Last year I said OK to an author who asked for one of my pictures of Cressing Temple Barn to use in his book about the Knights Templar. Then Schmap asked for one of my photos of the Great Eastern Hotel. I said yes – notwithstanding the squeeze on professional photographers who are forced to resort to more and more inconvenient and/or hazardous quests to compete with the general public.
I said yes because in the years when I had more time than money, I myself frequently acquired copyright in this way. Other reasons: it cost me nothing, Schmap is free and authors of niche books do it for love not money.
The fact is that uploads to photo-sharing sites like Flickr are increasing steadily. Even if a tiny proportion are marketable – and even the worst photographer strikes lucky occasionally – the overall result is a repository of cheap, decent images. My photo of Cressing Temple Barn was very good, and although the Great Eastern Hotel could have been better focused, Schmap shrunk it so it doesn’t matter – high quality imaging is not what people who use Schmap need or want. The value professional photographers resides in our need for professionally-taken photographs. The circumstances in which we want or need this high quality – weddings, food porn, marketing etc – seem to be decreasing in comparison to the circumstances when we don’t – most notably, news.
Professional photographers are scared for their livelihoods because of unmediated relations between people like me and organisations like Schmap, and this must feel both demoralising and scarey.
But the idea that they deserve special conservation measures doesn’t convince me. It’s not that I’m a free market radical – I’d entertain the idea of subsidies and special measures for some professions we want to keep in Britain. It’s just that I don’t think the kinds of photographers we’d like to hold onto are under any pressure from the average joe and their camera.