In 1976 while rummaging through an attic of Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in search of old museum publications, editorial assistant Lorna Condon opened a drawer in a wooden cabinet. Inside, she found a number of flat leather cases which contained a series of daguerreotypes of partially and fully nude Black people. Names were handwritten on paper labels identifying 7 individuals: Alfred, Delia, Drama, Fassena, Jack, Jem, and Renty with assumed ethnicities and occupations. The daguerreotypes represented some of the earliest known images of slaves in the U.S.
To my fellow photographers & photojournalists, and members & leadership of NPPA:
I have been a photographer since JFK was President, and a member of NPPA for 52 years. I have never been, nor thought of myself, as a “Lens-based worker.” I find no shame in calling myself, and those in related vocations, photographer or photojournalist. Let’s leave it at that.
These days, that might disqualify me in some eyes for what I am about to say, but in spite of a current fad to dismiss anything aged or graying (or older than 32), I feel compelled to speak about the current state of affairs in photography in general, and at NPPA in particular, especially given the credit NPPA is taking for participation in the Photo Bill of Rights (BoR). (I was a college student when the operative phrase was “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” I get it.).
In many parts of the U.S. the reality of social distancing policies have only been in place for about a month. Yet during that time and the few weeks that preceded it, photographers have already churned through a number of phases to document and depict the outbreak.
In a sense, these phases represent visual tropes – a way of immediately understanding that the photo is illustrative of the pandemic. And in its laziest form, these tropes are, in the words of Fred Ritchin, mere “signifiers.” The utilization of a “signifier” elucidates very little about a story. At its best, photos of the pandemic give us context and pull us in emotionally in a way that words can’t. Joshua Bickel’s “zombie” protestor photo is a perfect example of this phenomenon.
The past few years have made it abundantly clear that platforms hold disproportionate power in the online sphere – from Uber to Grubhub to Amazon. Online success is predicated on building both utility as well as a critical mass of users, and for that, platforms should be congratulated.
However, once we agree to the terms and conditions of the platform, we cede a tremendous amount of power and control while simultaneously becoming the product. And the balance of power is continually re-tipped in favor of the platform with opaque algorithmic changes, continuous monetization of user data, and in many cases, raw exploitation of constituents within the ecosystem.
Since mid-March, various policies have been implemented at the state and federal level in the U.S. to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19. Photojournalists initially covered long lines at big box stores then vanishing crowds in some of the most trafficked places, but as we move into a shelter-in-place mode, photographers of all stripes have been trying to adjust to a new reality of maintaining their sanity and creative expression as the specter of death casts a long shadow.
As we go through this unprecedented time together, our team at PhotoShelter is committed to providing resources, advice and inspiration for the photography community. Follow us on Twitter @PhotoShelter for the latest updates.
On March 12, 2020, the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) held a webinar with General Counsel Thomas Maddrey entitled “Potential Business Ramifications of Coronavirus (COVID-19).” Maddrey covered a variety of topics, including cancellation clauses in photographer contracts. Given the large number of cancellations suffered by the photo community in the past few weeks, and the fear of future cancellations for newly assigned work, we followed up with Maddrey for additional information.
As fears of coronavirus (COVID-19) balloon in the U.S., many freelance photographers have begun to contend with the economic impact of event cancellations and social distancing policies. Freelancers are accustomed to seasonal slowdowns or the occasional cancellation, but the uncertainty around the breadth and duration of this outbreak has resulted in anxiety, frustration, and anger.
Adweek photo editor Kacy Burdette recently asked photographers on Twitter if they had lost jobs due to coronavirus, and received responses from around the country with stories of cancellations. The engagement provides proof that the economic threat is real and affecting photographers now.
TikTok, the video-based social media app, usually conjures visions of teens mimicking the latest dance craze, but it’s probably better described as short attention span YouTube. In 2017, ByteDance, the Chinese-owned parent company of TikTok, acquired the Musical.ly app, which had gained a toehold with an under-18 demographic by becoming a replacement for the comedy-oriented Vine app along with a burgeoning lip synching community.
In Guns, Germs, and Steel, author Jared Diamond describes two systems of invention transmission: 1) idea diffusion: imitation of an idea, and 2) blueprint copying: literal copying of an idea. Diamond uses the development of writing systems as the medium to discuss the concepts, noting that written writing systems probably only rose independently in Sumeria (3000 B.C.E.) and in ancient Mesoamerica (600 B.C.E.) with all other writing systems being influenced by the transmissions via trade and war.
Facial recognition is an incredibly useful consumer tool for organizing our burgeoning photo albums. Companies like Google and Apple have slowly integrated machine learning algorithms into their consumer photo products, which allow you to search by keywords without the need for manual tagging, or to simply click on a face to see more photos of that person.