Can of worms: Workin' for FREE!!!

*a reminder about Can of Worms posts on this blog*

Can of Worms posts are intended to spark debate, in a semi-formal manner.  Sarcasm is fine, rudeness or bullying is not.  I will choose a position and defend it.  I should also warn you that I like to play devil's advocate from time to time and may or may not agree with some or all of what I write.  (If you care to know my real opinion you can always ask after the debate has run its course.)  The point of opening a can of worms is to tease out every possible angle of the issue so you can see all sides, NOT to change anyone's mind or make anyone wrong.  Without further ado...


Earlier this year there was a rash of internet conversations surrounding the Trish Reda post about being asked to contribute pictures to a major magazine.  Here is a screen grab of the original request:

To sum up what happened next, Ms. Reda (over)reacted and sent back some angry emails because she was enraged they were not offering compensation, and then tells everyone to not fall victim to this scam.  Well, OK.  Let's back up a bit.  Re-read the request.  The magazine isn't asking her to incur expenses and create a new picture.  It isn't asking to use the image for free to create an ad for something else.  They aren't selling prints of the picture itself.  They are asking if the photographer would like to be credited for submitting a photo of their choosing, in effect "nominating" a parent, who would then get interviewed and be featured in a large magazine.  Magazine gets content, Mom and Baby get to be a little bit famous, and Photographer gets bragging rights of being published.  Win win win, no?

Let's look at it another way.  Several online magazines exist solely because photographers submit pictures in the hopes of being featured.  It's not about being compensated, it's about being published, because being published gives you street cred.  And bragging rights.  Some contests and publications you actually have to pay a fee to submit.  Fashion and wedding are the big players in the "get published" arena, because there are so many different magazines asking for submissions - from vintage weddings to fetish fashion, there's an online entity looking for pictures.  For free.  So sure, the magazine could use stock pics or bring a model in but that kind of eliminates the feature part of the storyline.  And if your client sent in the pic you did and were chosen but couldn't use your image, the magazine would just get their staff photographer (who is already budgeted for) to do some pics.  Not you.  Lose lose lose, yes?

Now.  I get where the original poster is coming from.  It REALLY sucks being asked to work for the glory of "exposure."  Doing a CD cover, shooting an editorial spread, or being asked for stock photos that can be used to promote some other product without compensation is frustrating, and yet it happens so frequently that many companies will keep asking around because sooner or later, someone WILL volunteer do to it for "the exposure."  And you know why they will?  Because we all start at the bottom and work the shitty jobs before we get the juicy gigs.

You don't start off at the top of the wage scale - you work your way up.  In any and every industry from McDonald's to Microsoft.  Giving a little something away for free to benefit ourselves in the long run is nothing new.  And a professional model's portfolio is made up of "tear sheets" which are pictures ripped from actual magazines, so why would this not work for a photographer?  Furthermore, you can go to the local bakery and get a free cube of bread to taste before buying the loaf and if you want to prove your skills as a photo retoucher you give you your first edit free, so what's the big deal?  Being endorsed as a high enough quality photographer to be featured in a major magazine is in fact not the worst place you could give it up for free.

Nonetheless, enraged photographers shared Harlan Ellison's rant (below) as evidence of the problem of artists not getting paid for their work.  Then again, when you've been a Hollywood writer for 30- or 40-plus years, it's pretty easy to say you don't piss without getting paid.  He can blame the amateurs for somehow cutting in on his business but I'm pretty 100% sure that unless he had nepotism working for him, he schlepped and pimped himself out for less than top dollar once or twice before he got a foothold in Hollywood.  It's easy to stand in a place of entitlement when you're at his level.  It's also easy to forget your own humble beginning.

I suppose an equivalent to Harlan when comparing time and prestige in our industry would be Annie Liebovitz.  For those of us who are not working at the Annie Liebovitz level just yet, we really don't have any right to be indignant about getting paid less than she would.  And then again, some of us don't have any desire to be the next Annie Liebovitz, so maybe *just maybe* getting a picture we took published in a major national magazine is a enough.

What are your thoughts?



Unless otherwise noted, writing and watermarked images on this blog are copyrighted to Hope Walls.