December 2010

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Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson was quoted in today’s Ottawa’s Citizen as saying, “These kinds of expenses are the kinds that get my blood boiling and we’ll just have to do a better job.”  This was in response to receiving a bill from professional photographer Paul Couvrette.

Couvrette has a very lengthy history with the city of Ottawa. Not only has he photographed many City Councils, a partial resume includes photographing every Prime Minister since Pierre Trudeau, including a group shot of five PM’s; every Supreme Court Justice; cabinet ministers, CEO’s, and 350 magazine covers including TIME, Newsweek and MacLean’s. His contract with the city spells out all details regarding fees and expenses, so the response from the Mayor, who according to the article was “aghast” when receiving the bill is a bit of a mystery. After reading the entire article, you will most likely agree with me that the only one whose blood should be boiling is Couvrette’s, along with every other professional photographer.

My DNA and my background in this industry does not permit me to sit by and remain idle. Following is a letter I wrote to Mayor Watson. Should anyone else wish to contact the Mayor, this can be done via e-mail at Jim.Watson@ottawa.ca or by phone at 613-580-2496.

Dear Mayor Watson,

As someone who has worked in the photography industry for many years and is witnessing the blatant deterioration of said industry, it was with both great disappointment and amazement that I read about your criticism of a bill submitted to the city by professional photographer Paul Couvrette. In an article written by Kelly Egan in the Ottawa Citizen you were quoted as saying, “These kinds of expenses are the kinds that get my blood boiling and we’ll just have to do a better job.”

Perhaps you are not aware to what extent running a business as a professional photographer (the operative word being professional) entails. They have thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of equipment, staff to pay salaries to, rent or taxes on their studio spaces, promotional costs and a host of other expenses that must be met. These are very real businesses that are not established based upon mere ownership of a point and shoot purchased at the corner electronics store.

Digital technology has made everyone believe that they are photographers and worse, that those on the hiring end believe it should be inexpensive. Both of these beliefs are grossly inaccurate. Given the information in the article, you’ve already managed to get a great deal. Not only do I agree that Couvrette deserves an apology, but a bonus as well. If what has been written in the article is not factual, please offer a correction.

I urge you to reconsider your attitude as it appears to be incredibly shortsighted and serves only to denigrate an entire profession. This is the type of thinking that unfortunately can and will result in that profession becoming history.

Speaking of history, it is sad and ironic that this attitude comes from an official of a city that Yousuf Karsh, a true master of photography, chose to be his home.

Best,

Debra Weiss

Costco and Corbis have teamed up to launch a new photo merchandising service called the Art & Image Gallery which will offer consumers access to more than 20,000 images from Corbis’ library to be printed on demand. In the past when these merchandising deals were made, contributors would receive a lump sum  for a set print run.  If they made this arrangement without  first alerting their contributors, those photographers have a reason to be upset. However, I have been told that upon signing with Corbis, photographers could have opted out from allowing Corbis to include them as contributors to these deals.  If a photographer knowingly agreed to Corbis’s terms, the only one they can be angry with is themselves.

According to Corbis, “This collaboration opens large new market opportunities that were previously unimaginable, and that will generate new, additional revenue exclusively for Corbis contributors.”  Prices range from $1.49 -$8.99 for 8×10 to 12×18 standard prints; $9.99 to $24.99 for 16×20 and 20×30 poster size prints and boards and $29.99 to $99.99 for 8×10 to 24×32 high quality giclée canvas prints.

If you happen to be a Corbis contributor, I’d hold off on booking that trip to Paris with your newfound additional revenue. This is not to say that there won’t be some who may find this to be a genuine revenue stream. Costco has tens of millions of customers and there may be some photographers whose work really does resonate with the masses.

What surprises me though is why anyone would be shocked at anything that happens in the stock photo industry today. There once was a time when many photographers made a very good income from stock photography and  to many it seemed like it would never end. Photographers, never really good at looking at the long term threw any and all images into stock libraries never really understanding the future ramifications. There was even a place for those images just sitting around in drawers collecting dust – the birth of Royalty Free which has since given birth to Microstock. When we talk about the demise of the stock industry it is not only Corbis and Getty that is to blame. Corbis is a privately owned company that since its inception has never turned a profit. They will always be looking for deals in the hopes they can generate revenue whenever and wherever they can. Imagine – over a billion dollars has been sunk into a company with no profit. Why?  Getty, up until last year was a publicly traded corporation that would do anything to please its shareholders. The shrinking sales reports have been evident for years, yet photographers still willingly contribute their imagery allowing it to be consistently devalued.

It has always been somewhat popular among many photographers to demonize Mark Getty and his “Evil Empire”. There is a current thread on the members only forum of Editorial Photo entitled “New Low For Corbis”. Yesterday, someone suggested that Getty be changed to “Satan’s Stock Shots”. I responded to this post with the following:

“All Mark Getty did was be a businessman, while photographers were not. Neither Getty nor Gates could have accomplished anything without the express permission and greed of the photographers. Like Republicans, you killed your own golden goose. Why would anyone be surprised at anything that happens regarding stock imagery?”

I was asked by an EP Board member  to edit my response and remove the remark about Republicans. I said I would rather delete the post entirely than remove that comment as I believe it to be true.

Getty and Corbis can and will do anything that is in their best interests. Nothing happens to you in business without your permission. Please – stop giving it.

© Debra Weiss 2010-2011. All rights reserved. No distribution, reproduction or display without advance express written permission.