And Please No Weed WhackersFriday, November 08, 2013
|Ian & Jean Bateson in Stanley Park - Fall 1977|
Sometime around 1978 I was having coffee with my friend Ian Bateson who at the time was a highly regarded editorial illustrator. In 1978 Vancouver Magazine and many other magazines across Canada paid photographers and illustrators to contribute.
Since this was a time before the invention of the fax machine we photographers and illustrators had to go to the offices of the magazines to get our instructions from art directors. If the magazine was in Toronto or abroad then phone conversations were detailed.
That day of coffee somewhere on Denman ad Bateson lived nearby he told me,” I have a job this month. They are paying me $200.” I may have told Bateson that I too had a job to illustrate an article and that I was being paid a similar sum. We both looked at each other and smiled. We were freelancers and we were being paid. Life was good. I remember that Bateson then said that he hated all those people with weed wackers who made noise when he was trying to work in his apartment studio. “I will never ever buy one of those contraptions,” he told me.
Of course in the end he did. After all both of us had a rather lengthy and more-or-less lucrative career in the magazine industry. When magazines became smaller and budgets for drawn illustrations were minimized Bateson switched his career to design and he joined a cooperative design company called Baseline Type & Graphics.
At this date paid photography in most of Canada is dead and you will rarely see good illustrations by the likes of Ian Bateson, Marv Newland or Ian MacLeod (all three worked for magazines, locally, nationally and internationally.
But some things have not really changed since those early days of my photographic career. Editors and somewhat sleazy ones would offer me photo credits with the promise of paid work at a later date. They would pamper me with “you have so much talent” and attempt to butter me up with praise in an attempt to not pay me for my work.
Usually I would tell these people that my local branch of the Bank of Montreal (before it became BMO and this is Definitely not the Opera, changed to DNTO) did not accept my photo credit deposits nor would they issue me loans on photo credit collateral. Very rapidly I developed a reputation of being an overly superior sounding photographer but I stuck to my guns.
Throughout those years organizations like CAPIC (Canadian Association of Photographers and Illustrators in Communication but now the Canadian Association of Professional Image Creators) tried to raise fees for photographers and illustrators through vain attempts of price fixing standards. But even then as now photographers and illustrators would low-ball in order to get a job.
At the height of graphic design in the 80s and early 90s a designer might have charged $100 and hour for work. Now these designers have to compete with crowd sourcing and hourly rates of less than $10.
This is why paid editorial photography, illustration and design is either permanently dead or if one is optimistic perhaps the situation will someday change for the better.
Today a Toronto publisher wanted to use a photograph that I took of a prominent actor/playwright and his male lover for a book on gay couples. No offer was made for the use of my picture. When I suggested that some sort of fee (but did not mention a sum) might be offered this was the reply:
Thank you for the reply Mr Waterhouse-Hayward, but, as you had probably imagined, this is a no-budget project, a venture actually, so thank you again, but I cannot afford the fee. I will try to find a suitable substitute photo, or going without. My best,
Not long after the email arrived I was contacted by an Edmonton man who said, “I am a journalist and I would be honoured to use your artistic photograph of Art Bergmann…
No money was mentioned and when I asked the man rapidly told me that he would look elsewhere.
I get many requests like these every week and I mostly hold firm that I will not give any of my work for free. My past experience is that if I am pleasant and courteous I can sometimes retain a fee even when it is not mentioned. At other times when I am not in a good mood I tell these people that even though they might be working for a non-profit organization they receive a salary. I add that I am not a non-profit organization and that I must pay my rent. The often tell me I am rude and hang up or they do not answer my email.
Not too long ago I was teaching at a local downtown photography school. I would tell my students (who ate hamburgers and fast Chinese food in my class as the school did not condone this action) that if they wanted to be photographers they might want to think of a Plan B, plumbing. Not long after that I was told by a school administrator that I was not a good fit for the school. I was fired.
This may sound like a rant. I hope it isn’t one. I want to finish with a statement that I feel lucky to have ridden the pleasant and exciting wave of editorial photography when I was paid to travel, paid to take pictures and give access to stars, politicians and the likes. I feel very lucky to have made enough money in that venture to more or less find myself in a comfortable position of not having to think of killing a seal tomorrow to live, to survive.
Some things have changed. Indeed both Bateson and I own weed wackers. But some things haven't changed, if anything they are worse. The mantra for this 21st century is that the "best things are free" and "we would be honoured to use your image in our publication".