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Monday, May 28, 2012

Making the Hard Choices

We’ve all had to make choices in life, make compromises, especially when it comes to work.  When I was a freelance photo editor I worked for a couple of publications I didn’t really respect early in my career.  But it was a paycheck and I was grateful for that.

The biggest difference between the freelance work I did and the freelance work of a photographer is that my work had an expiration date.  When the magazine was published, I was done and on to the next issue.  It’s different for a photographer in that the work lives on and can be used (and sold) again and again.  And that’s where you really make your money—being able to resell your photos.

The issues brought up by duckrabbitblog in relation to the work of Ron Haviv have been discussed and written about quite well, first here, and here, then here.  It's also been discussed both on Facebook and Twitter.  But the larger issue to me is this:  Should photographers set parameters for who can use their work and where it can appear?

Not being a photographer I don’t l know the feasibility or reality of what you can and can’t do.  When buying stocks people frequently let their broker know they don’t want particular stocks in their portfolio (alcohol, or tobacco, or military, etc.).  During the time I worked for magazines, photographers were often giving instructions about what could and could not be done to their images.  Sometimes it was no cropping, sometimes no text could be on the images, and sometimes there were other limitations.

So I wondered when looking at Ron Haviv’s work in question (above and below), did he make those same limits known to whoever sells his stock?  

In his response, Ron says: I draw a strict line between my photojournalism and commercial campaigns and feature examples of both on my website, where they are clearly labeled for what they are.  I support humanitarian intervention, detente and defense as I’ve seen what can happen when those things don’t exist. I am comfortable with where I set the boundaries. I also appreciate and respect that there are many different views about where those boundaries lie.”

So my question to you is this:  Have you decided not just what jobs to take, but whom you will resell your work to?

Taken at face value, it’s hard to criticize or take issue with Ron.  He’s about as respected a photojournalist as you will find.  He’s been around the globe, in dangerous situations, and he’s brought back illuminating work that has helped to give us better understanding of the world.  But that’s why I think it’s important to go deeper.

I know we all need to make money, and everyone is trying to figure out how to sustain his or her livelihood when everything seems to be imploding around us.  But shouldn’t we take control of what we are doing and what we have, setting rules for what we will and will not do?

And isn’t there a disconnect when we espouse certain beliefs, but then turn around and move the goalposts when money comes into the picture?  I am not claiming to be perfect, and I am not expecting people to have a greater set of standards than I have.  And I empathize with those who come up against the moral dilemmas again and again.  But shouldn’t clarity and transparency be a part of the dialogue?  We expect it with the media outlets, we are made more aware of it recently due to the Occupy movement, so at what point do we pose those uncomfortable questions to ourselves? 

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Reefing of the USS Radford

With his third solo show, “The Reefing of USS Radford,” opening tomorrow night at The Front Room Gallery, Stephen Mallon once again brings us photographs of something we don’t usually see. This time it’s a decommissioned Navy ship being dismantled and sunk for use as an underwater eco system for underwater life. As part of his ongoing series “American ReclamationMallon gives us a look at the incredible breadth of these former battleships, and what it takes to rip apart a ship 563 feet long.
What I love about Mallon's work is it's grandeur. It's little child in the big world sense of wonderment. You just know that he has as much fun shooting as I have looking at the photographs. So go tomorrow night and see these wonderful photographs of water and steel. You can almost hear the splash as the ship goes down.

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