The Founders of Stock Photography

31 03 2007

Apparently, Corbis’ ignorance has no limit. After burying the Bettmann archives in a Pennsylvanian salt mine, disposing of the Sygma collection in some Parisian suburb, firing some of the greatest mind of photography, destroying Digital Stock, The Stock Market, Zefa, LGI, Starlight and many others, after claiming the non disputed title of the least profitable photo agency for the last consecutive 18 years, it now self proclaimed itself the genesis of this industry.

According to this document posted on this website , Corbis proclaims  ” We are the founders of stock photography..”.

It continues a little bit further with this even more hilarious quote : “we provide incredible value in the form of exceptional images, 24/7 service to meet the complex, ever changing needs of clients of every shape and size”.

Round and skinny men, triangle and obese women, you have found your photo agency !!! Unlike other photo agencies who do not service weird shaped clients , Corbis the great will ignore it and will serve your ever changing needs.

That, friends, is Creativity 2.0 !!

Here is a JPG version of the document (click to see full size):

The corbis document

The Cyclopes

29 03 2007


March 28, 2007 · A panel of judges from a federal appeals court in Denver (10th Cir.) affirmed summary judgment last week in favor of a Harper’s Magazine journalist who photographed the open casket of an Oklahoma National Guard member killed in Iraq.”

The journalist in question here is no other than fame photographer Pete Turnley .
“Following the photo’s publication, Brinlee’s father, Robert Showler, and grandfather, Johnny Davidson, sued Turnley and Harper’s on claims of invasion of privacy, false representation, fraud, unjust enrichment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
[Judge] Seay pointed out that the family — not Harper’s and its photographer — chose to have the casket open at the funeral and invite the press.

One has to ponder about this event for a while. Death, in itself, is not a “private moment”, it is a full part of the life cycle. There is nothing more common then death, an ability that we share with all living things. Photographing dead people has been done since the birth of photography, from public execution to the legendary Weegee and numerous extremely talented war photographers. Death is even more an integral part of war. After all, do we not pay our soldiers to legally kill our “officially declared” enemies with the obvious risk of getting killed themselves? But then, we should mimic the three wise monkeys ?

Todd Heisler Pulitzer, NPPA, World Press winning photo essay is all about war inflicted death and how we, the living, try to cope with it. I think there was more invasion of privacy there. Yet, no one sued.
When and why someones life becomes private ? Since a soldier, like a policeman or firefighter, is paid by our tax money, shouldn’t he/she be a public figure ? We have bought their time after all. We even pay for their death expenses and after. We consider the battle ground as a public place and publish images of dead Iraqis every day. But no US soldiers? What exactly makes their death more private then that of the woman going to the market and being suddenly pulverized by a suicide bomber. And those thousands upon thousands of dead bodies washed up after the great tsunami of 2004? not private. The corpses floating in New Orleans after the Katrina hurricane. Not private.
We consider soldiers lives, even the most mundane moments, as fair game. They have deliberately walked in the modern gladiators arena whose walls are only defined by photojournalists and paparazzi. They are in and belong to the Public Eye, the same one that demands pictures of Ana Nicole Smith, Paris Hilton, and our presidential candidates.

The photographers are not the voyeurs, but the masses. Photographers only fulfill a need, thus a market demand, for these images, leaving the boundaries of private/public extremely blurry. What I would like to see, one day, is the masses, the ones that rush to the newsstands and pay to see these images, to be sued. After all, they are the ones who invade our privacy with their curious eyes, not the photographers. Or vote with their money, as it is so often done in this country, and cease to purchase publications, surf websites and watch TV shows that offend them. But a crowd has no moral, does it ? The photographer, along with the editors, have this responsibility. However, their ethics are only govern by one thing: money. And we all know money has no morals either.

So lets not all stand there as hypocrites. The image consumer, the viewer, the crowd, the Cyclopes as I call them, are the ones with the real moral choices. If they do not want to see more images of gladiators dying, then they should let us know. And if our society decides that the majority is not ethical, then lets create a photojournalist oath, like Hippocrate did for medicine, and let us abide by it.

But let’s cease this incessant photographers harassment.

Full article on Peter Turnley’s case here

Chaos and sensibility

26 03 2007


There are a few trends emerging in 2007 that are worth noting. As an exercise in divination, I have written down some projections to measure against time. I dare you to do the same. Time will tell if I was right.
– A very aggressive Getty images goes all out. Probably badly hurt in its ego by Wall street’s loss of confidence, Getty Images has been all out these last few months in acquisitions and distributions deals. We can certainly count on many more to come as the “take no prisoner” policy of Getty Images continues. They have the will, the cash and the brains. I would expect them to do moves in the international markets where they are still weak, most particularly in Europe. They will probably make some horrible mistakes in the process.
Corbis might buy Jupiter Media as to finally be able to say they have entered the Microstock market. They might even be smart and turn the whole RF offering into Microstock before it is too late. Alan Meckler will return to building web oriented trade shows and the Attila of photography, Steve Davis, might finally step down and run Bill Gates’ foundation. After all, he has many many years of experience running a non-for-profit.
Portals : As I have written before, portals are going to be the next big things in photography. Unable to combat on their own, agencies will coordinate resources and efforts to offer clients a wealth of combine content. It will be widely accepted by image buyers worldwide.
The merge: 2007 will see the price gap between microstock and traditional royalty free close forever. The remaining players will be the top distributors and the top creators of RF, with, of course, a multitude of UGC’s. In the long run, it will not be profitable for professional photographers to shoot Royalty Free, thus leaving the production of these images to well trained and shepherded amateurs. The industry’s “dirty little secret” of over pricing landscape images and product shots will be over (remember?, it used to be called “clip art”).
Flickr and other file sharing sites will completely miss their entry into the licensing world for lack of a clear understanding on how it works. Eventually, Flickr will partner with another company ( is that why Getty bought ?). It is always amusing to me to see how people think that by slapping a price on an image and making it available on the internet, they think they will sell. There is much more to successfully licensing images than that.
European emergence: Taken by surprise by the internet revolution, currently brutally fighting each other in a price war, companies from Europe will eventually redefine the rules of a successful photo agency. When they break out of their country-centric mentalities, they will offer an incredible wealth of quality images along with an acute sensitivity to market trends. American based agencies will feel the heath, especially in the quality of content .
– File sharing, web 2.0 photo sites, community based GPSed images and other mish mash and mash ups will take a nose dive into oblivion as trends and fashion move on to other interests. After many false scares, the bubble will deflate and photography will return into the hands of professional. The same way we now laugh at the eccentricities of web 1.0, we will barely chuckle when web 2.0 will be mentioned. Maybe one or two will become really useful and remain. I bet on these guys, PICNIK.

That is it for now. do not want to reveal too much yet. your turn.

A must see

23 03 2007

Nina Berman, of World Press Award fame with her magnificent portrait of a severely burned Iraqi war veteran on his wedding day, has posted a multimedia on Not only does it gives more depth and information about the two protagonists, it is also a beautiful mix of images and voice over.

Like Todd Heisler’s images, the most compelling, the most telling, the most truthful images of the Iraqi war are not taken in Iraq, but right here in the USA. It is not about the violence of the combat itself but more about the profound impact that it has on American soldiers, their families and society if and when they return home.

Nina Berman story is here:

Scares from Iraq.

France Photo world in turmoil

22 03 2007

Cradle of photography, France has been going through a lot of painful changes in the last 5 years.  Recent news, according to photo website, seem to confirm this trend:
Hachette Filipacchi photo group, formally GHFP, has been renamed EYEDEA. Quite certainly a play on words between EYE and IDEA, Eyedea boast a brand new website full of Flash animated images (some out of focus), a new management team (a reshuffle of the old team), while still using the same back-end database. We wish them the best of luck.

On a very sad note,  agency EDITING is filing for bankruptcy. Having been in financial difficulty for quite a while, the French agency claims that the fall of editorial prices induced by sharp competition has forced them to take this drastic measure. “The value of images has dropped ” said Serge Challo, according to website EDITING was always on the forefront of quality images and technological advance. Hopefully, we will continue the see the work of their talented photographers distributed by other agencies.


20 03 2007

a bird and a flag

Stock photography has nothing to do with creativity. It is not an art. It does not try to explain the meaning of Life. It tries to communicate. It uses a language, the visual language, to transmit a message. The true and successful stock photographer is, first and foremost, a sociologist. He tries to understand the trends, values, concepts of his time and translates them into a simple image that conveys the message.

Therefore, the success of a photographer is dependent on his ability to be in touch with his time, to feel and understand what people want to hear. or view. It is his ability to be “in fashion” by integrating in his work the captured knowledge of his world and his time. For example, the US youth right now, is crazy about communities and social interaction over the internet. The idea of “exchange” is all over the Web 2.0 and has trickled to product, like the Microsoft Zune, that allow song sharing.
How does one capture such an image ? Well, one exercise would be to photograph everything you do during a typical day. from waking up in the morning to going to bed at night and everything in the middle. You can be sure that for everything you do during your day, they are multiple products associated with it. Thus, thousand of marketers trying to find an image to illustrate it. Because your personal life might be very dull and gray, the next step is to subliming it and strip it of its individuality. No one really wants to see the details of your bedroom. However, they would love to see the concept of a bedroom in the morning. So what defines a bedroom in the morning.
– a bed.
– a low morning sunlight casting shadows through a window.
– someone still sleeping in night attire or sitting on the edge.
– some accessories. alarm clock, slippers, nightgown, table, a mirror.
You now have defined a bedroom in the morning. You could go more minimalist, of course. A close up of a wrinkled pillow in an unmade bed could do the trick too. Heck !, a toothbrush on a white background would do it, since most people associate brushing their teeth with the morning. But do not forget the golden rule: Leave some space for text, at least 1/4 of the image.
Part of the microstock success is due to the fact that they offer exactly this type of imagery, more in touch with the current world, then prefabricated Royalty Free products made by the corporates in their cubicle. Microstocks companies have no control over their content yet sell millions of images per year. Istockphoto has reported 10.5 million images sold for 2005. I am sure a lot of RF and RM agencies would have liked to boast such figures. Why such a volume ? Well, partly because the content is more reflective of what is going around us than those of  conventional stock agencies.
It is important never to forget that the success of an image is in how it relates to us. and by us, I mean the social us. I will only notice an image because it speaks to me, right at me, and who I am. It will answer an immediate need. A photographer should watch all the popular TV shows, surf all the popular websites, watch music videos pay, attention to all the fashion trends and have kids of different age to talk to, all the time. If you communicate with the trend makers, you will have a better idea on what is coming . And communication is, sometimes, all about listening.

The most interesting part is that you do not have to like one of your image for it to be successful. As long as it satisfies a need, it is useful. It becomes a tool , after all, for others to reshape in the exact form they need, to fit space, time and message. It will be cropped, reformatted, smothered with text and published for everyone to see.

There is nothing creative about stock photography. It is just a complex exercise in repackaged sociology with a little dose of cynicism.

On Photography…

16 03 2007

fear.jpgI took this image the other day. Coming out of my gym, I saw this sticker on a light pole and right behind, badly parked, this “Public Safety” minivan and thought the contrast of the two would be interesting. Not a great picture, I agree, as I was shooting with a pocket camera, the Nikon 7900, that I always carry with me in the hope of becoming, maybe, one day, the greatest citizen journalist in the world.

As I have learned from the pros, I took different images, verticals, horizontals, close ups etc. While I was doing that, this woman, in police uniform comes out of nowhere and start asking me in a very unfriendly tone: “Sir, is there a problem here ? ”

Still under the spell of the endorphin produced by my workout, I do not think much of it and reply, nicely, after looking around me. ” No, absolutely not”. Before I had a chance to ask her what had prompted her question, she disappears back into the building, letting a glass door close gently behind her. On the door, a sign : “Security Office”. I suddenly realize the reason for her concern. The Public Security van, badly parked, belongs to her. I do not think much of it and continue taking pictures.

Half a minute later, I hear a voice again. “Sir, can I help you ?”. I look and there stands a man this time, seemingly from the great nation of India, also in simile police uniform. I am not sure how to respond to that particular question, so I glance at him as if I didn’t really understood what he said. In a more aggressive and authoritarian tone, he asked: “what are you doing ?”

Bear in mind that I am on the sidewalk , shooting towards the street, in what could not be more of a public space than the moon. I did not expect anyone to get upset. Trying to avoid a shoot out, I remain calm and think to myself I could give a free photography lesson to this man who couldn’t find any other job than a private security guard and maybe help his career. I say “come here”, gesturing to him to approach me and the post where the sticker is. Just wanted to visually show him what I was photographing to make him understand. He doesn’t move. So I explain to him, the sticker, the Security van, fear, contrast, etc.

“what are you going to do with these pictures ?!”, he says in a very annoyed tone. As much as I wanted to say” I am going to send them to the police department and show them how badly you park because I have nothing else to do with my life than chase bad drivers . ” So I politely replied. “oh, it is just for me”. I think his gun had something to do with my reaction. Still in its holder, and maybe not real, I still did not want to find out.”But what do you do with the image?!” he insisted. And so we had a long, annoying chat while passer buys looked at me as if I had just robbed a bank with my point and shoot. Finally we parted, him unconvinced and myself, ready to start a revolution.

I have been following the multiple posts of Thomas Hawk about photographer Carlos Miller arrested by the Miami police. 9/11 and the so called Patriot Act have raised the confidence levels to both regular and private security forces in this country to ridiculous highs, to a point where you cannot even take picture of a light post in the street without being harassed. This is becoming ridiculous. As Thomas Hawk says, “Photography is not a crime”. If I want to take bad pictures, let me take bad pictures. We should start, (maybe on Zoomr?), a photo group, just specialized on photos of Police and security guards at work just to encourage everyone to photograph them all the time and let them know they are being watched.

P.S.: The next day, all the postings on that light post had been taken down. I guess as a prevention measure against any other attempts from other photographers.

Finding a home with a kitchen and a sink

13 03 2007


~ A great idea is emerging from Europe and hopefully will cross the transatlantic pond. Instead of fighting the “orphan work” legislation, why don’t we try to work with it. One has to admit that it can be extremely hard to find the owner of an art work. Bad or no usage of metadata has generated a huge amount of lonely images, wandering aimlessly on the sidewalks of the information superhighway, with no hope of returning to its owners. On the other hand, professional, and not so professional image buyers have less and less time to seriously search for the pedigree of that one image they desperately need immediately.

The idea is quite simple : Use the image, credit it with a generic credit (in France they use D.R. It stands for Droits Reserve, rights reserved ), pay a licensing fee to a non for profit international center for photography.This organization could do many things:

– Find the owner of the image and pay the license fee (minus the cost of finding him/her)

– Fund free courses on metadata and IP technology.

– Fund research on image tracking technology- Fund exhibits, books, multimedia to allow the public to better understand photography and the work that is involved in creating it. And why it is important to pay a licensing fee.

Of course, there could be many other possibilities.

~ Getty/ I have been asked many times what I thought about this. It seems that Getty is gearing themselves for the entry of Flickr and Google in the picture licensing business. By controlling UGC sites like Istock to Flickr and, they can show their stockholders that they took preemptive measures. After all, let’s not forget, it is the job of the CEO of a public company to please and satisfy the stockholders first. Furthermore, it couldn’t have cost much to purchase if the whole staff is made of 2 people already married somewhere in Scotland working out of their kitchen office, as per this article on
~ No Sense entry: Crowdsourcing gone mad: Fell on this site the other day, The idea is quite simple. Two images are displayed next to each other, you click on the one you like better and see the total of others vote. I am assuming if your taste is the same as the majority, you win. And you do it again, and again, and again. Now, this might be a cool add on for a photo agency trying to get some ratings on their collection. But as a stand alone? I would love to see the business plan for this one. Do they plan to license their technology, which is quite frankly very basic ? Or do they expect to be the next Google ? ( web 1.0 had Netscape, web 2.0 has Google, Youtube being not far behind). “One day, we will have half of the world’s population clicking on images like crazy, dude”. No image credits, you can post a link to any images on another site, it’s another photography free for all. They should stick with their other venture : MOBMOV

Look who’s blogging now =>

10 03 2007

Now that they got rid of those yucky Sygma slides, the team that brought you the “non for profit photo agency” is blogging like crazy. First CEO, President, Chairman of the board and super guru of CORBIS, Steve Davis, talks about his travels and his thoughts about, what else ?, traveling. As insightful and innovative as the company itself, Creativity 2.0 blog is a leapfrog in visual equity thinking.
It also provides a bulletin board for employees of said corporation to rub the boss in the right direction, post comments about the chief’s amazing insight and pat his brain while thinking about their next promotion. Want to see who is the biggest KA of Corbis, visit the comment section. Same employees even go out and blog about the amaaaazing team they work with and what paradise it is to work for said company.

Finally, if you really want to know what goes on behind those big Corbis walls, read David Anderson mesmerizing detailed description of how they spend hours posting different color stickers on the walls. Ironically, it is called Agile Management.
There is so much love and greatness in this company, I think I am feeling a little bit dizzy.

Friday mash up

9 03 2007
  • Paul Melcher couple
  • NOT AGAIN : Stumbled on a press release from a French archiving company called LOCARCHIVES. They are the company that Corbis has subcontracted to handle the Sygma collection. Their press release indicates that once the 800 square meter facility will be finished (will it have an indoor swimming pool ?), LOCARCHIVES will be also managing the collection. Meaning that Corbis will outsource the management of the Sygma archives to a company specialized in archiving, not selling, images.
  • BIG IS BACK: 160 million pixel captor, 307 MB images in RAW format, up to 20,000 ISO settings, amazing breathtaking images, the big bad photo camera is back with the SEITZ roundup. Maybe commercial stock photographers will drop the lensbabies and photojournalist will stop using the Holga for this?
  • JUPITER MEDIA/GETTY : Seattle based company Getty is notorious for going through the rounds of an acquisition before finally pulling out at the last minute. It gives them a free, full visit of their competitors books and facilities.  They did this with Digital Stock, before buying Photodisc, and eventually got sued. They have done it repeatedly. Corbis does the same, by the way. I would do it too, if I could.
  • MICROSTOCK PRICING: Dan Heller posted yet another very interesting entry about Microstock pricing. But he forgot to see that Istockphoto, for example, has been playing around with prices for the last 6 years, as per CEO and founder Bruce Livingston. And they are not about to stop now.
  • PHOTO NEWS WEBSITE UPDATE : I have been adding more photo industry sites and blogs to my ONE STOP PHOTO NEWS PORTAL. It is starting to look good. Even I use it to quickly glance at the news. Try it and let me know. It’s free.