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November 14th, 2012

The Failure in Crowd-Sourcing News Photos

© Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

At a time of cost cutting for media budgets, lots of news organizations imagine that user-generated content can fill the void. But the recent failure of crowd-sourced news photos of Hurricane Sandy, and the shortage of coverage of other climate change-fueled disasters around the world, demonstrate how far we are from truly democratizing the medium of photography. Photographers worry that the lowering of technological barriers means “everyone’s a photographer now,” but in fact, the number of people who can take and share news photos is still limited by economics, infrastructure and geography.

Now that news organizations have quit crowd-sourcing instantaneous images of the approaching storm, we are seeing enterprising professional photojournalists who are focused less on flooded tunnels and wrecked cars, and have been seeking out the less obvious stories behind the slow process of rebuilding, rehousing the displaced, and supporting those underserved by relief efforts. (The New York Times photographer Ruth Fremson’s November 2 coverage of people coping without power, elevators, heat or  a sense of security on the upper floors of public housing projects is one example.)

Among the critics of the media’s immediate response to the storm, photographer Kenneth Jarecke  and Prison Photography’s Pete Brook  (who gathered a round-up of storm coverage) seem most irked by the poor quality of many of the images editors chose to publish (by professionals commissioned to shoot on iPhones and by amateurs).  “Most of the photographs are REALLY bad,” Jarecke wrote. “It’s history. It changes people’s lives. You’re not allowed to make excuses or drop the ball, but sadly most of you did.”

As a New Yorker who was seeking up-to-date information about friends and loved ones the day after the storm made landfall, I’ll forgive esthetic lapses in favor of timely and useful information. The problem was, amateur photographers don’t seem to know how to write captions, and they lack  journalistic instincts.

(more…)

July 9th, 2012

How Sean Hemmerle Photographed Drones

© The New York Times Magazine/photo: Sean Hemmerle

To accompany an article in the latest issue of The New York Times Magazine about how the Air Force trains its pilots to control unmanned drones used for deadly strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, the magazine assigned architecture and portrait photographer Sean Hemmerle to photograph the aircraft at Holloman Air Force Base, a training facility in New Mexico. His images, shot with a Mamiya 7, make the drones look stark and strange—“They’re blind moles in the sky,” says Hemmerle—and also technologically astonishing. That, says Hemmerle, was his intent. “When I got there I thought: Wow, these are strangely beautiful,” he says. “They’re curious to look at. I was hoping the pictures would sort of lull you in with beauty, and then hopefully an hour later you’ll say:  ‘What did I just see?’”

Stacey Baker, the photo editor at The New York Times Magazine who produced the shoot, says she gave Hemmerle a wish list of shots to take. Despite—or perhaps because of—the increasing criticism of the CIA’s use of remotely piloted drones to carry out assassinations in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, Hemmerle was allowed to shoot everything on Baker’s list. “They basically threw open the doors to us,” explains Hemmerle, who was accompanied throughout the two-day shoot by First Lt. Logan Clark of the public affairs office. “They only asked that we not show the last names of the pilots.”

He photographed both types of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), the Predator  and the Reaper, take offs and landings, a flight simulator, and rows of ground control stations (GCS): the windowless, antenna-studded containers from which pilots control the aircraft while watching video monitors. At Holloman, which is located near the White Sands Missile Range south of Albuquerque, trainees learn to hone in on targets by tracking cars driving along local highways.

Captain Emily Chilson, chief of public affairs at the base, tells PDN that Holloman is a training facility “so there’s nothing classified here.” The facility had hosted a “media day” for photographers and reporters in February; another media event is scheduled for later this month, Chilson says. Wanting something different for The Magazine, Baker secured permission to send a photographer when other press weren’t around. She contacted Hemmerle on May 11, and on May 15 he and Ari Burling, a photographer friend who acted as his assistant, flew from New York to New Mexico.

© The New York Times/photo by Sean Hemmerle

Hemmerle spent two 16-hour days, shooting from dawn to dusk, hoping to get the best light possible. Shooting in a World War II-era hanger, “They were long exposures, of 15 or 30 seconds, to make dawn look like day.” Baker had asked him to shoot film, and he backed up everything he shot on the Mamiya RZ by shooting with a Canon 5D Mark II. Once his film was processed, he looked through about 60 contact sheets and about 100 digital frames before sending a selection of his 20 favorites to Baker. Four images appeared in yesterday’s print edition; nine images appear online.

Hemmerle, who has shot in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, has photographed other centers of power.  Kathy Ryan, The Magazine’s director of photography, had recently seen Hemmerle’s photo of a meeting at US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, which he shot for the MIT Technology Review. Ryan and her husband, editor and curator Scott Thode, are co-curating an upcoming exhibition of work by School of Visual Arts alumni, and had visited Hemmerle’s studio two weeks before he got the call from Baker.

Hemmerle served in the US Army from 1984 to 1988, and believes mentioning this experience on his bio has helped him when he’s photographed the military. “The commanders are always respectful.” Of the Air Force personnel he met at Holloman, he says, “Everyone’s so accommodating, so professional, and smart, too.”

He didn’t know other photographers had visited at Holloman, and didn’t know why he was given so much access.  “I was thinking that if they’ll let me see that and they’ll let The New York Times publish it, it’s the cherry picked tip of the iceberg. When I see that we can photograph that, I’m like,  ‘What else you really got going on?’” He adds, “There’s a touch of Dr. Strangelove there,” referring to the Cold War movie about military hardware run amok, “but the experience of actually photographing them was fantastic.”

July 5th, 2012

Getty IPO On Hold as $4 Billion Private Equity Sale Looms

Earlier this year Getty Images, the largest stock photo agency, retained Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase to evaluate the possibility of a sale or an initial public offering (IPO). According to reports published yesterday by The Wall Street Journal and Reuters, Hellman & Friedman, the private equity firm that owns Getty, is preparing for the second round of a bidding process that would see the stock agency sold to another private equity firm for between $3.5 and $4 billion. (Hellman & Friedman also owns PDN parent company Nielsen.)

Unnamed sources for the Wall Street Journal said the IPO was on hold while private equity firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. L.P. and TPG, among others, evaluated their interest in purchasing Getty. Earlier this year KKR invested $150 million in European microstock agency Fotolia.

Hellman & Friedman was rumored to have paid $2.4 billion for a majority stake in Getty Images in 2008, which was publicly traded at the time.

According to the Reuters report, Getty “has seen little growth in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) since Hellman bought it but has enjoyed increasing demand for its online imagery products and services.”

Since Getty became private, the agency has made several moves that may have been geared to making the company look more attractive to potential buyers in the lead up to a sale or IPO. The cost-cutting measures have affected its contributing photographers, and the agency has also gone through rounds of layoffs. For instance in November of last year, Getty introduced tough new contracts, cutting back royalties it pays to photographers, telling contributors that rights-managed images that have not sold well will be moved to royalty-free collections while the royalty-free images would be sold as part of subscription packages. The move drew the ire of photographers’ trade associations ASMP and APA, as well as a lengthy string of comments on our blog.

June 19th, 2012

Alec Baldwin Attacks Newspaper Photographer (Update)

June 20, 2012: Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for National Press Photographers Association, has weighed in on the incident, publishing an “Open Letter to Alec Baldwin.” Details below.

Not that it’s news these days when a celebrity (or bodyguard of a celebrity) shoves, punches or tries to run over a photographer, but the Daily News has posted photos of Alec Baldwin apparently attacking Marcus Santos, one of the newspaper’s photographers.

Santos was photographing Baldwin as the actor left the New York City marriage license bureau with his fiancee, Hilaria Thomas, after they obtained a marriage license. According to the Daily News report, Santos said Baldwin told several photographers to step back, then began shoving and punching Santos. “One time, right on the chin,” Santos said.

The paper also reported that Baldwin later Tweeted that a photographer “almost hit me with his camera this morning.” According to a report on the WIS-TV web site, Baldwin also said that the paparazzi should be “waterboarded.”

*Update: Yesterday the NPPA.org blog posted “An Open Letter to Alec Baldwin,” written by NPPA attorney Mickey Osterreicher.   Osterreicher notes that “eyewitnesses” to the event report that photographers were not near Baldwin at the time of the “assault.” He states, “I object to your combative actions against photographers who were doing nothing more than waiting to take your photograph, an activity you’ve willingly participated in thousands of times, posing when you thought it was in your best interest.”

The letter goes on to say, “It is all too easy to denigrate working journalists by calling them “paparazzi,” but not all photographers deserve that demeaning title, just as all actors are not boors or bullies.”

The full text is available here: http://blogs.nppa.org/advocacy/2012/06/19/an-open-letter-to-alec-baldwin/

 

June 15th, 2012

The College Kid Whose Obama Photo Landed in The New Yorker

An article in the current issue of The New Yorker, about what President Obama might accomplish if elected to a second term, appears with a striking, double-page photo of the President standing alone and looking thoughtful. The photo was shot during the G8 summit last month by Luke Sharrett, a student at Western Kentucky University who has taken a break from his final semester in order to shoot on contract for The New York Times for 11 months.

Sent by The Times to cover the G8 summit at the Camp David presidential retreat, Sharrett was among roughly two dozen photographers who had assembled for a photo-op of the President greeting world leaders as they arrived. Sharrett recalls that the President had just walked out of Laurel Lodge, the Camp David conference center, and taken his spot on the edge of the sidewalk. “The first of the leaders hadn’t arrived yet,” he says. “It was an awkward, silent moment. It was kind of an in-between moment, and those are the pictures I enjoy photographing the most. My mentors [New York Times photographers] Stephen Crowley and Doug Mills encourage me to look for something different.”

He had little time to compose his shot, he says. The Marines who oversee Camp David had set strict limits on where, and for how long, the press pool could shoot. “We had to put surgical bags, like surgeons wear on their feet, over our lenses as we went to and from the photo-ops,” Sharrett explains. “They would not let us test, or check the frame until about two minutes before the photo-op, and then we could remove the baggies.” The long, dark shadows in the image were cast by the lights the White House Press Office had set up to the left and right of the press pool. Sharrett liked how his shot came out, but The Times ran other shots he took during the summit, showing other world leaders.

Sharrett, who enrolled at Western Kentucky in 2007, interned in the White House Photo Office in 2008, and in 2009 interned at The New York Times’ Washington bureau for what was supposed to be a three-month stint, but stretched to a year. Finally, he says, Michelle McNally, the paper’s director of photography, told him he had to go back to school. He had almost completed three semesters when, last fall, McNally called again and asked him to work for the Times on contract from January of this year through the election—though he’s still four courses shy of graduating.  “I split my time between Capitol Hill, the White House, and I spent some time with [candidate Mitt] Romney; I covered the South Carolina primary. That was a blast.”

During his Times internship he met Elissa Curtis, who is now a photo editor at The New Yorker, and she contacted him when his sports portfolio won honorable mention in the College Photographer of the Year competition last year.  When she needed a photo of Obama looking pensive, she called Sharrett. He was on the road with the President at the time, so she asked Redux Pictures, which licenses images by The New York Times photographers, to send a selection. Of the image Curtis chose, she says, “It was one of those [images] where the more I looked at it, the more I liked it.”

Sharrett (who addressed this reporter as “ma’am”) says he is glad an image he had liked is getting a second life, and was “floored” when Curtis told him it would run as a spread. “I’m just really happy to be there, and to make pictures for a living.”

(Image above: © The New Yorker/photo by Luke Sharrett/New York Times/Redux)

 

May 23rd, 2012

Police Brutality? Pictures Tell a More Complicated Story

 

©Chicago Tribune/Brian Cassella

The Chicago Tribune has posted a dramatic series of photographs showing a clash between police and protesters outside the NATO summit meeting in Chicago on May 20. The images were shot by Tribune photographer Brian Cassella, who explains on his blog how he got the photos. The last image of the series shows a police officer cocking his fist to punch a protester. By itself, it’s easily read as (another) act of police brutality against citizens exercising their constitutional rights. But context is everything, as the rest of Cassella’s images illustrate: The police officer is throwing the punch to stop a protester from swinging a heavy stick (for the second time) at the head of another police officer who had lost his helmet. That helmet-less officer had already been struck once in the head by another protester swinging a lighter stick, which Cassella captured as it broke over the officer’s head. It’s a complicated story about two wrongs that don’t make a right, and Cassella tells it with clarity in nine frames. To see the series, visit the Chicago Tribune’s web site. (Cassella also talks about the photographs in this Chicago Tribune video.)

May 11th, 2012

Want to Shoot Like Ben Lowy? There’s a New Lens for That.

In a post on The New York Times Lens blog, photojournalist Ben Lowy discusses collaborating with Hipstamatic on a “lens” and “film” combination for the popular photo app. Lowy’s series “iLibya,” shot during the Arab Spring, was made using his iPhone and the photographer is a proponent of using his mobile device on assignment as well as for personal work. His decision to create a Hipstamatic option that’s less stylized than most speaks to the growing concern that using the app for photojournalism is somewhat misleading due to the effects that it can impart. Many critics argue that using a lens or filter on Hipstamatic is similar to editing an image in Photoshop.

Lowy says he contacted Hipstamatic about creating an option in the app that better adheres to newspaper standards for photojournalists when he returned from Libya. He describes the Ben Lowy Lens as being “pure and fairly straightforward” and “slightly desaturated, clarity is up, it’s contrasty.”

Now that there’s soon to be a Ben Lowy Lens, we started to think about what Hipstamatic lenses named for other photographers might look like. If you had your own Hipstamatic lens, what would it do?

May 4th, 2012

Three News Photographers Murdered in Veracruz, Mexico

Three photographers who had covered organized crime and drug violence in the Mexican state of Veracruz were found dead yesterday, AP reports. The bodies of  Guillermo Luna Varela, Gabriel Huge and Esteban Rodriguez were recovered from a wastewater canal near the port city of Veracruz, about 250 miles east of Mexico City. Their bodies had been dismembered and stuffed into black plastic bags. The Veracruz Attorney General’s office also reported that their bodies showed signs of torture.

Their deaths, discovered on World Press Freedom Day, bring to seven the number of journalists killed in Veracruz in the past year and a half. “Veracruz has seen a wave of lethal anti-press violence that is sowing widespread fear and self-censorship,” Carlos Lauria of Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement.  Lauria called on Mexico’s government “to end the deadly cycle of impunity in crimes against the press.”

Luna was a photographer on the crime beat for the web site veracruznews.com.mx who was last seen on Wednesday May 2. He was the nephew of Huge, a journalist who had been working for the local newspaper Notiver until he fled Veracruz after two of the newspaper’s reporters were murdered last year. According to a fellow journalist who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity, Huge had recently returned to the state. Esteban Rodriguez had been a photographer with the newspaper AZ until he too fled; according to some news reports, he had recently been working as a welder. Also found on the scene was the body of Luna’s girlfriend, Irasema Becerra.

April 30th, 2012

Student Photographer Claims Falling Bear Photos Were Infringed

You may not know the name of photographer Andy Duann, but you may have seen his work. Duann, a photographer with the CU Independent, the student paper of the University of Colorado Boulder, photographed the bear that fell out of the tree on the school campus after it was tranquilized by wildlife officials (landing gently on some pads below). The CU Independent distributed his images to the Associated Press (AP), the Denver Post, the Colorado Daily  and other outlets. As the Poynter.org mediawire reported on Friday, Duann claimed that the school had no right to resell the images, because he holds the copyright.

Today Poynter reports that, in light of Duann’s complaint, the AP has yanked his falling-bear photos, and issued an advisory to its members to scrub the pics from their archives.

What’s at issue here is whether the student photographer is considered an employee of the university’s paper—and thus his images are automatically “works for hire”—or an independent contractor—and thus retains copyright to the images unless he’s signed a work-for-hire agreement. The faculty advisor to the paper says Duann’s an employee, but an attorney for the Student Press Law Center says no. A student is not in an employee/employer relationship with his school, and federal law requires a specific work-for-hire contract, not a general understanding, for the copyright to be transferred from the creator. (The attorney, Adam Goldstein, also provides a succinct and clear explanation of when work-for-hire does and does not apply. You might find it useful the next time a client hires you for an assignment and says, “But why don’t we own the copyright?”)

Poynter reporter Andrew Beaujon explains that as soon as Duann saw his photo on the Washington Post and elsewhere, he headed to the university law school to find out his options.

Hey, don’t say the young photographers of tomorrow don’t understand their intellectual property rights!

You can read the whole saga, including the story of how Beaujon got inadvertently involved in the copyright dispute, at Poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire. You can see other photos of the bear in mid-air, not taken by Duann, here.

Update: Some copyright information for student photographers has been posted at Student Press Law Center, splc.org.

March 1st, 2012

Photo Editor Explains How Vintage Photos Lead the New York Times Onto Tumblr

Earlier this week The New York Times made its first foray onto Tumblr with The Lively Morgue, which showcases vintage photographs from the newspaper’s print archive, which is known as “the morgue” for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, according to the Times.

“[Launching a Tumblr blog] made sense for a lot of reasons,” says deputy photo editor Meaghan Looram, who was one of several Times staffers who worked on the project. “Obviously Tumblr is a super visual platform and on top of that, from what I understand, vintage photography is really popular on Tumblr.”

In addition to showing the scans of vintage photographic prints, The Lively Morgue’s custom design also allows viewers to inspect the backs of the prints, where they can see editors’ markings, original captions and other information about the images, and the way the newsroom trafficked and filed them.

“For someone that’s not interested in that level of detail they can appreciate the fronts of the images,” Looram notes, “but I think [showing the backs of the prints] gives the project a really nice level of sophistication and added value. And for people that are interested in photo archiving or photo history or the history of the paper, I think it’s just a really interesting level of detail.”

Through its first few days, the Times‘ Tumblr has featured photographs from the 1930s, 50s, 60s and 70s, ranging in subject matter from sports to fashion to crime. As of Wednesday night, the blog already had roughly 10,000 followers, Looram says. Several of the images had hundreds of notes and reblogs.

Looram notes there is some concern over the amount of control the Times is relinquishing, because Tumblr allows for rapid sharing and dissemination of content. To encourage people who like the images they see on Tumblr to buy prints, The Lively Morgue features a link to a Times store where prints can be ordered. “In a lot of cases these are prints that you can buy through our store, so we’re hoping that people will do that,” Looram explains. “But I think that that’s something that we have to be concerned about even with images on our Web site.”

Though The Lively Morgue links to a print store, Looram says the project was “primarily motivated by an interest in editorially getting these images seen, and also finding an appropriate foray for us into Tumblr.”

The project, which was based on a series of posts picture editor Darcy Eveleigh created on the Times‘ photojournalism blog, Lens, originated with Heena Koh, a member of the Times’ digital design team, and Alexis Mainland, the social media editor. Looram says everyone working on it is doing it “in addition to their own duties” because they are excited about the platform and the opportunity to share the archive.

The social media success of the Lens blog, and of the Times‘ photography in general, also generated energy, Looram says. “I think we’re very encouraged by the popularity of the Lens blog and the amount of sharing in social networks about our photography and photography that we’re highlighting, so that’s definitely encouraging to us and probably was a good indicator for the level of interest we would see in a project like The Lively Morgue.”