Friday, May 30, 2008

What's Your Vector, Victor?

When I was 17, I had saved up some money working as a busboy to spend six weeks backpacking through western Europe. It was the most liberating experience, much needed at the time. I took tons of pictures and kept a written journal through nine countries (which might get its own blog someday).

I've always felt the ultimate luxury was being able to transport yourself to some far off place to taste the food, see the art, meet the locals and feel like a foreigner. Lucky for me, my job takes me to places where I get to do just that.

Work-related travel for photographers is much different than travel for most people with real jobs. We're not traveling to open a new branch, source suppliers or close any deals. We are traveling because some client feels there is no one in that particular spot who can do the job better than we can. That's a serious validation of the service we provide. And in the internet age, when it's fairly simple to hire any photographer in any locale, I hope clients opting to send "their photographer" overseas continues.

A traveling photographer knows his job is not as glamorous as his friends think. Convincing a flight attendant that your carry-on is not actually 3x the weight limit, watching a clueless TSA agent smear his greasy fingerprints over your $2,000 lens and waiting in the baggage claim area with your fingers crossed is certainly no way to commute to work. One time, my assistant asked an American Airlines flight attendant for a pillow and she barked, "We have no pillows!" and once I was told, "since 9/11, we have no more magazines."

Did bin Laden plot to take away my in-flight reading material?

To keep a running documentation of these glamorous trips, I'm using a custom Google map of our work locations (not personal trips but places where clients have actually paid us to create images). The map will be continually updated as new travel is completed.

Once in a while, I am asked by a new client if I can work somewhere like...Ft. Lauderdale (about 15 minutes from my house). Now, I can just email a link to this map and they will see that my love for travel knows no boundaries.

Monday, May 19, 2008

My Images Are Not Orphans

Imagine a large company using a photograph of you, without your knowledge, to sell their products. It's your face, your expression, choice in hairstyle, clothes and identity working hard to put money into some stranger's pocket without any compensation to you. After the steam clears from your head, you would probably call your lawyer.

Now imagine your lawyer saying you had no case because the company is protected by a law that entitles them to use your likeness since... well... they just couldn't find you to ask your approval.

This scenario is what all photographers, writers, musicians, illustrators and filmmakers grapple with every day, especially with the proliferation of digital technology and along with it, the ease of copying, distributing and profiting from other people's work. And it's about to get a whole lot worse if certain interest groups have their way with the Senate.

At this very moment, lobbyists representing the publishing industry and other sectors are working to persuade our Congress to adopt S.2913, the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008. If this law passes in its current form, it will make it fairly easy for all companies to steal someone's creative work, for profit.

If you ask the proponents of this bill, they will argue that large amounts of historic images go unpublished because their photographers are unknown and probably deceased (hence the term "Orphan Works"). This is a legitimate concern since schools, public libraries, museums and other institutions cannot afford to be sued for copyright infringement by a surprise claimant. These images can be useful for any application for "the public good" where there is little or no commercial profit. And, if these were the only applications for Orphan Works, most photographers (including me) would wholeheartedly support this bill. Too bad the bill suspiciously omits any protections from large, for-profit companies who will certainly use it to their advantage.

If you think this is just a problem for photographers, think again. The same problem could eventually extend to architects, interior designers and many other industries reliant on innovation and protection for their original ideas.

If you think this is just a problem for professionals, think again. There are a lot of very talented amateur photographers showing their high-res images on photo sharing sites like Flickr. If I was a publisher under Orphan Works protection, this is the first place I would go to right-click a free stock image library for my advertising campaigns.

For those who are not in creative industries, just simply imagine doing your current job for free. Or, maybe just 2 weeks per month free. Or every Tuesday, for free. Would you accept any of those scenarios?

If you are a creator who opposes the Orphan Works bill and wants to join the cause, you can find your senators by searching for them here and write them using this template from photographers, rewording it for your particular industry.

If you're actually a supporter of this bill, feel free to leave any comments below.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Have A Cow

I know we're making Wal-Mart nervous. As of today, we are what business professors call "horizontally integrated," with solid footings in both the photography and farm animal t-shirt sectors.

The Six Angry Cows t-shirt uses an image I shot on a farm in Damme, Belgium back in 2000 when I was experimenting with Kodak's EIR infrared film. Photo geeks older than 30 might remember that anyone loading, focusing, exposing and developing this invisible light-sensitive film resembled James Bond diffusing a doomsday bomb. The film was so sensitive that you had to load your camera in 100% darkness. But, the grainy, glowing look was really beautiful and even under/over exposures had completely different and usable results. Kodak discontinued EIR film last year and I felt sad to hear the news, even though I went completely digital in 2004.

I had fun with Zazzle's custom apparel website and the interface is wonderfully intuitive. Other e-businesses have a lot to learn from them since they're one of the few who work hard on the front-end design so the consumer can quickly order what they want, minus their money. No "Want to take a survey?" popups or other annoying things that degrade the user experience. Within a few days, the order comes well-packaged and everyone is happy.

For $25 plus shipping, you can wear a piece of bovine beauty and halide history.

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