Concert photographer: Where did your integrity go?

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The contracts

The last couple of weeks, the matter of photo contracts once again has been debated. First came Jason Sheldon’s blog post, calling Taylor Swift out on her hypocrisy when attacking Apple for demanding musicians give away their music for free while doing the exact same thing to concert photographers in her photo contracts. If you’re reading this, you’re probably well aware of that whole ordeal, so there’s no need to get into it further other than to say that I fully support Sheldon’s views.

His post made some waves, the latest being The Washington City Paper refusing to sign Foo Fighters infamous contract. Honorable as it may be, as pointed out by Kevin Bergin, their way of solving the problem, will make matters even worse for concert photographers. Petapixel’s Michael Zhang calls the decision a brewing revolution in the world of concert photography, but, I’m not so sure. Right now, it’s “viral”, so there is an immediate payoff, but, as soon as the story fades, so does the will to make change among the decision makers. After all, this is not the first time we’ve seen an “internet riot” against photo contracts, and yet, they are breeding. Well… except in Norway, but I’ll get back to that.

Muse

I, a photojournalist

At its core, concert photography is two things at once: art and journalism, or rather, photojournalism. Most concert photographers work for some sort of outlet – i.e., they are photojournalists. While that’s not a label all concert photographers embrace (or even know about), they should. I see myself as a photojournalist and fully adhere to the responsibilities tied to that label. When I post photos, they are the truth, or at least as close as I can get to it, strictly following the guidelines of the Ethical Code of Practice for the Norwegian Press in all my editorial work. Nothing is added or removed, nothing is changed for better or worse. My photos are first and foremost journalistic work, and my audiences can trust that I do not deceive them in my photos.

But, I also see myself as an artist, and care just as deeply about my art as any musician about their music. The greatest challenge to concert photography, in my opinion, is to make art of reality. Not just documenting reality, but showing the world the hidden aesthetics in it. In many ways, it’s a lot like street photography. If it’s staged or “photoshopped”, it loses its value. It’s no longer art in reality. Of course, making art for art’s sake (l’art pour l’art) with the tools available to you, isn’t a bad thing, and I know a lot of concert photographers doing just that, but I’m a journalist. To me, the real world is enough. And, if you are working for an outlet of any kind, you should feel the same way. People reading a newspaper, magazine – or even a music blog, are expecting trusting that you show them what the concert was really like, not how good you are at Photoshop. Your readers are expecting the truth.

John Mayer

I, an artist

The discussion regarding photo contracts, seem to be centered around the idea of the concert photographer as an artist. A photographer, an artist in his own right, should be able to control (and get paid for) his own work. Handing out a contract demanding the photographer to sign away or limit those right, is disrespecting a fellow artist. While I, as an artist, fully support that notion, I believe that journalistic integrity should come first. The problem with the above, is that not all concert photographers care enough about their work (or monetizing upon it) to defend their rights as long as they get to shoot their favorite band. There’s also the problem of some people viewing an artist as somewhat larger than life, where you, as a concert photographer, are lucky to be even in their presence and should adhere to their contracts (rights grab or not) out of sheer honor.

An artist can be manipulated and bullied into giving up his rights. However, if you have any journalistic integrity at all, it doesn’t matter who you are shooting or what artistic aspirations you may or may not have. One of the most important tenants of journalism, is the idea of a free press. That means, as a photojournalist, you can not allow any company, person or artist to decide what you can, or can not capture or publish. Then the press is no longer free, but dictated by external forces. In a free democracy, the public needs to be able to trust that the press acts as a free agent, without any constraints or limitations exerted by external forces.

Linkin Park

It’s all about control

Artists (and their managements) will always try to control what the press publishes about them, and while I completely understand the want to control an artist’s image, it is not for the artist or anyone else to decide as long as we live in (and want to continue living in) an open, free democracy (hell, in the age of smartphones and great pocket cameras the whole idea of trying to control image to that extent is, honestly, just silly, as photos will be captured anyway – but they will always try). We, as photojournalists, should treat musicians just the same as we would a politician. If a politician openly tried to control the media in the way some musicians are, it would be a scandal, and yet there’s not any real outrage. Sure, the artistic photographers are angry, but that’s about it.

Concert photographers seem to worry most about the rights grab aspect of some contracts (and, to some extent, the limitations on reselling photos to other outlets), and sure, I totally get that. The Taylor Swift photo contract that [re]ignited the discussion this time around, was mainly criticized for being a rights grab contract. And yes, I like so many others, feel that a rights grab contract is disrespecting me as an artist. That said, my main ‘beef’ with photo contracts, isn’t the disrespect of me as a photographer, but rather the attack on my integrity as a photojournalist. The same contract stipulates that photos shot at the concert may only be used once and only until the end of 2015 online. In my opinion, that’s an attack on my integrity – and in extension, the free press.

And, it’s spreading, because of course it is. They always want more control, and will take it if they can. Now, we’re seeing more and more artists putting limitations on how we photograph them, as well. Only shoot the left side of the face, or from the waist up. The newest instance I’ve read about, is artist Lily Wood demanding no photos to be shot in profile or overview (unfortunately I have no link to back this up, as it was discussed on the closed Concert photographers group). The worst contract I’ve come across, was when Crystal Castles played in Bergen a couple of years ago, with a contract demanding photos to be pre-approved by their management before publishing. You give them the finger, and they will take the hand. Now that right there is a scandal. Yet, nothing went ‘viral’ back then.

With this in mind, it baffles me to see not only concert photographers, but also major newspapers and outlets signing photo contracts. Where is their journalistic integrity? If a politician demanded to be only photographed in a certain way or that photos be removed after a given period of time, it would be unacceptable, so why is it any different for artists?

Elton John

But Who gets Control?

Of course, photos also have a historic value, and should be allowed to live on for future generations to see. They are what lives on when the present has passed. They are history. Having anyone try to control what lives on or not in the way many, if not most, contract tries to, gives artists and their managements power over history that they should not have. One of the most important and recognized concert photos of all time where Johnny Cash is flipping off the camera at his Folsom Prison San Quentin concert, imagine if a contract had been signed, and his management for some reason or another, didn’t like what they saw (or didn’t see it at all, but the photo could only be printed once). Imagine what we, and history, would have lost! It is not for you, me, or any one else to decide what will be important to history. Securing free speech (including as photographic documents), is also securing our history and legacy. Censorship should not be accepted regardless of who tries to impose it. You, as a concert photographer photojournalist, should have enough integrity to not let yourself be slave to the despotic whims of an artist or their management. They may deny us getting in, that’s their right, but when they let us in, they may not dictate how we chose to shoot or how we chose to publish.

If more, if not all, concert photographers identified as journalists and with the ethics that follow in their work, photo contracts would be a thing of the past. Signing a photo contract should be unacceptable, not because it’s disrespecting you as an artist, but because it’s a violation of the ethics you follow as a journalist. So stop thinking about yourself primarily as an artist. You are a [photo]journalist. You may create art, but it’s more to it than that. You are a part of the free press. Encourage new photographers to identify as journalists. Make the journalism be as natural to our profession as the artistry, and heed to the obligations that come with that label.

Ozzy Osbourne

Get yourself some integrity, it’s cheap!

And you know what? It actually works! The Norwegian press as a whole, has made a joint statement to never sign any contracts put forward by artists or their management pushed forward by concert photographers, as can be read here. In Norway, most concert photographers are, in essence, photojournalists and identify more or less as such. And because of that, we are part of the press. We are not 100 concert photographers, but 7000 journalists. Together we have a powerful voice. We generally do not meet any photo contracts, and the few we do, never gets signed. And because of that, contracts get fewer and fewer. With the press associations and unions behind us, we actually have a powerful voice against such demands, and the contracts get dropped (though, it has to be said that the local promoters have done tremendous work as well in that regard, but without all of the press acting like a collective, they would have no incentive to waiver the contracts). The aforementioned Foo Fighters contract? Guess what: that was not presented to the photographers in Norway. I can’t even remember the last time I “had” to sign a contract. That’s what having some integrity gets you.

Slayer

25 Comments

  1. Absolutely!

    No artist should attempt to impose control on another creator’s output, and no musician actor or politician should be allowed to manipulate the press.

    contracts if they are necessary should be fair, not some form of slavery…

  2. Hey Jarle,

    Great blog post. I would like to add my thoughts.

    I have been photographing musicians for 38 years here in the US. During my career, I have contributed to over 100 CD and album covers, over 100 magazine covers, and have toured multiple times with the Rolling Stones, The Dixie Chicks, Bryan Adams and Genesis. I have worked extensively with Bruce Springsteen, Prince and many others.
    Over the last 15 years or so, I have seen access being cut off by most major bands (and many smaller bands). I treat photography as an art, and a business.
    During a lunch with Jim Marshall (my idol and the gold standard of music photographers) in the early 1990’s, he asked me if I went along with the crazy restrictions musicians were starting to place on photographers. As I started to explain why I had to, he pounded the table and called me a fucking moron!! He explained that when you let the bands dictate how much you can shoot and where you can shoot from, the pictures weren’t yours any more. I went home that day and thought about what he had said, and I agreed with him. I made a decision that day that I would m=not shoot if the access was not to my liking. Within 6 months I lost 95% of my business (I never got it back).
    Before that day, I was shooting pictures 5 nights a week, 52 weeks a year. From that day forward, I shoot about 3 times a month. I make almost no money (I survive on my archives) but I can look myself in the mirror and be proud of myself.

    The point you made about the press in Norway not allowing any signed contracts, plus the Washington paper not signing Foo Fighters contract is just the start. For every publication that stands up for rights, there are 20 photographers who will gladly sign away all of their rights for the “Opportunity” to give away their work to PLACE NAME OF ARTIST HERE , an artist that makes enough in one night to pay for all the photographs they will ever need.

    The only thing I disagree with in your post is calling the contracts “Rights Grabs”
    A rights grab would be as follows:
    When the show is over, one of Taylor Swifts employees grabbed all the photographers and herded them all into a room, locked the door and demanded all of their compact flash cards, left the room and locked them in, went to another room and downloaded all the cards and then wiped them clean- then returned the empty cards and told everyone to go home. What you are describing is a rights giveaway! Vey simply a bunch of stupid photographers signing away their work voluntarily! Every time I am confronted with a contract, I tear it up and hand it back to the person presenting it to me. Many times after that I will go into the show to see if anyone has signed the contract. The photo pit is almost always full. As long as that continues to happen, the problem will never be solved!

    • Thank you for your comment, Paul!
      I agree with everything you write. I would rather give up my career than sign away my work (and Jim Marshall has influenced me a lot in that regard!).

      As for calling the contracts “rights grabs”, you’re right, it would be better to call them “rights giveaways”. I used the term since that’s the most used term in the community. I guess I’ve always interpreted it as meaning that artists/managements “grab” the rights to use photos without paying for them.

      All the best,
      Jarle

  3. Great article, thank you 🙂 (Your reference to ‘Folsom Prison’ is wrong though; that shot was from San Quentin.)

  4. I agree with a lot of what you say, in that there is a code of ethics among concert photographers that needs to be learned and adopted. But 1) that is not why the Foo Fighters and Taylor Swift and others are using these contracts. They are not trying to control their image, they have lazy lawyers and PR people doing an easy sweep to grab photos. And 2) I am among the blogs you mention who do photoshop their photos and considers herself more of an artist. However, I don’t work for a paper and request shows directly from the band or their PR and they approve me because they like my photos. There is room for me in this conversation, just as it’s valid that a newspaper would not want to run my photos because they are not the right photojournalistic style for them. It’s not about art vs journalism – it’s about everyone remembering that it’s currently a symbiotic system between bands, photographers and media. If that balance gets out of whack, as it would with contracts like the Foo Fighters, everyone loses and/or we need a new system.

    • I think the only reason for clauses like “one time use only” and time limits, is the want to control an artists image, but of course, getting free photos is a (highly unethical) part of it as well.
      I’m in no way disregarding concert photographers considering themselves primarily artists (which is what I’m referring to in the “l’art pour l’art” paragraph). What I’m saying, is that photographic artists have a much smaller room for negotiation when met with contracts like these. Being part of the journalistic community, because of their ethical standards, gives you more power to say “no” when met with such demands. I also try to point out that you can still be an artist while adhering to those standards (just look at Cartier-Bresson), and I believe you gain more than you lose by identifying as a photojournalist. Sure, there are some things you can’t do in photoshop, but you get more freedom over you your work.

  5. I’ll been taking rock photos for over forty years right from when the fastest emulsion was 160 ASA Ektachrome to today with 104,000 ISO. It was a lot harder back then to take photos with such slow speed film but it was a lot easier to keep control of your photos. These days it is a free for all. Even with right click, no copy options people still copy same with the snipping tool. Also everyone wants it all for nowt and don’t really care how they go about it.

  6. Ok, as a VERY successful music photographer for more than 30 years, I cannot understand the fuss and, above all, the ugly interpretation I find about such Artist agreements. Let’s take the steps one by one:

    Photographer asks through promoter for a photo permit to photograph the concert of The Artist (which stands for any artist) to be published in The Media (which could be any specific media).

    The Artist approves the request and confirms that photographer may shoot for a certain time for The Media – and The Media only.

    If Photographer would have wanted to shoot for a variety of Media, this should have been included in the original request. This may have or even may have not been approved – but that is a totally different issue. In this said case the Photographer’s request was approved in full.

    Now, the Artist tours world wide, and every country has its own rules. Let’s look at the United Kingdom, where all the fuss is coming from  

    I am not a native English speaker, and to make sure every one understands I step to the side and change to one bad example, but it will make it very clear what I want to say:

    My friend David has a red jacket. I do not like this jacket. So I may ask him not to wear it, at least when we are together. Again, I can ask, but he is not obliged to follow my request. Now, if I OWNED the jacket, I could legally very well not ask him to wear it, at least not in my presence. Since I left the jacket with David, I cannot use it.

    It’s pretty much the same with the laws and images in Europe. Basically the Artist needs to OWN the images – and will license the images for the one usage to The Media.

    I hear again & again that those “obscenely rich artists” take advantage of us using our images for free. Well – how could they – we never gave them to the Artist – we were, at least in this contract! – not even asked to submit them to them.

    What I do understand is that it is somewhat impossible to professionally survive with the money a Photographer can make with the one usage in The Media. But that is not the Artists fault. We photographers agree to work under conditions which hardly, if at all, pays us minimum wages.

    In my business workshops, I lecture how to avoid this. It’s a question of negotiating fair deals with the client, The Media.

    I find it sad that we blame The Artist for our failure to either negotiate an agreement with Artist/ Management/ Promoter – and above all, our clients, The Media.

    I know too well that The Media will insist that budgets were restricted as they failed to prepare themselves for the internet. Even worse, and NOW we are getting to the real topic: in Europe they start to SELL Photographers images through a lab as original prints. This is where the Artist steps in and says “hey, I do not want this”.

    With articles like the one here Photographer is not remotely getting better working conditions. I call this “pouring oil into the fire”. People like the one here are greatly supporting MY business, which is based on a fair communication with all my partners, regardless if Artist, Management, Promoter or Media.

    If I am unhappy, I will not scream out in public but sit and listen to their concerns – and hoping that all parties come to a mutual understanding.

    I feel sorry for those who don’t – and choose to “scream it out to public” – then secretly thank them to push their business with The Artist straight into my direction  

    One more thing – common sense. David Mecey and I just finished a very successful workshop tour. We had to extremely pretty models who went all the way to make sure everyone was able to shoot stunning images. And they did! However, unfortunately, there were – thankfully very few – really ugly ones among them. And believe me, when I say ugly I mean obscenely ugly. Now would you want any one of them to be seen for the rest of your life? The answer is no. So you try to restrict, and then….

    • Photographer asks through promoter for a photo permit to photograph the concert of The Artist (which stands for any artist) to be published in The Media (which could be any specific media).

      The Artist approves the request and confirms that photographer may shoot for a certain time for The Media – and The Media only.

      I agree with all the above

      If Photographer would have wanted to shoot for a variety of Media, this should have been included in the original request. This may have or even may have not been approved – but that is a totally different issue. In this said case the Photographer’s request was approved in full.

      A photojournalist requests permission to get access, generally representing a specific Media, sure, but the ethical principles a photojournalist follows, also states that a photojournalist must protect the freedom of speech – and a photojournalist “speaks” with imagery. If he wishes to further convey what he has captured to other Media than the one he initially represented, that is his right. Here is a relevant paragraphs from the [Norwegian] “Ethical Code of Practice for the Press”:

      1.3. The press shall protect the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press and the principle of access to official documents. It cannot yield to any pressure from anybody who might want to prevent open debates, the free flow of information and free access to sources. Agreements concerning exclusive event reporting shall not preclude independent news reporting.

      Such a clause, would restrict the free flow of information, and because of that, all photojournalists with integrity will (or at least should) protest

      Now, the Artist tours world wide, and every country has its own rules. Let’s look at the United Kingdom, where all the fuss is coming from

      No country has been explicitly mentioned other than Norway. Yes, it’s relevant for the UK, but I would say that USA is the country with the most problems regarding contracts

      I am not a native English speaker, and to make sure every one understands I step to the side and change to one bad example, but it will make it very clear what I want to say:

      My friend David has a red jacket. I do not like this jacket. So I may ask him not to wear it, at least when we are together. Again, I can ask, but he is not obliged to follow my request. Now, if I OWNED the jacket, I could legally very well not ask him to wear it, at least not in my presence. Since I left the jacket with David, I cannot use it.

      I’m not quite sure if I understand the point you’re making here, but if I’m understanding you correctly, I’m not really disagreeing. Your friend David isn’t, by law, obliged to do as you want, but since you follow a strict ethic against red jackets, he has to chose if he must wear the jacket – and never meet you again; or take the jacket off

      It’s pretty much the same with the laws and images in Europe. Basically the Artist needs to OWN the images – and will license the images for the one usage to The Media.

      I’m not sure if I get what point you are trying to make here. In this case, musicians do not own the photos, the photojournalists do. And by the standards they follow, they will have all rights to use the photos editorially, or not shoot at all

      I hear again & again that those “obscenely rich artists” take advantage of us using our images for free. Well – how could they – we never gave them to the Artist – we were, at least in this contract! – not even asked to submit them to them.

      If a musician or their management gets the photos off of the Internet by themselves or demands a photographer to give send the photos to them doesn’t really matter. As long as there is a so called “rights grab” clause in the contract, it is a rights grab. Now, if you actually read the text above, what I’m problematizing, isn’t the rights grabs, but rather the restrictions on editorial usage, as it violates journalistic ethical principles. Sure, I find rights grabbers rude as musicians can and should pay for their promotional material, and I will never sign them myself, but the whole point of this piece is to criticize concert photographers hangup on the rights grab clause. That’s the least problematic clause in these contracts.

      What I do understand is that it is somewhat impossible to professionally survive with the money a Photographer can make with the one usage in The Media. But that is not the Artists fault. We photographers agree to work under conditions which hardly, if at all, pays us minimum wages.

      Yes, it is difficult, so there’s no reason for the musicians to make it even more difficult, is there? It should be in their interest as well to make concert photography a viable profession. Professional photographers means better photos, which again makes them look better than if they are photographed by a journalist with an iPhone

      In my business workshops, I lecture how to avoid this. It’s a question of negotiating fair deals with the client, The Media.

      This is irrelevant. The client, the Media, should not accept any terms that restrict the freedom of press. Again, another quote from the Ethical Code of Practice for the Press: 3.8. […] No one without editorial authority may intervene in the editing or presentation of editorial material

      I find it sad that we blame The Artist for our failure to either negotiate an agreement with Artist/ Management/ Promoter – and above all, our clients, The Media.

      I know too well that The Media will insist that budgets were restricted as they failed to prepare themselves for the internet. Even worse, and NOW we are getting to the real topic: in Europe they start to SELL Photographers images through a lab as original prints. This is where the Artist steps in and says “hey, I do not want this”.

      Not once in this piece did I discuss business, be it sales or profit. What I am discussing is having journalistic integrity in your work – when you work as a photojournalist – and adhere to the ethical tenets contained within that label and profession. Nobody ever complained about the “no merchaindize” clauses, and if that was the only point in contracts, nobody would care, as artists already are protected against such usage by law. Limited art prints are a somewhat different matter, as they are not seen as exploitation of the musicians “image” or brand, as a poster would be, but rather, they are showcasing a photographers artistry. I will grant you that it is a gray area, and if a musician doesn’t want it, fine. I would view it as rather petty, though. Making limited art prints is more about creating pretty wall art, than making money. The potential for profit on such art, regardless of what you shoot, is close to none, so a musician isn’t missing out on any profits.

      With articles like the one here Photographer is not remotely getting better working conditions. I call this “pouring oil into the fire”. People like the one here are greatly supporting MY business, which is based on a fair communication with all my partners, regardless if Artist, Management, Promoter or Media.

      As pointed out, I wrote this piece to show how we, Norwegian concert photographers, have greatly benefited from banding together to not sign contracts, so your whole argument is faulty. The matter at hand here, is not photographers working directly for a musician/management or promoter. Then, there are, naturally, different terms; and you get to actually negotiate them. On the other hand, a photojournalist that gets handed a contract at a venue, either has to sign it, or walk away. Those are the only two options. I say, that for photojournalists with any integrity for their profession, signing is not an option. When all concert photographers band together to uphold the freedom of press and free flow of information, contracts gets dropped, as musicians and their managements value getting coverage more than having control.

      If I am unhappy, I will not scream out in public but sit and listen to their concerns – and hoping that all parties come to a mutual understanding.

      A photojournalist neither has the opportunity to “listen to their concerns”, nor should he have to. It is for the musician to decide if they want us there, but they may not interfere with our work when they let us in. A “no merch” clause doesn’t interfere with a photojournalists work, so if that is their main concern, then keep that, but don’t try to influence coverage

      I feel sorry for those who don’t – and choose to “scream it out to public” – then secretly thank them to push their business with The Artist straight into my direction

      Read the piece again. This isn’t about doing business directly with an artist. When there is no room for negotiation, discussing the matter publicly, is the only option. I’m not “screaming out in public”, though, I am discussing something that should matter to the public. The public should be made aware of musicians trying to restrain the freedom of press.

      One more thing – common sense. David Mecey and I just finished a very successful workshop tour. We had to extremely pretty models who went all the way to make sure everyone was able to shoot stunning images. And they did! However, unfortunately, there were – thankfully very few – really ugly ones among them. And believe me, when I say ugly I mean obscenely ugly. Now would you want any one of them to be seen for the rest of your life? The answer is no. So you try to restrict, and then….

      Of course they don’t want that, but it is not for them to decide what or how the press chooses to cover an event. Sure, it’s a risk for them to let the press attend, but that’s a risk they have to take to get coverage. They are not gods, they have to accept the freedom of press like everyone else in an open, free democracy. Besides, musicians (and everybody else) are protected against such unethical conduct in the journalistic principles, so a photojournalist with professional integrity, will never publish such photos. (ref.: 4.3. Always respect a person’s character and identity[…])

  7. Great article! And great photoshopping on the pics, very subtle, very nice.

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