Many years ago I interviewed Jack Welpott for the Center for Photographic Art Newsletter, Focus. You can find it and many other interviews here. As was my habit, I made a portrait of Jack to accompany the interview:
Last week, the CPA posted the portrait on their Facebook page. There was no photo credit. At first, I wasn’t sure it was my picture. So I found the original in my archives. Yep, same image. I was unhappy. I sent the CPA an email, and they rapidly fixed things and apologized.
All’s well that ends well, right? I agree, and I bear no rancor towards the CPA. But the whole thing got me thinking. Why is having a photo credit attached to my images important to me? Is it important to other people? Is there something generational going on? What are the circumstances in which having no credit is OK?
My experience with photo credits goes back to high school. At the time, I was a photographer for the school newspaper and the yearbook. Neither routinely used photo credits. A polite request got nowhere. All the photographers banded together and demanded that we get photo credits under every image in the newspaper (with one exception, a three-page collage of several hundred images that we did once a year). The staff of the paper agreed. We bowed to esthetics, and asked the yearbook staff for less.
A couple of years later, I was photo editor of the Stanford Chaparral. We had a policy that we’d credit editorial photos, but not ads (most of the advertising photographs were actually made by the magazine’s photographers; it helped us sell the ads). That seemed fine to me.
With the exception of a couple of portraits I did when I was at Stanford, and one wedding, I’ve never made images for money. I photographed sports car races in the late 60’s, but the only remuneration I got was film, press passes and introductions to drivers. I think that shaped my feelings about photo credits. They’re important to me. If I’d been working for cash, I might feel differently. However, to me the credit is part of the psychic income from the job.
The context makes a difference to me. I’ve done photographs for brochures, and I hasn’t bothered me to not have my name on them, just as I wouldn’t expect to get a credit for writing ad copy. And, just as newspapers routinely credit the writers, I think they ought to afford the photographer the same level of respect.
Respect feels like the right word to me. To provide a photo credit means you take the work and the photographer seriously. To omit it means that you think it’s fungible. If it’s not worth the effort, space, or time to credit the maker of an image, you’re saying it doesn’t matter who made it. And then there’s ego. I’m not too proud to admit that I feel good when I see my name under a photo that I’m proud of.
Put ego and respect together and you have a powerful motivator. Take that away, and there’s potential for resentment and feeling used, especially if no money changes hands.
What does it cost to give a volunteer a photo credit? Time is one thing; first you have to figure out who made the picture. Then you need to ask them if you can use their picture. Actually, you should do both those things even if you’re not going to run a photo credit, but in today’s Internet world, that legal and ethical nicety is not always honored. Space is another, although that’s not usually a problem on the ‘net, since screen space doesn’t cost money. But space costs in other ways, and is especially valuable if you’re formatting your web pages for mobile devices. Esthetics is a potential cost; the photo credit may interrupt the flow of your page.
What does it cost not to give a volunteer a photo credit? I’ve mentioned resentment, and feeling used is not a recipe for getting more work out a volunteer. Not giving credit shows the world you don’t honor image makers, although few will notice beside those who create images – or possibly other content.
I’m an old guy, and my thinking on this subject evolved in an era when ink on dead trees was the dominant photographic publishing medium. Is it different for those who grew up with the Internet? I think so, but haven’t taken a poll, and couldn’t say for sure.
How about you? Do you expect a photo credit under your published work? Are you upset in any way if it doesn’t happen?
Steven Lawrence says
What you did is protecting not only yourself but countless other photographers who do very much care and who do depend on their images for their income. I do not know much about copyright law but I thought they needed to ask also if they were going to use a particular image. Especially if the image enhances the story which enhances their website and will bring in more money as a result.
Claude Fiddler says
I had much the same thing happen to me a few years back. A Yosemite photo was used for a guidebook. I never brought up the “issue” with the guidebook writers. They happened to be friends of mine.
I agree that a hungry ego drives a need for photo acknowledgment. I’d also add in the nuance of legacy. Today’s day and age has stripped away things that last very long. Yesterday’s news is long gone after fifteen minutes of fame.
Coming from the days of dead trees I have not figured out what I think about forums, blogs, posts, websites, etc. I don’t want to be a Fuddy Duddy but maybe that’s what I am. I believe that photos deserve credit and by way of credit respect for those who made them. But good luck with that concept with an image of Mesa Arch.
Which brings up a whole other thing I think about and that’s when did creativity leave the room as the rush is on to to the next photo hot spot. Driving and photo instructions included.
Mike Nelson Pedde says
I believe that credit is a necessity, at least as a matter of respect and courtesy to the original artist. I wouldn’t think of quoting someone else without putting the words “in quotes” to denote a quotation, and by adding credit to the author or ‘Author Unknown’ where I don’t know his or her name. I’ve had short stories published in newsletters and while I wasn’t paid they added my name to the bottom of the piece.
One can’t put quotes around a photograph (okay, it’s possible but it would look silly), but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge the photographer. All of Marcia’s and my images online (Flickr for example) are covered under a Creative Commons license, NonCommercial-NoDervis. That means anyone is welcome to use them with three restrictions: one, they can’t be used to make money; two, they can’t be cropped, edited or altered; three, the user has to add the photographer’s name and/or a link back to the original site where the image was found. More on that can be found here: http://www.wolfnowl.com/2014/12/creative-commons-licenses/
Duncan G. says
I agree with your post Mike on the three credits to photographer who took the shot. I really don’t like share in fact I don’t recall ever using it..
my $o.o3 worth
I’m in my 40s and spent time in a newspaper editorial environment. Crediting editorial staff (reporters, columnists, cartoonists, photographers, etc.) is expected, and as you suggest, a form of professional respect. It also helps the company incorporate staff into the overall brand (seems to work better for reporters/columnists/cartoonists than photographers). The frustration I experienced was the company’s policy not to credit for archival photo use, though the credit would recognize the newspaper as the source. Photo credits were generally only given for first publication or for file photos purchased from outside sources. Certain types of staff-generated photos would commonly be used from the recent archives, such as athletes and sports teams. I always felt it was somewhat of a putdown not to be credited for such photo use, in part because many of these images never saw publication at the time of the event and many actually required skill, talent and creativity to produce. Meanwhile reporters always received bylines… (maybe they were more vocal about it?)
That said, there were times when reporters didn’t want bylines; generally for brief summaries from the police blotter, etc. There were also times when a photo colleague wouldn’t want a credit, such as in rare cases when there was potentially personal harm connected to publishing images. But often it was union related as a form of protest about contract negotiations with the company, etc.
My opinion about attribution, perhaps as a result of this environment, is if an image will be used in an editorial context (newspaper, book, magazine, web equivalent, etc.), or has been donated or volunteered to a ‘good cause’, then attribution is expected. If it was commissioned for commercial/corporate use, then a credit is very rare and I personally don’t expect one; I just expect to be well paid (I also expect to be paid for editorial use, but it tends to be significantly less than commercial/corporate).
It’s probably a long running practice, but seems to have become more common recently, where someone will call or email about using my photos for a project (book, calendar, etc.), for which they have no budget, but will provide a photo credit as an enticement. Basically suggesting that attribution will be a sufficient substitute for payment, and as a result of the recognition, will be an opportunity for future paid work. Yeah, right!