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Burk Uzzle's Letter

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Portions of this column were originally written for the August 2010 edition of News Photographer Magazine.

Mark Loundy is a media producer and consultant based in San Jose, California. Full bio.

The opinions in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Press Photographers Association.

August 2010, Volume 94
By Mark Loundy

"There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love."

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the dawn of the 21st century, former Life Magazine photographer Burk Uzzle wrote a letter to the daughter of a close friend. Uzzle had watched her grow from a little girl who played football with his kids in their Brooklyn neighborhood. That little girl was now an adult and the director of photography at Newsweek.

DisappointmentUzzle mourned that he had to turn down an assignment on death row, echoing an assignment that he had done years ago at the old Life. "I know how hard you try, and how good you are, and how deeply you care about things," he wrote. He described the investment that photographers must make and talked about rates that had not gone up in decades. "It's now come to the point where I personally believe I'm being had. It's hard for me to look at what's happening and not conclude that your bosses have decided to systematically screw the photographers."

Remember, Uzzle wrote this nearly 10 years ago and things have only gotten worse. Bill Pierce was kind enough to share it in his "Nuts & Bolts" column in The Digital Journalist. It's worth reading the entire heartfelt letter and Bill's insightful remarks.

The Good
Bullet Charlie Borst at Education Week for fair and prompt payment and conscientious tracking of image re-use. One photographer gave Charlie the "Awesome Client Award."
Bullet Hooray for Costco and the narrowly tailored rights required for its customer photo contest.

The Bad
Bullet Radio talk show host Kim Komando, the self-described "America's Digital Goddess," for the rights-grabbing clause in her summer photo contest.
Bullet Colorado-based High Country News for its rights-grabbing contest.

The Ugly
Bullet I always thought that songwriter Carole King was one to "Believe In Humanity" and that fellow singer James Taylor lived by the mantra, "You've Got a Friend." My feelings have changed since I've seen the egregious rights-grabbing agreement that photographers are required to sign to the duo's recent tour. I guess King is really "Looking Out For Number One" and Taylor is really just "A Company Man."
Bullet The "Distinguished Young Woman" (formerly "America's Junior Miss") pageant for encouraging contestants to engage in copyright infringement. From the pageant handbook: "If your photographer can't give you digital copies, you can take your hard copies to a local photo shop or drug store that does photo printing and they can scan the photos and burn them to a CD for you."
Bullet Domino's Pizza for its "Show Us Your Pizza" photo contest. Not only is it a rights grabber, but you also have to buy not one, but two of their pizzas just to enter.

Please let me know of any particularly good, bad or ugly dealings that you have had with clients recently. I will use the client's name, but I won't use your name if you don't want me to. Anonymous submissions will not be considered. Please include contact information for yourself and for the client.

  • Photographer John Harrington has a great list in Black Star Rising about "12 Excuses for Shooting Photos for Free — and Why They're Bogus." My favorite: "Of course you have 'offers and requests' coming at you from all directions. So does the drunk girl at the club who hops on the slippery oak bar-top with a short skirt and no underwear and says, 'If you see anything you like, I'll be in the back offering it for free.'"
  • Police have been investigating a situation where numerous freelancers are having trouble getting paid by a single client. The Northbrook Star originally reported that police were checking into numerous complaints against the Northbrook Ill. content creation company Shakespeare Squared. The Writers Weekly online forum detailed 28 specific complaints by writers going back to April of 2009. Some of them were owed thousands of dollars in unpaid invoices.
  • GLBT pioneer The Advocate is another mag that is not paying its contributors in anything approaching a reasonable amount of time. Waits of a year or more, form-letter responses, etc. are shockingly common.
  • Iowa photographer Michael Fischer posits his "3 Simple Business Rules" in a posting on SportsShooter. He stresses not only creativity in marketing but also speed, "The first guy that understood how to use Groupon in the local market cleans up. The next guy... not so much."
  • From Massachusetts-based sports photographer Eric Canha:
    "I'm not sure where the doom and gloom is coming from. This past winter I had several chats with a fellow member and his business was rocking off the wall. He's half the country away from me so it can't just be that my area was doing well. I personally know of at least six studios around me. Not one is closing, downsizing, struggling anywhere near what one would expect if they were to read the boards. We're all working, we're all busy, one in particular has contacted me twice this year to either send me work because he was overbooked or to see if I had a line on available (PAID) shooters for his studio. Word has it that one has just yanked away a school contract from the 'Walmart' of the industry. I know that I pulled in one from a 'national' company for this fall too!
    "It IS about business first. ALWAYS has been. ALWAYS will be. BTW something that is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS forgotten when people complain that business trumps quality...