Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Great Photography you CAN’T see at MOPLA

I couldn’t help but laugh when I read the comments at the end of the Huffington Post article, Month of Photography Los Angeles (MOPLA) Continues with "New Research" on April 9. (Link provided above.)  This is so absolutely normal.  A big-time arts organization like MOPLA and the Lucie Foundation put on a “Month of Photography” featuring what they say is Great Photography but the comments online are universally negative.  Comments like, ‘boring’, ‘vapid,’ ‘absurdity at its worst’ and ‘Now I know one thing I'm NOT attending any time soon...’  What’s going on here?  Why do the “art experts” continue to foist upon us imagery that “the people” see as, well, boring, vapid and absurd?

Because they’re not really “experts” at all, they’re caretakers of the status-quo.  This is not new.  Here’s what Salvador Dali had to say about it in 1939:

                Any authentically original idea, presenting itself without “known antecedents” is systematically rejected, toned down, mauled, chewed, re-chewed, spewed forth, destroyed, yes, and even worse--- reduced to the most monstrous of mediocrities.  The excuse offered is always the vulgarity of the vast majority of the public.  I insist that this is absolutely false.  The public is infinitely superior to the rubbish that is fed to it daily.  The masses have always known where to find true poetry.  The misunderstanding has come about entirely through those “middle-men of culture” who, with their lofty airs and superior quacking, come between the creator and the public. 

Salvador was quite right and nothing has changed in the 73 years hence.  The “art experts” aren’t really exhibiting anything new or innovative.  They and organizations like MOPLA are risk-adverse and they’re not going to show anything that their incestuous, self-referencing peers haven’t already anointed as acceptable.

I’m a professional photographer and digital artist and I’d planned on attending MOPLA.  I submitted my work for MOPLA’s “Fresh look portfolio reviews” and was looking forward to meeting some esteemed curators, gallerists and other “industry professionals.”  Unfortunately, despite my thirty plus years working as a full-time artist, over one-hundred exhibitions and the dozen books I’ve published, my photography was rejected!  It’s just a good thing I’m old and treacherous because if I had received this rejection as a young artist I might have believed my work was truly horrible and unworthy of even being seen by “industry professionals.” 

“The selection process was highly competitive and we regret to inform you that we are unable to accept your submission for the juried portion of the Portfolio Review.”

So how does a guy with an exhibition history that dates back to 1979, has nothing but positive critical reviews, a dozen published books with a long list of people who’ve bought my photographs manage to be so totally blown-off by the “pre-reviewers” that deemed my works so horrible as unworthy of even being seen by the portfolio reviewers?

Because my pictures don’t look like theirs, that’s all.  My works lack the “known antecedents” that Dali refers to so are “systematically rejected.”  I don’t like it, but I am used to it.  And yes, it still pisses me off!  I also know where to look for really interesting works, they’re in a file marked “REJECTED.”  If you’re looking for Great Photography I don’t think you’re going to find it a MOPLA, or any festival.  What you will find is photography that they tell you to believe is Great ---and it might be, but don’t believe them, trust your own eyes and come to your own conclusions.  And if you should disagree with the “experts” that’s OK because if enough of “the people” reject Bad Art “the experts” will eventually catch up.

Here’s some of the works rejected by MOPLA.  These works were deemed unacceptable to even be reviewed by “industry professionals.”  Compare the rejected works to the MOPLA slide show and come to your own conclusion.  If you leave a comment, you are now an “art expert.”

Path to Enlightenment



Bureau of Expectations

Camel's Eye

[Here's a link to MOPLA slide show from April 9 Huffington Post article.]

Compare the images here to the Hufington Post slide show and tell me what you think.  Please leave a comment!!!!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

UPDATE! (To the blog no one reads)

There has been a change to this story!  No, I’ve not been paid but I might be (some day).

Upon checking the Summary of Images Sold on the website on April 13 I discovered (much to my surprise) the image mentioned in my previous post “Pay the Artist” has now been listed as sold.  This does not mean I’ve been paid for it (I haven’t) but it’s at least listed as “licensed.”  This is good, but it’s still bad too.  Here’s the weirdness:  Given the long preproduction lead times for calendars, the image for the 2012 Chihuahua Calendar was most likely licensed in the summer of 2010.  Since stock photo agencies don’t let unpaid-for images out of their possession I should have been paid sometime in the Fall of 2010.  I wasn’t, nor was the image listed as “licensed” at that time.  The fact that Alamy licensed the image but never listed it as “licensed” on my Summary of Images Sold page I’ll call unethical business practice #1.  Since I work directly with some calendar publishers I know they don’t pay licensing fees for images until the calendar has been on sale for about six months.  So, if I were paid “on time” I should have been paid in December of 2011.   I wasn’t paid, so I’ll call that unethical business practice #2.  Now, since the calendar has been on sale since (approximately) the summer of 2011 and I bought a copy in December and only now, in April of 2012, has Alamy listed the image as “licensed” that’s unethical business practice #3.  Finally, since Alamy’s license stipulates payment before publication and most likely Alamy has already been paid, they’re using my money for themselves because they’ve not paid me yet.  This is unethical business practice #4.

So Alamy has done four shitty, unethical, things so far regarding this one image:
·         They licensed it without notifying the artist (me) it had been licensed.
·         They allowed it to be reproduced without it being paid for.
·         They allowed the reproduction to be distributed without paying me.
·         They only listed the image as licensed in April 2012 although the calendar had already been on sale since late 2011.

The Alamy stock photo “agency” is behaving extremely unethically.  I almost wrote, in my opinion but their unethical practices are in fact, FACT.

For an image licensed in 2010, reproduced and sold in 2011, which was only listed as “licensed” by Alamy in the 2nd quarter of 2012………. I hope to be paid by the summer of 2012.

This is shit on a stick served up by assholes running a “stock agency” in Britan!  This is BULLSHIT.

At least they got the price right.  They actually licensed the image for $150.00.  This is a too-low, shit rate, but it’s the “going rate” so it’s as much as I can expect.  Also, since a sub-agent was not involved I got 60% of the sale instead of only 40%.  So I’ll get $90.00.  I hope.  I still haven’t been paid.

This whole deal stinks.  Alamy is a operating very unethically.  I can only imagine all of Alamy’s malfeasance that I DON’T know about.

Here’s the original blog.  For what it’s worth….

About not getting paid (again)

Every Christmas I give my wife a Chihuahua calendar.  Twelve months of cute little dog pictures never gets old.  This year I found a 2012 Chihuahua calendar at a store in the mall.  I hadn’t realized that one of the calendar pictures was mine until another photographer called me.

Oh boy was he pissed!  Not at me thankfully, but he was quite justifiably angry because he hadn’t been paid his portion of the licensing fee from the stock photo agency that had supplied the picture to the calendar publisher.  He’d looked me up because his picture in the calendar had been supplied by the same stock photo agency as mine.  I was easy to find because the credit line read: © 2011 Dale O’Dell/Alamy.

So he found me and called, which is a smart thing to do.  As creative artists we tend to get isolated in our studios and taken advantage of in business and if we don’t share information it just gets worse.  I’ve made these calls myself and I always try to be as helpful as possible when I receive them.  He hadn’t been paid, and wanted to know if I had since our pictures had both come from the same agency, Alamy, in England.  To be honest, I hadn’t checked.  While I had the guy on the telephone I went to the Alamy website, logged-in, and went to the ‘summary of images sold’ link.  I know that most calendars are prepared about eighteen months in advance of publication so I went back a full three years to look for the sale.  Nope, no sale recorded.  In fact there were no sales at all, ever, for my particular Chihuahua picture.  No, I didn’t get paid either.

Now he’s even madder.  He’s pissed at the calendar publisher for violating his copyright by reproducing his picture without compensation, but that’s not where he should sic the lawyers.  You see, when a picture is infringed upon, stolen is the more accurate term; the ‘thief’ does not credit the photographer and a stock agency in print ---that would actually be stupider than the original image-theft.  The fact that every picture in the calendar was credited indicates to me that a legitimate reproduction license was bought.  That means the end client, the calendar publisher, acted in ‘good faith.’  They licensed the images, paid the fee, and credited the agencies and photographers in the calendar.  The problem as I see it does not lie with the client, but rather with the stock agency, Alamy.  They’ve licensed images, collected the money, and then in violation of normal business ethics and their own contract, failed to remit payment to the photographers.  This happens more frequently than you’d think, especially with unethical stock photo agencies.  They’re all bad.  Alamy is one of the worst.  There’s no such thing as a ‘good’ stock photo agency any more.

He wants to sue someone.  I know the feeling, I’ve been there.  I gave him the name of a lawyer in New York who’s experienced in stock photography matters.  He could sue the calendar publisher.  They’d most likely respond with a copy of the license agreement with Alamy proving they’ve got a legitimate right to use the image.  That would mean the photographer’s problem is not with the publisher, but with Alamy, who’s supposed to be acting on his behalf, and paying him (and me) his portion.  In that case he’s generally fucked (to use a business term).  Good luck suing an England-based company in American court.  And for what?

“What are you going to do?”  He asked me.

“Nothing.”  I answered.

“You’ve, no we’ve, been ripped-off!  Copyright law is written in our favor, there’s a clear-cut case here.”  He ranted.

Yes, yes there is.  We’ve both been wronged.  Our works have been stolen and someone else has profited from the theft, both the publisher (who profits from calendar sales, although I suspect they did pay the license fee) and the agency, Alamy especially (who profits from the licensing fees our pictures generate, and in this case they kept one-hundred percent of the money); we’ve been hosed and there’s really not a damn thing we can do about it.  I calmly explained this to him.  He was very unhappy, but he seemed to be getting my point.

To clarify my point let me say this, we’re the only ones who give a shit.

This is how it works:  Although copyright law is written in favor of the artist, artists stand little chance in court.

First of all most large corporations have buildings that devote entire floors to lawyers and they are paid specifically to kick the asses of pissant little ‘vendors,’ ‘content providers,’ and self-employed one-man freelance artists.  They will pay tens of thousands of dollars to staff attorneys to avoid payment of photographers’ invoices for a couple hundred bucks.  That’s how they think and operate, folks.

Secondly, this isn’t a copyright-infringement case; it’s a breach-of-contract and conversion case against the stock photo agency, which to make matters more complex, is in a foreign country.

Thirdly, if the case made it to court (which it wouldn’t), no court, judge or jury really gives a shit about some little artist who didn’t get paid for some stupid dog picture.  They don’t get it.  What they ‘get’ is stuff like grand theft auto, pedophilia, or murder and can’t relate to ‘stolen pictures.’  They don’t give a shit about the Chihuahua picture someone ‘stole’ from you, it’s not important to them, it’s just a picture.

The law is on our side and the court could give a damn.  The most you can hope for is to find a lawyer who can write a good Demand Letter and hope the recipient makes good after being threatened.  In this case I’m one-hundred percent sure that Alamy would just come up with some bullshit excuse for not paying you and, using nicer terms, tell you to fuck off.  That’s my experience with them.

On the Alamy website there is a ‘price calculator.’  According to their pricing a full-page photo in a calendar, distributed in the U.S., with a press-run of 3000 copies, the photo would license for $290.00.  (This is for a ‘rights-managed’ image, I don’t do royalty-free or microstock.)  But Alamy’s ‘price calculator’ is bogus, I know of no instance where they actually charge what their ‘calculator’ says.  I’ve been working with one of the larger calendar publishers in America for the past ten years and prices paid per page for images have steadily gone down.  They pay $150.00 per image per page, not $290.00.  Based on my experience with Alamy, if $150.00 is ‘standard’ then they’d license the image for $75.00.  Of that $75.00 rights-managed licensing fee they remit 40% of it to me.  So I’d get $30.00 of a $75.00 sale that should have been between $150.00 and $290.00.  Got that?

For thirty bucks it just ain’t worth it.  Heck, forty percent of $290.00 is $116.00 and that’s not worth a lawsuit either!

That’s why I’m not concerned about it.  I’m not happy about it but getting ripped-off is part of the game, and it is a ‘game.’  If I’d of licensed the image myself, I’d of made sure I got paid.  With Alamy, I’m just one of thousands of photographers supplying millions of pictures to them for free, to license for whatever amount they feel like; they’re not in business to give a shit about me (or the guy on the phone).  If I were to complain to them they’d deny there was a problem and if I pushed…… they’d kick me out the door, they don’t have to give a shit about individual artists.  While each of us individually cares about or own incomes from licensing fees from Alamy, all they have to care about is their total bottom-line ---which isn’t dependent on any one photographer. 

So fuck it, what’s the point?

Last year I discovered another one of my pictures, licensed by Alamy, was reproduced in numerous places online by clients like Apple and other large companies.  This one was a unique digital illustration and not some generic photo of a dog.  I didn’t get paid for that one either.  And again, Alamy was the problem because they licensed the image without remitting my portion of the fee to me.  When the credit line reads photo: Alamy/Dale O’Dell, I know exactly where the image was obtained.  I was pissed.  I wanted to do something about it.  I thought about it, considered my options and then came to the depressingly inescapable conclusion, its more trouble than it’s worth, what’s the point?

Sad, eh?

This is just how things are kiddies.  If you’re a creative person working in any of the arts, you will get ripped-off.  We’re in a ‘Rodney Dangerfield profession,’ we just don’t get any respect.  Our ‘product’ isn’t valued and things with no perceived value get stolen without a second thought.  The thing is we expect a certain amount of theft from certain ‘end users.’  What we don’t expect are those (like Alamy) who are supposed to be our ‘partners’ who have the same ‘self interests’ as we do to rip us off, but they do.

But then ‘stock photography’ is a stupid business.  Really, is giving pictures for free to some company to license for whatever amount they feel like and then remit whatever amount back to the photographer they feel like (or if they feel like) very smart?  Uh, no!  So ya just gotta figure you’re gonna get hosed from time to time.  Alamy is bad, they’re stupid and unethical, but they’re not unique.  All stock photography sellers suck from the corporate giants like Getty and Corbis to the mid-levels like SuperStock, Masterfile and all the rest of the wankers.  Don’t even get me started on microstock (but then who gives a fuck if you don’t get paid forty percent of that dollar they sold your picture for!).

I’m old enough to have earned my cynicism.  I just hope to be paid more frequently than ripped-off, so I end up with a positive balance sheet.  I know they’ll (or someone else) will do it again.  I’m just so tired of fighting just to be treated fairly, but I can’t fight every fight.  I’ve given up, it’s hopeless.  I know my place in the economic food-chain.  I lost thirty bucks on that one, the price of a dinner.  I can certainly skip dinner so someone at Alamy can keep a few extra unearned bucks.

Oh, they say it was a ‘mistake?’  THEN PAY THE ARTIST!

Yeah, good luck with that.

From the Den-of-Cynicism.
February 2012
Revised April 2012.
All is normal.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Professor of Photography, NYU
(W.W. Norton, 2009)

I don’t know if there are many books devoted to post-photography but of the two I’ve read, this is the better one.  I found the other book, The Digital Evolution by A.D. Coleman, to be nearly unreadable and despite a publication date of 1998 it contained no useful information.  After Photography addresses the digitalization of photography but still fails to meaningfully address just exactly what is ‘after photography.’

The 185-page book begins well enough but by the midway point becomes mired in journalistic photography (to the omission of most all other aspects of the photographic arts) and other non-photographic concepts like HTML and never really gets to what’s ‘after photography’.  A more apt title might be After Film Photography.

Early in the book Ritchin’s observation that we’re all “users” instead of artists or photographers is informative and well-put.  He goes on to write, “The direct observation of visible phenomena gives way to a tele-observation in which the observer has no immediate contact with observed reality.”  That statement reminds me of busloads of Japanese tourists I’ve seen at the Grand Canyon that drive from overlook to overlook, briefly pop out of the bus, take a photo of the canyon, and then pile back into the bus.  It’s like they are unable to experience the Grand Canyon firsthand, instead preferring to capture images that only later are experienced in the comfort of their homes.  I have to laugh at the tourists who insist on shooting video, motion pictures, of the immobile Grand Canyon, as if the experience can only be validated by observing it on a television screen.  This doesn’t strike me as a result of the changes in photography so much as the change in technology. 

The author accurately states that, “All emergent media borrow heavily from previous media at first…”  On that he’s absolutely correct except that he puts it in the perspective of web pages that mimic the pages of a newspaper (previous media).  However what I think he misses is what’s really after photography (the previous media) is digital art.  Right now, because digital art is a new media without its own history it is still considered to be ‘photography’ because that’s the nearest reference-point.  But Ritchin is an academic and most professors of photography that I know keep photography firmly locked in its realistic, documentary and journalistic box.  Ritchin, like his academic-contemporaries, does not see digital as a creative process much differently than photography.  He spends more time dissecting the viewer’s relationship to the final image and not the artist’s relationship with an ever more electronic creative process that might involve a camera. 

I disagree with the author’s declaration that “The digital era in photography can be said to have begun with this manipulated 1982 cover.”  (The February 1982 cover of National Geographic where the pyramids were digitally moved illustrates his point.)  If memory serves, that cover photo was manipulated with a Scitex prepress computer which was not available to photographers.  More accurately I’d place the beginning of the digital era at 1990, the year Adobe Photoshop became available to most photographers via the personal computer.  Prior to Photoshop, computers were not really available to many photographers as image-making devices.

Stuck in his documentary rut, he states that, “…documentary photographs cannot be trusted…” without mentioning that no photograph can be trusted.  Photographs have been manipulated since the invention of photography, just because digital image processing makes it easier, and more widespread, does not mean that clever photo-manipulators and retouchers haven’t been with us since day one. 

He states that, “…much of the photographic process will occur after the shutter is released…” but fails to mention such purveyors of pre-digital post-processing such as Mitchell Funk, Pete Turner and the author of the Postvisualization Manifesto, Jerry Uelsmann.  None of these artists were journalists and I suspect that within Ritchin’s narrow context of documentary photojournalism, they didn’t merit mention.

He writes about keywords but keywords are an image search-method and not a part of visual expression.  He quoted a gallery owner (from 2000, 12 years ago) who complained, “…haven’t seen anybody who has taken photography to a different level with it [Photoshop].”  I know for a fact that by 2000 numerous digital Uelsmann’s were creating new works that went far beyond the straight photograph.  I think that particular gallerist needed to get out of her gallery and find some new works, or at least contemplate a style of photographic art that was not documentary. 

On page 63 he called for some kind of device or mark that could signal that an image has been manipulated.  I called for the very same thing in a magazine article I wrote back in 1995 a full fourteen years before Ritchin’s book.  Forget it, Fred, it ain’t gonna happen, I’ve already been there, and I thought of it first!

By the midway point of the book, the only type of photography mentioned by the author was documentary, to the exclusion of most every other style or subject.  This seems to be a trend in modern photographic academia.  Perhaps as a result of digital there’s just not enough of photography left to teach?  Taking pictures is now too easy.  Does digital art creation and production differ so much from photography that it’s outside the comfort-zone of photography teachers?  Not all photography is documentation or a representation of the real, but the author doesn’t address it.  I suspect he doesn’t address the non-journalistic uses of photography because the tools of computers and software takes him away from the comfort and familiarity of the photography department and pushes him into the Art Department. 

Towards the end of the book he makes a couple of statements where I firmly disagree.  The first sentence of chapter eight is, “Eventually, digital photography’s relationship to space, to time, to light, to authorship, to other media will make it clear that it represents an essentially different approach than does analog photography.”  I can’t agree with that, in my view, using a CMOS sensor or film makes no difference whatsoever to time, space, light or authorship.  One sixtieth of a second is the same fraction of time to a sensor or film, there is no such thing as a digital photon, and the spaces we photograph with digital cameras are no different than the ones we photographed on film.  And if you shot the photo, you are the author.  There’s no difference.  As a result of the digital dissemination of photographs, photography may have a different approach to other media, but that’s other media and does not fundamentally alter what a photograph is.

Finally he aggressively ignores all other aspects of the photographic arts when he states, “The older mechanical photography will, to a certain extent, falter.  It will be valued as historical documentation and for its singularity as object that will more and more resemble that of painting.”  Maybe within his narrow definition of photography-as-documentation his statement rings true but in terms of what’s really after photography, i.e. digital art he’s wrong.  As a result of the digital print, the handmade, silver-gelatin darkroom print will increase in value.  Perhaps one could construe that that the chemical process of the darkroom print is like painting but that’s a linguistic stretch.  There will be purists who only use film and chemistry and eschew digital photography.  And there will be others, like me that fully embrace the capabilities and freedom of digital and no longer even consider ourselves photographers although we create images that are photographic.  And I can tell you from personal experience, analog photography was nothing like painting but I do find producing digital art to be very much like painting.  The only difference is that I’m covering a blank screen with pixels whereas a painter covers a blank canvas with paint.  Pigment or pixels, you’re still making a mark and to me digital art is much more like painting than photography ever was.

I enjoyed the first half of After Photography.  Although somewhat academic in tone, Ritchin avoids overt artspeak and is clear.  It’s just that he ignores every aspect of photography except documentary and that leads to a rather limited point of view.  He makes some valuable observations within the context of photojournalism and the dissemination of digital images but I can’t agree that we’ve come to a time after photography.  I don’t think photography has changed that much.  Sure we use sensors and electronics instead of film and chemistry but we can still pretty much agree on what a photograph is and is not.

It’s not that we’ve reached a time after photography but rather, we’ve come to a time where there is a new medium that’s a lot like photography, is related to photography, but is something new: digital art.  I think it’s time to recognize that digital art created using cameras or not, is something altogether new.  And we need a new vernacular to describe it instead of using old, outmoded photographic terminology.

I liked Fred Ritchin’s After Photography; it’s one of the few books that looks at the future of photography; but photography remains photography.  It’s an informative book within the context of modern photojournalism.  But he still hasn’t answered the question I’ve been asking now for a decade and a half:  How much work does one have to do to a photograph before it becomes something other than a photograph?  This question must be answered before we can truly arrive someplace ‘after photography.’

I realize this ‘review’ is mostly irrelevant, no one reads this blog & even fewer are interested in my opinion.

Dale O’Dell
March 13, 2012