Why Did The Policeman Cross the Road?

By Stevyn Colgan

Not so much police intelligence as intelligent policing

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Oops - have I upset the apple cart?

Regarding my last shedpost and the photo competition ...

There's been some 'lively' discussion on Twitter this morning with some people choosing to see this idea as exploitative and, in some way, me getting free images while pro photographers suffer and can't pay their rents. Really?

Nothing could be further from my intentions. I'd naturally assumed that most of the people who'd want to take part would be amateurs; by no means untalented but not earning their primary source of income from photography. I'd also expected many of the photos to be captured on smartphones or small digital cameras while people were going about their daily business. It may even be a photo that they've already got stored on their phone or computer. That kind of image very much fits the subject matter of the book - tackling crime, disorder and social issues. I certainly wasn't imagining people treating this as an assignment, scouting venues, setting up expensive equipment etc.

Here's the kind of image I mean (taken by me):

It's not art. I'm not a photographer. It was taken on an iPhone6. But it's perfect for the flavour of the book.

So, in the interests of complete clarity, let me explain again what I'm proposing:

It will be a competition. Like most competitions, there will be prizes for winning entries that make it into the book (and they'll be in a book). However, unlike most photo competitions that require you to surrender your copyright, every photographer whose image gets used will be properly credited and they'll retain all rights to the image. The photographer will, naturally, have to agree to their photograph's use in the book for all printings; that's only sensible. But they will get a contract from me, stating that their image belongs to them and will only be used in the book and nowhere else.

There would also be a 'lottery' prize chosen at random that could by won by anyone submitting an image, regardless of whether it's used or not. No submitted entries would be used by me in any way other than those chosen for the book. They remain the property of the photographers.

The prizes are yet to be sorted out but will certainly include original artwork, signed prints, signed books - by me and by a number of celebs - and more as I think of them. I would advertise the prizes before asking for submissions so people are in no doubt what they are playing for and can decide whether they think it's worth joining in.

Have I missed anything?

Is this fair?

It would be much easier to drop the whole idea and do the photos myself. London is very photogenic and I have some very nice photographic equipment of my own. I just fancied the idea of sharing the project in the spirit of crowdfunding.

The landscape of publishing - just like the world of commercial photography - has changed drastically in the past few years. I'm getting no advance for this book. I'm essentially writing it for free and hoping that enough people want to read it, and pledge their support, so that I can cover the production and distribution costs. That's what crowdfunding is. I'm not expecting to make much of a profit from it, although one always has hope.

I'm not some millionnaire celeb using his/her status to get fans to give away their photographs for free. The truth is, I can't afford to buy images from image libraries and photo banks. Nor can I afford a pro-photographer. If I could, I'd employ my brother Si, who is one. Or my photographer friends Mark Page (warning- NSFW), Naomi Stolow, Joel Meadows ... and all the others I know. I know times are tough; the rise of digital technology and the internet has decimated the photography industry. But I'd like to think that what I'm doing here is something mutually beneficial for both me and the person who submits an image. I'm inviting people to get involved in the book. And I'd like to think that it's ethical for me to do so. I'm not just stealing images off of Flickr or trawling the internet for anything with a Creative Commons licence. Goodness knows I've had enough of my own artwork stolen and used without my permission - I blogged about it here and here. I know how that feels.

It would be lovely to think that maybe someone's photograph, if featured in my book, might one day lead to a request to use the image elsewhere and earn some money for the photographer. It won't earn a penny for me.

So there you go.

I hope that's clear enough.

If the whole thing becomes too problematic I simply won't do it. I'm out to have a little fun and share the love. I'm not out to upset people or ruin people's careers.



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Craig Lewis
 Craig Lewis says:

It's a debate that rears up every time a professional claims that amateurs are undermining the trade. I know there are lots of attempts at exploitation where companies undervalue creative work and as I am (or have been) a photographer, a writer, a musician and a graphic designer I've seen them all. There's a huge difference between being asked for a favour and being coerced into a professional agreement with all applicable standards but no compensation. The former means you do it in your own time, in whatever manner you wish, with no expectations or penalties... or just not at all. The latter is having their cake, eating it and then waiting until you buy your own and eating *that* too. If you want to see some real howlers, take a look at gig photography contracts...

I have a principle of never working for free, but that doesn't necessarily mean I require money. Sometimes it'll be access to an event or an interesting place, a useful connection, a fun process, or simply a genuine thank you. In this case I'm looking forward to the book, I've really enjoyed the shed posts and interaction (which I haven't paid for) and I feel like it's in the spirit of the thing to offer to give a little to the process beyond the pledge price because I can. Backers are often happy to have a name in the back so why not a photo in the middle?

If a professional tells me I can't do that because I'm undermining their industry, I'm simply not interested. What I'm effectively choosing to do is donate my time, and my time is far more important to me than their income. I'm not a charity and I won't limit my hobbies and enjoyment for the benefit of someone else's commercial gain. Nor will I stop playing at free acoustic jams, posting my shots on free galleries, teaching friends to play, helping nice people to repair and set up their instruments or offering helpful advice where possible.

The bottom line, Steve, is that you don't owe these people anything even though they're acting as if you do. You can make polite, friendly requests as much as you like and we can simply choose whether or not to join in. If nobody does then the market has dictated the rules of the game, but if plenty step up then that raises questions about the viability of some business practices. That's just how it is.

posted 4th April 2015

Stevyn Colgan
 Stevyn Colgan says:


Thank you so much for this - it means a lot.

I was in agonies over this; as I say above, my brother is a pro-photographer and I've seen his work dwindle away to the extent that he's had to re-train and now teaches photography at a university. But I've kind-of contributed to his, and other photographers', pain by buying myself a half decent Canon EOS550D SLR; as has everyone who's bought a decent camera in recent years. Sadly, that's how things are.

The wedding photographer, once guaranteed work, has been supplanted by the uncle-with-a-Nikon-he-never-takes-off-Auto who takes a gazillion photos of which 50, more by accident than design, turn out beautifully. It's a pattern we see across the board, and throughout history, as the march of technology supplants talent and replaces the expert: every vacuum cleaner sold robbed a cleaner of their livelihood; every car bought stole the wages from the cab driver; every book I guiltily buy online - because it's cheaper and I can get it next day - is a nail in the bookshops' coffin; every flat-pack cabinet I try to build robs a carpenter of their trade. Now it's happened to photography. I would much prefer to use a pro as I know their images will be better composed, better lit, better executed - just better. Expertise is what separates uncle-with-SLR from Bob Carlos Clark or Rankin or Heather Angel. But I can't afford that.

I know it's no consolation to the snappers out there but publishing is no different. When I sold my first book to a publisher I got a contract and a sufficiently large advance that I could afford to pay my bills while I wrote it. That's all gone. Unless you're a celebrity (Oh, how debased that word has become!) or one of the Top 10 authors in the UK, you can pretty much forget an advance of any worth. The last one I was offered by a traditional publisher - despite decent sales of previous books - was derogatory and would barely cover a month's outgoings. And trust me, I'm not sitting her gorging on angel's tears and unicorn steaks. It's a homemade three bean chilli for me tonight.

That's why I chose to move to crowdfunding and Unbound who offer a better deal for authors. Yes, I have to work hard to raise the funding to get published. No, the publisher doesn't have the money to pay for me to have pro photographers. But once that target is reached, I get 50% of any sales - much better than traditional percentages. Plus, there's a closer connection to the readers via the authors' shed and social media. That's what led me to coming up with this photography competition idea in the first place.

I'm not out to rip anyone off. I'm suggesting that people, who might never see a photo in print because they're not professionals, have the opportunity to do so. They'll get something for it - not photographers' base rates sadly - but maybe a book signed by someone they like off the telly. And their name and their photo in print, of course. It's not much but it's all I have. And I will be happy to sing their praises and promote their work in any way I can.

It's either that or I do all the photos myself. I guess that would be the most uncontroversial way to approach it.

But who wins then?

posted 4th April 2015

David Catherall
 David Catherall says:

I was just going to say, exactly what Craig Lewis said above. Agree with him 100%. Well said that man!
Go to the top of the class and give pen nibs out.

posted 5th April 2015

Ruth Curtis
 Ruth Curtis says:

I somehow missed the original shed post and your excellent photo comp idea. I think this post is clear, fair and absolutely reasonable. I'm not a pro photographer but would willingly let you have any of my pics that would be suitable. Also, as an actor, I like to work for money but I do sometimes choose to offer work for free (not often) and have done various swopping of services to enable friends/colleagues to do achieve what they want whilst benefitting hugely myself. Long may such non-monetary systems continue.
PS I hope this book sells inordinately well (when published) so that you can eat more than just five bean chilli for tea!

posted 7th April 2015

Ruth Curtis
 Ruth Curtis says:

Hang on.... it was three bean chilli... you are welcome to come round for something delicious any time you like!

posted 7th April 2015

Chris Bartlett
 Chris Bartlett says:

The words “I agree with Nick” became a bit of a meme during the last election (and look where that got him...) so I’m slightly wary of contributing to “I agree with Craig” becoming a meme here ;-)

Nevertheless I find I do. Certain areas of work somehow seem to attract the assumption among other people that if they buy you a beer (or say they will) you’ll be happy to work for nothing all day (everyone in IT will know that it’s a mistake ever to mention it or you’ll find yourself expected to fix whatever computer problems everyone you know has).

As a perfumer I find this is less of a problem, though in certain circles it still happens in much the same way. So I’ve some sympathy with the position taken by some professional photographers, though I suspect it has as much to do with their engaging over Twitter without properly understanding the proposal: The Free Swap is designed to be equitable and no-one who read the original post here could imagine anything less than equitable was being proposed.

My advice for what it is worth is to go ahead with the idea and see what happens: worst case you’re back to taking pictures yourself, best case you generate enough interest that the book tips over into 100% funding :-)

After all “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

posted 7th April 2015

Patric Keller
 Patric Keller says:

I am a "professional" myself. Not a professional photographer, but a professional programmer. Now, there's a huge community of people who are dedicating countless hours of their spare time to design and code a vast collection of applications and systems, and all this lovely stuff is open and free to use for everyone.

Does this mean that I - as a professional programmer - am out of my job? No, far from! Does it mean I look down on free software? Absolutely not! Quite the opposite, I envy it. Amateurs can do what only few professionals are able to: They can create what they actually want and like, not what they are being paid for...

So go ahead and get us involved! I'm sure the results will be amazing. And I'm more than happy to give it a go myself..!

posted 7th April 2015

Tony Bannister
 Tony Bannister says:

Don't be put off by the killjoys - there is a clear difference between what you are proposing (a mutually beneficial non financial trade) and exploitation. It is pretty obvious when someone is looking to exploit you - when they want to use your creativity to enhance their own standing, claim not to have any budget - but are clearly making financial gain. You have been completely transparent about the situation and no one in their right mind could think that you have any bad intentions.

I do understand why people can be over sensitive about these issues - working in the TV industry it does leave a bad taste in my mouth that I have to sign contracts that give away any rights I might have in the work I produce. I understand why they want this - it is so that they can sell the programmes to umpteen digital channels around the world after UK broadcast without having to deal with residual payments. But, given they have told me that they have a limited budget for my work, it is frustrating that they are then able to exploit the work that I have done.

You are not attempting anything of this kind, though. To my mind it is more akin to the drama readings that my daughter organises once a month for new writing. The writers submit their work without fee, and the actors perform for no fee.

The audience are not charged for entry, but are given the opportunity to donate at the end if they wish. The proceeds are the split equally amongst the partcipants- or usually used to buy drinks for everyone at the end of the night!

It is a win win situation - the writers have the opportunity to see there work performed and how an audience reacts to it, the actors can showcase their abilities and stretch themselves with more demanding pieces (than a lot of the commercial work they have to do to earn a crust). Everyone gains from it.

Likewise - I can't see who loses from your idea. Certainly not professional photographers who you would not have been able to employ in the first place.

posted 7th April 2015

Mark Vent
 Mark Vent says:

I Agree With Craig ...
and by way of a related anecdote, my brother-in-law is an amateur photographer and he posted several pics of his trip to Kazakhstan on the old interwebs, free and gratis - a tour guide publisher contacted him and he got the same deal ish ... a small amount of cash, a credit and a copy of the book (with his pic on the cover) - anyway - Carry On Colgan!

posted 7th April 2015

Andy Nimmons
 Andy Nimmons says:

I think that you should do whatever is best for you and ignore the greedy individuals on twitter. As you know I run a photographic business and would love to join in with your competition for no other reason than because I can!

posted 7th April 2015

Chris Emerson
 Chris Emerson says:

I think it's a great idea, nothing unreasonable sounding about it at all.

I'd hardly call myself a good photographer but would love to get involved and give it a go!

posted 7th April 2015

Paul Hargrove
 Paul Hargrove says:

I agree with Craig, can't wait to help!

posted 7th April 2015

Liz Wooldridge
 Liz Wooldridge says:

Reasonable, fair & fun! I hope you decide you can go ahead with the idea ☺

posted 7th April 2015

Stevyn Colgan
 Stevyn Colgan says:

I'm having 'I agree with Craig' printed on a T Shirt.

Thanks guys and gals! I am 100% bolstered and 72% funded!


posted 9th April 2015

Craig Lewis
 Craig Lewis says:

I promise not to raise tuition fees, and you can absolutely count on that :)

posted 14th April 2015

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