Archivio mensile:agosto 2012

We Have No Budget for Photos, di Tony Sleep

I receive an average of 2 proposals a week from people who have “no budget”  for photographs. Book publishers, magazines, newspapers, charities, corporates and start-ups nowadays all believe that photos are cost free, or that they are doing me a favour by offering to use my work and giving me a byline.
I no longer reply to such inquiries except by linking to this text.
Let’s be clear about a few things:
“No budget” is a euphemism for “we think photographers are mugs”. This offensive interpretation can easily be verifed by trying the phrase at your local restaurant, eg “I have no budget for dinner but I’d like to eat”. Adding a promise to tell all your friends where you ate will not deflect your head from the kerb as the manager throws you out.
Now imagine being a restaurant where  most people who come through the door try this on. The answer is NO, and I am being excessively polite.
If you didn’t really mean it and your “no budget” claim was just an opening bid, the answer is still NO. I want nothing to do with greedy opportunists who try to commence a negotiation with a lie. You have already demonstrated you cannot be trusted. You probably won’t be honest about usage, and will try not to pay.
And if you were one of those promising lots of better, paid work later, if only I can help you out now,  offer a contract else I’ll know you’re talking bullshit and the answer is of course NO.
You see I don’t want your stinking “exposure”, I want mutually beneficial, productive relationships with clients. I try to behave with  integrity, honesty and fairness, and I expect clients will do likewise. Exposure is the end of that process, not a means. Similarly with bylines.  I don’t require applause earned by being a sucker. If free matters more than good, ask someone else.
Like most people I work because I need to pay bills and support myself, my work and my family. The fact that I love what I do is why I have spent 40 years persevering whilst going without stuff most people take for granted. Vocation is not an invitation to disrespect.
Unsurprisingly I will not support parasitic business models that rely on exploiting photography, or me,  to extinction. With very rare exceptions (small charities run by unpaid volunteers that I choose to support) I have no budget for subsidising other peoples’ work and profitability. Supporting my own is next to impossible thanks to the current vogue for passing off exploitation as opportunity.
When I can afford it, I will drop a few quid into a charity box or give to a homeless person on the street. I regularly work for charities at a discounted rate. I look after baby birds that have fallen out of nests. I am a generous, kind and loving human being. But I  make an exception for salaried beggars who ask me to stuff a bundle of tenners in their pocket. They just piss me off. Especially when they insult me by telling me my life’s work is jolly nice but worthless.
I have had the most amazing conversations with numerous chancers who think decent photos are just some sort of serendipity that they should be entitled to freely earn off because electrons don’t cost much. One woman, a CEO of a £3.3m/yr organisation, explained that they like to use photos on their website because readers tell them that images communicate on a more accessible level than the text she commissions from her paid writers. So the value of photos was not in question. But she could not understand that perhaps she ought to use some of her £160,000 year website budget (I looked up their accounts on the web) to pay for photos. She could not understand that the photo she wanted to use only existed because I had invested time and money and learning in creating it. “Most photographers are happy to let us use their work for free”. Oh no they aren’t. They just didn’t go and look at her accounts and see that this woman was on £66k a year salary and ask why she didn’t work for the same rate she was shamelessly demanding.
Supply without payment is, of course, only viable for hobbyist photographers who don’t need an income from their photography. They have salaried jobs, pensions or private incomes, or perhaps suicidal romantic tendencies. I do not. They have a selfish attitude to destroying the sustainability of photography as a profession which they call “beating the pro’s at their own game”. Moreover a byline might appeal to their idiot vanity. I suggest you ask one of them. Alternatively find a new graduate or student to exploit – they are desperate and naive, and you have the opportunity to add to their crippling student debt by saving yourself a few quid.
If all this means you can’t source the images you want, that is just tough. I can’t source free cameras, computers, software, food, housing, fuel, either. If it’s all so damn easy and cheap, go and make your own photos.
If all this offends you, best stay away from mirrors too.

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Elephants’ Wings, di PZ Myers

Once upon a time, four blind men were walking in the forest, and they bumped into an elephant.
Moe was in front, and found himself holding the trunk. “It has a tentacle,” he said. “I think we have found a giant squid!”
Larry bumped into the side of the elephant. “It’s a wall,” he said, “A big, bristly wall.”
Curly, at the back, touched the tail. “It’s nothing to worry about, nothing but a piece of rope dangling in the trail.”
Eagletosh saw the interruption as an opportunity to sit in the shade beneath a tree and relax. “It is my considered opinion,” he said, “that whatever it is has feathers. Beautiful iridescent feathers of many hues.”
The first three, being of a scientifical bent, quickly collaborated and changed places, and confirmed each other’s observations; they agreed that each had been correct in the results of their investigations, except that there wasn’t a hint of feathers anywhere about, but clearly their interpretations required correction and more data. So they explored further, reporting to each other what they were finding, in order to establish a more complete picture of the obstacle in the path.
“Tracing the tentacle back, I find that it is attached to a large head with eyes, fan-shaped ears, and a mouth bearing tusks. It is not a squid, alas, but seems to be a large mammal of some sort,” said Moe.
“Quite right, Moe — I have found four thick limbs. Definitely a large tetrapod,” said Larry.
Curly seems distressed. “It’s a bit complicated and delicate back here, guys, but I have probed an interesting orifice. Since this is a children’s story, I will defer on reporting the details.”
Eagletosh yawns and stretches in the shade of a tree. “It has wings, large wings, that it may ascend into the heavens and inspire humanity. There could be no purpose to such an animal without an ability to loft a metaphor and give us something to which we might aspire.”
The other three ignore the idling philosopher, because exciting things are happening with their elephant!
“I can feel its trunk grasping the vegetation, uprooting it, and stuffing it into its mouth! It’s prehensile! Amazing!”, said Moe.
Larry presses his ear against the animal’s flank. “I can hear rumbling noises as its digestive system processes the food! It’s very loud and large.”
There is a squishy plop from the back end. “Oh, no,” says Curly, “I can smell that, and I think I should go take a bath.”
“You are all completely missing the beauty of its unfurled wings,” sneers Eagletosh, “While you tinker with pedestrian trivialities and muck about in earthy debasement, I contemplate the transcendant qualities of this noble creature. ‘Tis an angel made manifest, a symbol of the deeper meaning of life.”
“No wings, knucklehead, and no feathers, either,” says Moe.
“Philistine,” says Eagletosh. “Perhaps they are invisible, or tucked inside clever hidden pockets on the flank of the elephant, or better yet, I suspect they are quantum. You can’t prove they aren’t quantum.”
The investigations continue, in meticulous detail by the three, and in ever broader strokes of metaphorical speculation by the one. Many years later, they have accomplished much.
Moe has studied the elephant and its behavior for years, figuring out how to communicate with it and other members of the herd, working out their diet, their diseases and health, and how to get them to work alongside people. He has profited, using elephants as heavy labor in construction work, and he has also used them, unfortunately, in war. He has not figured out how to use them as an air force, however…but he is a master of elephant biology and industry.
Larry studied the elephant, but has also used his knowledge of the animal to study the other beasts in the region: giraffes and hippos and lions and even people. He is an expert in comparative anatomy and physiology, and also has come up with an interesting theory to explain the similarities and differences between these animals. He is a famous scholar of the living world.
Curly’s experiences lead him to explore the environment of the elephant, from the dung beetles that scurry after them to the leafy branches they strip from the trees. He learns how the elephant is dependent on its surroundings, and how its actions change the forest and the plains. He becomes an ecologist and conservationist, and works to protect the herds and the other elements of the biome.
Eagletosh writes books. Very influential books. Soon, many of the people who have never encountered an elephant are convinced that they all have wings. Those who have seen photos are at least persuaded that elephants have quantum wings, which just happened to be vibrating invisibly when the picture was snapped. He convinces many people that the true virtue of the elephant lies in its splendid wings — to the point that anyone who disagrees and claims that they are only terrestrial animals is betraying the beauty of the elephant.
Exasperated, Larry takes a break from writing technical treatises about mammalian anatomy, and writes a book for the lay public, The Elephant Has No Wings. While quite popular, the Eagletoshians are outraged. How dare he denigrate the volant proboscidian? Does he think it a mere mechanical mammal, mired in mud, never soaring among the stars? Has he no appreciation for the scholarship of the experts in elephant wings? Doesn’t he realize that he can’t possibly disprove the existence of wings on elephants, especially when they can be tucked so neatly into the quantum? (The question of how the original prophets of wingedness came by their information never seems to come up, or is never considered very deeply.) It was offensive to cripple the poor elephants, rendering them earthbound.
When that book was quickly followed by Moe’s The Elephant Walks and Curly’s Land of the Elephant, the elephant wing scholars were in a panic — they were being attacked by experts in elephants, who seemed to know far more about elephants than they did! Fortunately, the scientists knew little about elephant’s wings — surprising, that — and the public was steeped in favorable certainty that elephants, far away, were flapping gallantly through the sky. They also had the benefit of vast sums of money. Wealth was rarely associated with competence in matters elephantine, and tycoons were pouring cash into efforts to reconcile the virtuous wingedness of elephants with the uncomfortable reality of anatomy. Even a few scientists who ought to know better were swayed over to the side of the winged; to their credit, it was rarely because of profit, but more because they were sentimentally attached to the idea of wings. They couldn’t deny the evidence, however, and were usually observed to squirm as they invoked the mystic power of the quantum, or of fleeting, invisible wings that only appeared when no one was looking.
And there the battle stands, an ongoing argument between the blind who struggle to explore the world as it is around them, and the blind who prefer to conjure phantoms in the spaces within their skulls. I have to disappoint you, because I have no ending and no resolution, only a question.
Where do you find meaning and joy and richness and beauty, O Reader? In elephants, or elephants’ wings?

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