Getting noticed

By , June 23, 2009 4:29 pm

For various reasons I have not seen fit yet to launch this blog (soapbox/diatribe) on an unsuspecting world. While preparing for the launch – you might say we are at the T-9 hold if you are into space related things (I am) – I have been ironing out various things that I felt needed addressing, and one of them is to do with SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. Afterall, its all very well having great imagery, or something pertinent to say, but not much use if no one is ever going to see it.

One thing I have come across is the wealth of information on this from the good people at Photoshelter, in particular their SEO Cookbook and supplement, both of which are worth reading and taking on board – I know I will be.

Also of huge value is the video they have put together looking at what clients want from photographers’ websites. They make the very valid point that most photographers design their sites for other photographers; perhaps that’s why the industry is in the parlous state that my previous posts suggests! It’s not all bad news though. The video is an hour long (and no pictures) but it is worth every minute.

Photographer Websites: What Buyers Want 2009 from on Vimeo.

Prostituting yourself?

By , June 17, 2009 5:14 pm

Giving it away for nothing is an age old problem that afflicts creative types, and they are often accused of prostituting themselves by doing so. Let’s be clear – prostitutes charge for their services.

A good thread was started by Guilad Kahn on Lightstalkers on just this subject, titled “I’ll Pay You”. Sadly it descended into general mud slinging and eventually the whole thread was pulled – shame really as it was an important issue. Anyway, a rather nice chap called Daniel Cuthbert saw fit to comment on the issue in his own blog, and sent me a message saying that he thought my “reply to Guilad’s post has to be one of the most inspirational ones i’ve seen on LS yet”. Flattery will get you everywhere, Daniel, so for the sake of posterity I thought I would post that reply here – perhaps if Guilad agrees, I can place the original post here as well.

My post on Lightstalkers:

The only reason Guilad’s post is so funny is because it is so bloody true. I have lost track of the number of times I have had to explain to prosepctive clients that I am providing a service and they should expect to pay for it.

The wannabes that do everything for nothing (not to be confused with doing things for free) undermine the very profession they claim to be so passionate about getting into.

Know your worth, and stick to it. If someone does not want to pay your rates, thank them for their enquiry and politely suggest that they look elsewhere. Because most photographers are not trained in good business practice, they have a tendency to jump on any prospective job, and strangle the life out of it. I know that there are many who will start a “negotiation” with the words: “my day rate is x, but I am prepared to discuss it”. Why the hell do people say that when the client has not even been given a chance to respond to the rate?

The thing is, all this knock down bullshit changes the mentality of the clients. Worst case I had was two years ago. Magazine editor rings me up after seeing one of my images and wanting to use it as a full bleed cover. Circulation and advertising rates were modest, and warranted a fee of about $1200. Before I could even suggest this to her, she told me that they had “a policy of only using images from photographers that advertise with them”, but that she would do me a deal and give me four months for the price of two (about $1000) and then they would use my picture on the cover. I asked her to explain the business model, and she was a little perplexed, and responded that other photographers did it. I suggested that “other photographers” clearly had vanity issues. I on the otherhand have a mortgage, a wife (very expensive), two children (even more expensive), two cats (don’t get me started on them) etc, and that what I needed was paying. I further pointed out that she had called me. I sent her a high res comp on approval, and made it clear that if they liked it, they would bloody well pay, and I would not be taking out advertising with them. Needless to say they turned to some other mug who clearly caved in.

Much has been written on LS about these issues in the past, but I think the very best post was by Sion Touhig in 2006. I hope he will forgive me for pasting it in here because it is so relevant.


Sion’s post from May 2006:

Apologies in advance to all reading this, because I’ve had a spectacularly bad day, so you all might want to get your flameproof pants on…

Yeah, fair enough, the thread was hijacked, but my argument was there’s a particular kind of mindset that seems to be unique to our business, that means clients can think they can get away with saying “We have no budget”…a phrase that in just about any other kind of work would elicit the logical response “Well, fuck off then, and stop wasting my time”.

I mean, I’m all for coming to an agreement, but in what other business would you even CONSIDER that line as a negotiating position? You work out your costs of doing business and work from there for a quote. It’s kind of an iron law, because any less than that and you’re paying to work. That has to be your bottom, unbreakable line, or you starve. Or you work out what utility the work has to you in other terms – stock sales for example.

If it hasn’t got any, then walk away.

A lowball offer is one thing, but when they say they have NO money…I mean, where do you start? All you can say is you’re a professional service provider, if they commission you, they can sleep soundly because the images will be delivered on time, to a high standard, you’re a reasonable guy…but it costs, ya know?

It’s very rare, if at all, that just getting the images ‘for your folio’ will bear any future fruit with that client. You’ve just demonstrated that you are literally, worthless.

I’ll try the “Sorry mate, I have no budget” argument the next time I walk into my local pub, and my next LS posting will be when I’ve had my collapsed lung fixed, after getting the shit kicked outta me by the barman…

To bring the thread back…Nathan, you’ve kinda answered your own question. If the company is a large wealthy entity, who can obviously pay the salaries of their staff and any outsourced services – the cleaners, the photocopier maintenance people, the I.T. support folks…why the fuck can’t they find any money for you? They didnt factor in all the costs for the job then say, “Doh! We forgot to budget for a photographer!” That’s ridiculous.

They have money – thats self evident. They just dont wanna give you any.

No…what they said was “Let’s not budget for a photographer AT ALL, because some desperate wanabee will ALWAYS roll over like a good dog and do a job for us for free…for his ‘portfolio’ or whatever those ‘artists’ call it, heh heh…”

And you know what? They’re invariably right. You sit and fret at the end of the phone about whether you should roll the dice and take the job, because a gun is being held to your head.

But…who’s holding the gun? Not the art director. They’re just taking advantage of the situation.

The gun is being held to your head by…whichever photographer is willing to do the work for nothing.

You’re being killed by another photographer. Another photographer who obviously has a death wish themselves.

Even if you ‘negotiate’ a compromise, it will invariably be a compromise based on the bottom line of whichever cheaper photographer is around. Whatever reduced fee you agree will be very hard to negotiate upwards.

Now, I don’t wanna sound like George W. Bush or anything, but in this business, I am increasingly coming to the inescapable conclusion that “You’re either with us or against us”

To widen the point somewhat – Jon Anderson has been busting his ass for about a month on LS to get together as many names as possible for a petition to combat a US copyright law, which if passed, is quite frankly, yet another nail in the coffin for independent freelance photography in the US and Worldwide. You don’t even need to be a U.S. Citizen to add your name to the list.

There are about 8000 LS members and how many have taken the trouble to do the simple task of adding their name to the list? About 300.

To which my response is – what a fuckin’ shameful disgrace. Jon is so committed to his thing, he even LIVES in the Third World, but is still willing to take time to defend your sorry asses – and most of the rest of you living in relative comfort in the First World can’t even be bothered to type your own name and address!

How the hell am I supposed to accept all this ‘Family of Man’ photojourno-concerned-photographer propaganda I keep reading on this site, when photographers won’t even support their OWN PEERS? Never mind anyone else!

Carlos is right…are we gonna stand up or not? Are we professionals or not? Do we have ANY self-respect? From what I see, some of the dirt-poor wretched of the Earth have more pride than the photographers who photograph them. They would NEVER stand to get screwed the way we do.

That’s all you need to know about what the REAL problem is in this business…and it’s most dirty, sordid, unspeakable little secret, which is – a lot of the people who will roll over and do the job over a photographers bankrupt body are all on LS.

Not so long ago when we weren’t all on the internet (I’m old enough to remember), maybe ignorance was a defence. I perceive a widespread lack of basic knowledge on LS about copyright law, licensing, rates, metadata, developments in the photo-world…it used to be tough to keep up to speed before the Web.

No more. All the info you need, is a mouseclick away.

My message to any LS member with their head in the sand, living in the NachtweyWorld Dreamland Themepark is:

YOU are the problem – not Getty Images, not Corbis, not the Orphan Works Bill, not RF images, not Micro-Stock, not Work For Hire, not rights grabbing contracts…

You. Because without you, they would never have existed.

If you can’t get to grips with the basic concepts of controlling and valuing your work in the digital world (the ONLY world which matters now), and by extension, engage in ethical business practice by valuing the work of your peers and holding the line on decent, fair rates, then you have no place in this business.

Because it’s you who are killing the photographers who value their work and businesses – and yours – enough, to walk away from ‘no budget’ nonsense.

Comic cuts

By , June 13, 2009 1:37 pm

It’s that time of year again where once the great and the good were lauded for their respective greatness and goodness; The Queen’s Birthday honours.

In recent years it has been pleasing to see photography recognised in the lists. Worthy recipients have worked quietly and diligently to promote the medium either through their own work or by making it more accessible to others, not because they sought recognition but because they believe in the value of what they are doing. In the last list, for instance, freelance photojournalist Harry Benson was recognised for his services to photography and the community in the UK, and back in 2005 Rhonda Wilson, the creative director of Rhubarb-Rhubarb was made an MBE for her work. In fact, pretty much every list has seen someone’s work for the betterment of the medium brought to a greater audience. Consequently it is rather disappointing to see not just photography, but journalism as well, completely overlooked in the 2009 Birthday Honours list.

Instead we have what has become the sad routine of famous rich people being given a gong for being,… well, famous and rich really. To be fair, some of them have done much for charity and that is clearly worthy of recognition, but often what has been “done” is the donation of large sums of cash. In that light, consider this: a pop star worth £50 million gives £500K every year to various charities, and in due course is made a CBE at the very least, if not a knight or dame. Meanwhile, Joanna Public can give all her free time, and 10% of her income to a given charity, and the likelihood is that she will never be recognised. If she is it will be years later and a lowly MBE. The star may have “given” more, but the amount represents only 1% of their worth, and any “time” will usually be undertaken by members of their staff.

There used to be a time when most honours were given to civil servants. The concept was simple: they had given their lives to public service earning less than they might have done in the private sector, and the honour was their just reward. The problem was that the media painted this as “Buggin’s turn”, and as public sector earnings caught up with the rest of British Society and people’s careers became far more flexible, it seemed with some justification to be a little out of step with the times. There was, therefore, an opportunity to reinvigorate the honours system when New Labour came into office in 1997. But Tony could not resist the lure of “connecting” with the well connected. The resurgence of popular British culture across the globe was a golden chance to be seen to be in the thick of things that were cool, and New Labour honoured people for their celebrity and cool, and the media lapped it up without criticism or complaint. Nothing will shift copy like a famous person declaring how stunned they were to be told that they were going to be made a little more famous.

There is nothing wrong with honouring people that have done astounding things, it is honouring people who have not that rankles. Consider Sir Steve Redgrave. Here is a man who won gold medals at five consecutive Olympic games in a notably gruelling sport. By the time he won the fifth he was diabetic, suffering from ulcerative colitis and had been at the pinnacle of his sport for two decades. By any standards his is a truly remarkable achievement, and worthy of national recognition. Consider Dame Kelly Holmes on the other hand. A great athlete no doubt, but she was made a dame because she won two gold medals at the Athens Olympics. Wasn’t that her job? If we start to knight people  because they have done their job the queue out of Buckingham Palace is going to get very long indeed. The consequence of this rush of love for sporting achievement reached an apogee of farce only five weeks later when Ellen MacArthur was made a dame before she was even back on dry land. What happened to waiting for the next list?

Now the public and the media have come to expect national honours to be showered on the rich and the famous for doing their job. The England Rugby Team won the world cup and they all trouped off to see the Queen. If the football team reach the quarters in the World Cup in 2010 you can be sure the pundits will start to speculate on gongs and an honorary knighthood for Fabio, but is it deserved? If they win everything going for the next 20 years like Redgrave, maybe. But I suspect the good life and the public’s adulation, however temporary, will end up with them taking their eyes off the ball.

The time really has come for a wholesale reconsideration of the honours system. Do we have to hand out a thousand every six months? If the requirements were that recipients of an honour had to have gone above and beyond the call of duty, that their actions were in the interest of community rather than self, it might mean far fewer honours, but think how much more we could applaud them for what they have done.

So where does this leave us? In an era when everyone and their mother thinks they are a photographer there are still some people quietly looking to promote excellence and skills in photography in spite of the difficulties, and many of them deserve recognition; unfortunately there are very few who are celebrities. It’s a pity space couldn’t be found for at least one alongside Sir Nick Faldo and Delia Smith CBE.

Photographs – René Burri

By , June 12, 2009 8:02 am

BOOK REVIEW:  René Burri – Photographs

There are some photographers you really ought to know better, but don’t. They go quietly about their work, unassuming, not wanting to do the obvious or offend their subjects. René Burri is that photographer. A man not afraid to talk about the untaken photographs; the images missed because he chose to miss them. His is a considered approach, one that has resulted in many iconic images and a deserved reputation among his colleagues as one of the giants of twentieth century photodocumentary.

A Magnum veteran, it is unsurprising that he should have sought to publish a major retrospective of his work, and still less surprising that he should do so through Phaidon, masters of the photographic monologue who have published over 15 books by Burri’s Magnum colleagues.

Born in Zurich in 1933, Burri came into photography almost by accident. From childhood he was unquestionably artistically inclined, his mother saved wrappers to help feed her son’s demand for drawing paper, and his attendance at Zurich’s well regarded art school was almost inevitable. Burri, however, was initially turned off photography by the pungent smells associated with the darkroom, and it was only when he saw the lighting rigs of the studio, and their inherent Hollywood glamour that his thoughts turned to the possibilities photography might offer.

A naturally inquisitive man, Burri found Switzerland claustrophobic: the mountains obscured his view of the world beyond. Furthermore, the methodical order and neutrality so often associated with Switzerland, and ingrained in Burri during his training by the esteemed formalist, Hans Finsler, became something Burri wrestled with all his life. The struggle though, was not to break free from its strictures, but to harness its potential as a tool to be used so effectively in his work.

This retrospective is a celebration of Burri’s personal work. In common with many photographers he disliked the restrictions associated with commissioned work, and continues to see the camera primarily as a means of personal expression. Nevertheless he took such assignments based on his need to pay the bills, and naturally they provided many of the opportunities to further his quest for personal satisfaction, and importantly led to long associations with a number of publications, in particular the Swiss periodical Du. Indeed, the closing chapters of the book detail Burri’s many exhibitions and publications, and tantalisingly reproduce a handful of magazine spreads – the only colour reproductions included.

The book is cleverly designed, having the feel of a catalogue, but the permanence of something more special. It is a testament to Burri’s remarkable and unassuagable eye that after nearly 500 pages the reader is left wanting more, and knowing that what has been revealed is only a taste.

René Burri Photographs, Phaidon Press, 378 Duotone and 44 colour illustrations, 448pp, Hardback, £59.95, ISBN 0-7148-4315-6.

This review was originally written for the Photographic Journal

The Fat Baby – Eugene Richards

BOOK REVIEW: The Fat Baby – Eugene Richards.

Every now and again someone has an idea so blindingly obvious it is difficult to see why it has not already been done.

Take the Magnum photographers for example.  They spend their lives chasing stories; stories are their raison d’ètre.  Sure they publish books on particular stories:  Larry Towell has The Mennonites, and Paul Fusco has RFK Funeral Train.  They even have collective books on given stories, like New York September 11, and Arms Against Fury, but generally they are retrospectives.

The Fat Baby is the new book from Eugene Richards, one of the brightest stars in the Magnum firmament.  It bucks the trend with something really unique: a retrospective of stories.  Rather than put together a large coffee table tome of great images taken out of context which would undoubtedly sell, Richards has chosen to publish the original stories as he took them, with his own notes or text alongside.  This may not be ground breaking stuff, but on a book of this size (432 pages with some 300 duotone images) it feels as though it is.

Richards’ work is powerful, poignant and eloquent.  The images stand on their own merits in isolation, but put into the context originally envisaged the effect is magnified.  They really do become greater than the sum of their parts.

Now sixty years old, Richards is well established as one of the leading exponents of the photoessay, and could easily have chosen to use work from throughout his distinguished career.  Any such retrospective would have been well received, but one suspects that he might look upon the retrospective as the preserve of retired photographers.  Make no mistake; Eugene Richards is very active, and The Fat Baby draws only on his considerable pool of recent stories. 

Arguably Richard’s greatest achievement, and indeed the reason he is able to gain access to groups of people who might otherwise be hostile to his advances, is the manner in which he gives voice to other people’s stories without being judgemental.

While there are many photographers who view “concerned photojournalism” as an invitation and means to voice their own views, the real genius of Richard’s narrative is the manner in which he presents deeply moving stories and leaves the reader to form their own opinion.  This is no small achievement, and one suspects it is a large part of his reason for producing the book.  While his Magnum credentials give him considerable clout when it comes to the use of his images and captions, he nevertheless often finds his photographs being used as mere illustrations to accompany text, which can put a completely different slant on a story to that which he may have intended.

The Fat Baby is a collection of 15 essays, with subjects ranging from gay parenting issues in Tuscon (Here’s to Love), to the famine suffered by the villagers of Safo in Niger (The Fat Baby – from which the book takes its name).

By reproducing the notes and keeping the original narrative of the stories together, it invites the reader to consider the issues: it provokes a response.  No one who professes to support what documentary photography is about should ignore The Fat Baby.  It is a monumentally important book.  Not simply because it is well produced, but because it actually gets back to the root of why pictures such as these are made in the first place.

The Fat Baby by Eugene Richards, £59.95/€90.00, Phaidon Press, March 2004.

This review was originally written for the Photographic Journal

Afterwar – Lori Grinker

BOOK REVIEW:   Afterwar – Lori Grinker

We are all inexorably drawn to war.  Tales of courage under adversity, heroism under fire, acts of selflessness and love, men in uniform and the pomp and technology of the military in action.  It is at once fascinating, horrifying, shocking and guaranteed to provoke a response.

It is no wonder then, that war has always exerted a pull on photographers.  Some go to make a name for themselves; others hoping their work might make a difference.  Some go for the rush.  Whatever the motivation, they are usually divided into two camps: those who look for the dramatic images of combat in the front line, and those who turn to the plight of the civilians caught in the crossfire.

New York based photographer Lori Grinker has uniquely found a different way to portray war.  When the truces are signed and the guns fall silent, the press turns its attention elsewhere, but the sights, sounds, smells, relationships and losses are necessarily etched into the psyches of the combatants.  While other photographers have concerned themselves with showing the man within the war, Grinker has strived to portray the war within the man.

Afterwar manages the substantial achievement of personalising the conflicts of a century.  Men and women caught in the dehumanising chaos of war are left to reconcile their experiences with their own fundamental humanity.  Some meet it head on, others try to file it away, and get on with their lives.

Readers looking for groundbreaking photography or iconic images will be disappointed with Afterwar, but they will also be missing the point.  Allied with the testimony of her subjects in their own words, Grinker’s colour photographs achieve something that has eluded every other photographer: they deglamourise war.  While each of the subjects is portrayed with incredible dignity the overall effect is unremittingly dark and depressing.  War is hell.

Afterwar is elegantly designed, using a reverse chronology to take us back from a taste of the recent war in Iraq through all the major conflicts of the past century to the First World War.  It crosses continents, cultures and languages setting each conflict in context.  Ostensibly each person in the book represents a survivor of war, but their experiences have necessarily robbed them of something precious, and mankind as a whole is diminished by what they went through.  If there is any justice Afterwar will find its way to the desks of all those charged with calling men to arms.

Afterwar, Veterans from a World in Conflict is published by de.MO, and priced at £29.00.  Hardback ISBN 0-9705768-7-0.  248 pages.

This review was originally written for the Photographic Journal

The first post

By , June 11, 2009 6:17 am

Welcome to BlueFilter, the blog of Michael Cockerham Photography. I haven’t a clue what I am doing yet, but in due course BlueFilter will become a repository of comment and analysis on all things from the world of photography. To be frank, given my penchant for spouting on about all manner of things, don’t be surprised to find that I occasionally step onto a soapbox to discuss other things too.

Here’s to the future – wherever it takes us.

In the meantime, feel free to visit my main site at

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