told me that he had had two situations this year in which he felt like he was under heavy pressure to sign a contract with a publishing company that would take the rights to his work away from him. He told me that he was about to say yes to the deal when he remember an article I had written in Sports Shooter that talked about photographers A, B and C. I remembered the article as well. It was one of my earlier columns.
To my surprise this young photographer parroted back to me my very words about how if you sold out and gave away the rights to your work, you could work all of your professional career and never get ahead. It was clear that he had read the piece many times. That is almost funny because I had an English literature professor in college who once told me that my writing was so atrocious that no one could ever possibly want to read anything I would ever write.
Anyway, he told me that story meant so much to him because he really did want to be able to make his love, this photography thing, a well paying career as well as a point of passion and it scared him to death to think that if he worked 30 years at this job that he would have nothing to show for those efforts. He said that one of his greatest fears was that he could work all his life and wind up penniless and bitter.
He told me that he summoned up the courage to decline the offer of work under those conditions from this magazine even though doing so was the hardest thing he'd ever done. I could see by the look in his eye that he really wanted to work with this company. He told me he spent 3 days after that decision wondering why he had done it and worrying about ever getting another opportunity to work with them again.
I thought for sure this was going to be one of those encounters in which the young man just wanted reassurances that he had done the right thing and I was going to have to spend time justifying by opinions again. To my surprise, this young man said, well guess what? The magazine called me just before I was leaving for the airport to come here for the Luau and offered me another opportunity. This time it was on my terms. He had this big grin on his face and he said that he just wanted to be sure and find me to let me know how much he appreciated my encouragements in my columns. He said he had to run inside to see a couple people but shook my hand again and said thanks one more time as he headed for the door.
It was one of those whirlwind encounters that take you by surprise but leave a smile on your face. Like somebody calling out of the blue and asking you to photograph something you love. Unexpected but wonderful.
Those kinds of things are a little like living in the desert. You go a long time without seeing anything pretty. In the desert you can walk for miles and see nothing but mesquite bushes, tumble weeds and razor grass. All of a sudden you drop down into a little wash and there next to a small tuft of hummock grass is one of the pretties blue flowers you'll ever see. In the midst of all that beige sand and withered vegetation it's a stark reminder that good things can be found.
Just recently on the message board a young man wrote in lament that he had been working for the racing industry and started by agreeing to take passes in exchange for giving the pictures he took to the race people to use as they saw fit.
He was complaining that he realized now that if he was going to continue to be able to shoot pictures at these events he was going to have to make some money from the images that he was producing. The giant bulb of consciousness illuminated! Anyway, he was soliciting advice on what to do to try and get the racing people to pay him for his work.
The most encouraging thing about this discussion were the responses to the inquiry. Some people talked about how they might do this or might do that but many people pointed out that the only reason the situation existed in the first place was that this young man had agreed initially to give his work away for nothing to the management people at the track. I may be naive or misguided in my assessment here but I don't think that those responses would have been as direct a year or so ago.
I have to admit that I'm a petty simple guy. I'm amused easily by simple things. It does make me happy to know that there are so many young photographers out there today who are contemplating how to do things right and not be taken advantage of. I know that there is still so much ground to make up but to know that at least photographers are starting to think about how specific deals can affect their long term careers is terrifically encouraging.
This past week, two things happened that made me want to jump for joy and buy the house a round. The first was a small but important event. A young photographer called me up to ask about a potential sale of some biking images to a company who has a website and wanted to use his images on that website.
He told me that he had gone to the EP website and looked up some appropriate pricing for web use. He gave me his calculated figures for use and asked me if I thought that was a good price. I told him that I thought that was a good starting point. He explained to me that this company had balked at this price and then told him that they only really wanted to use six pictures. He asked me if I thought it would be ok to make them a deal for the six pictures.
I told this fellow that I thought it was always a good idea to try and figure out some way for there to be a meeting of the minds so that both the client and the photographer get what they needed from a deal.
The trick often times is to be clear what it is you, as the photographer, want from the deal. I asked him straight away what he wanted from this deal. The first thing he mentioned was he wanted money. The next thing he mentioned was a link from their website to his so he could get some publicity. Both were good requests from a good deal.
Anyway, I mentioned to him that if the client balked at the initial price it may be that they really weren't interested in paying for the images at all. If that were to be the case I was curious what he would do.
Without any hesitation at all he said that he would say thanks for the interest but they'd have to find the images somewhere else because he wasn't going to give his work away. If he had been in the same room with me I probably would have hugged this young guy.
He had done everything right! He had prepared himself for a negotiation by researching an appropriate price for the sale of his work. He had decided what it was he needed from the sales arrangement and what to do if certain aspects of the discussion and negotiations went in various directions. In essence he had worked through his negotiations in advance and was prepared for the eventualities. Most importantly he had established in his own mind what he would not be willing to do.
These are the kinds of things that make all the difference when it comes to doing business in today's market. Being prepared is more important than many other things. Having the security of mind that having done the research on prices gives you in a negotiation can create a sense of control that will help successfully negotiate to a good conclusion.
The best thing that happened this past week however was one of those things that really create a sense of encouragement for me for the future of this industry. For me it was like coming out of winter. Probably more like finding a gem in the rough. I used to live in Iowa years ago and worked for the Des Moines Register.
One of the best things about that job was that the director of photography there thought it was important to send the photographers from the paper out to shoot images from around the state for the Sunday edition of the paper. This really gave the photographer a chance to get to know the state well and often find some very interesting images.
There are a lot of old places in Iowa. Many of those old places have a wondrous beauty about them that's missed unless you make a point to explore some of the old abandoned properties carefully. On those old deserted farms you can feel a sense of the past and find elements of beauty in the simple things.
When you look closely at the weathered wood, there's a design and pattern that sets up amazing design patterns. The way the wind often blows through the tall weed filled fields creates interesting designs themselves.
Often however, in the spring when the land begins to warm to the sun, in those same fields hidden from obvious view by tall weeds and blown refuse you'll find old gardens that produce amazing blooms even after years of neglect. I remember one spring in 1979 finding just such a place near Corydon, Iowa.
The old farm was in such a state of disrepair. I stopped initially because the way the huge old barn was sagging and looked almost poetic. I walked toward the barn looking for a spot to photograph and as I approached I saw this profusion of color peaking out from under some decaying wood and clumps of weeds.
It was an old flower garden doing it's best to survive. One of the blooms was actually peaking up next to a piece of weathered wood from the barn that had fallen to the ground. The contrast of that new blossom against that weather battered plank created such a compelling sense of beauty for me I still remember it today vividly. I still see that orange-ish blossom in my mind often.
It was like that for me when I heard about this group of young photographers at UC Berkeley who decided to take a stand against a bad contract deal at the Daily Californian Newspaper.
This college newspaper decided that all the photographers who worked for the paper were going to have to turn over their copyright to the paper in exchange for working for the publication. Some of the photographers who have worked for the paper for years decided that this was an unreasonable request. The students are only paid $11.00 dollars for the images that are published in the paper and are not salaried employees.
They are allowed to use some gear that the paper supplies some times as well. This compensation doesn't even begin to amount to a fair exchange for the value of turning over one's copyright to a publishing interest.
These young photographers have taken a brave stand that will ultimately affect their lives in the months to come. They have been locked out of working for the paper for taking this stand even though it's the right stance to take. Not being adequately compensated for your work is never good.
Not being adequately compensated for your work and having the rights to that work taken from you is unjust, wrong minded, and immoral. To think that an institution of higher learning would be the perpetrator of this kind of action sends all the wrong signals to young photographers who are attempting to learn to succeed at their chosen professions.
Sometimes doing the right thing is the loneliest of roads. Attempting to create better conditions in the world is never easy. This group of young photographers is doing the right thing and should be commended and supported for trying to help create equitable conditions under which to work. The policy wonks at the paper that have locked these guys out should be ashamed of themselves and ultimately will find that what goes around comes around.
For me, these young people taking a stance on principal was much akin to those days in the spring in Iowa. Those young photographers are the future of our profession. If this industry is ever to make progress and continue to survive it will be because of people like those photographers at Berkeley who chose not to be taken advantage of.
They are like the color of hope in a sea of turbulent and decaying chaff. They are like flowers in the weeds and I salute them for their courage and tenacity. I also thank them for their encouragement to an aged member of this wonderful profession we call photojournalism, who was in need of a little inspiration at this juncture.
(Rick Rickman is a freelance photographer based in Southern California. He is a regular contributor to the Sports Shooter Newsletter on business issues.)
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