The concept -- "The Upside of Down" is simply the concept of growing through loss or challenge, and how this idea seems to be mostly devoid from many photographers approaches to their existence. It must always be roses and caviar, no burdens or challenges to tax their minds. In other words, the path of least resistance (and that usually equates to the path with the lowest pay or most onerous rights demands) is the road most taken. One of the things that always amazes me is how people in general (and photographers are not immune from this) will hold in admiration a colleague who is far more advanced in their career than they are, and how they would seem to do just about anything to spend time with them, learn from them, or possibly be mentored by them. Sometimes they write and ask for advice, othertimes, they talk during the down times of a lengthly assignment, yet, when they see the first opportunity to leap in and "replace" that photographer who's objected, in principle, to taking an assignment for a really bad deal, how they see nothing wrong with it.
About this time last year, photographers were checking and re-checking their equipment, testing their systems as was well documented by Apple where Vincent Laforet was working wirelessly (and no doubt tirelessly) and meeting deadlines because of the groundbreaking system he employed. Back in March of 2006, David Burnett, co-founder of the legendary Contact Press Images, wrote on the Sportshooter website, a great article entitled "The Great Disconnect: Chapter 2006", and I excerpt David's comment:
"...Torino for me was one of those times. I came THAT close to working out a credential and shooting situation for the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. But in the end, the client wanted way too much of my flesh, in addition to the pictures, and I decided to be a grownup about it and just watch, read, and mouse around my own version of The Games like the other six billion unaccrediteds in this world. ...
The problem is, Someone DID take whatever bad deal David was offered. Someone sold out, continuing the downward spiral of photographers' rates and hold they maintain on their rights. More than likely, they did it for a cool assignment, one which David really wanted to cover, but he stood, on principle, and did not. Whomever took the assignment, by NO means REPLACED David, they were: 1) an also ran -- the client really wanted David, not them, and 2) produced what I am sure were "also ran" photos. Few photographers can cover the Olympics (or any event) as David has, and would have.
That "also ran" photographer more than likely has seen David's work, and, if they don't aspire to produce work as good as his, they aspire to produce work as good as David's peers, whom certainly hold David in high regard.
This has happened throughout the years with other photographers (P.F. Bentley comes to mind, as noted previously) who are well respected, yet those whom have that respect are so willing to step in and do the deal when those they respect have said no -- for respectable reasons. Why is it that that respect and regard does not extend to saying no to bad deals? I can't understand it.
It's like being friends with someone, until you can screw them, and then you do, and think nothing of it -- in fact, you think it's just fine. That is, until someone does it to you in a few years, and the downward spiral continues.
Perhaps no one has conveyed to David their appreciation for not giving up his flesh and giving in to unreasonable demands for rights that are his. I thank David, and appreciate his principled stand. Perhaps those who respect and hold him in high regard will refrain from becoming the "also ran", and stand on principle too, and not sell out.
So, the question becomes - how do you affect change? Make a difference? A noticeable difference? The truth is, I am seeing that fewer and fewer graduating photographers are willing to do freelance work under a WFH agreement, for example. While the non-photo-school graduates still are content to accept whatever scraps of assignment terms are thrown at them. And, for the photo school grads who are doing WFH, they atleast know they're doing something that's not so good.
We have a generation in place currently that did not have the "WFH is bad" mantra conveyed to them, and not it's pro forma acceptance of unfair terms. A continued dialog and outreach to up-and-coming photographers will help to be sure.
Of course, I have not reviewed David's contract, I do not know the exact details, yet there are a few things I can surmise. First things first -- all deals are relative. However, if someone you respect and hold in high regard says no to it, then the deal should either be equally unacceptable to you, OR, you should learn that that type of deal should be unacceptable, since the person whom you aspire to be a peer of holds it as such.
Above, I have referred to the photographer as an "also ran", which has a basis in fact, since Burnett was who they wanted, and only after he declined, did whomever did it then become a considered photographer.
So, David was close to doing the deal, right? Could there have been something of value to the assignment? Well, as is often said, close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. He came "that close" but it fell through. I'd wager that it was mainly a rights issue, and that for what they wanted, the compensation was not commensurate with the rights package. Surely positives were: A) going to the Olympics (again for David), B) expenses covered (this should always be a given), C) some form of a fee was paid per day, but perhaps not all the days, but David could make that up with other work once on location. Perhaps the deal was an "Olympic Official" pass which would give David access everywhere, and his expenses would be covered, yet no fees, and David felt that that was workable until the IOC then demanded non-exclusive all rights, diminishing the value for David to make up the lost assignment fees with stock sales. However, in the end, there was clearly a deal-breaker, and 90% of the time it's over excessive rights demands, or fees that are not in keeping with the rights packages.
So, what about the concept of "climbing the ladder", making lesser deals when you're starting out, and better, "elite" deals as you gain recognition? Surmising that the only way that you'll ever get the "good" deals is this way? Well, one might argue that only the "elite" photographers would have these "good" deals, and any work they did not have would be because of "bad" deals, and this just isn't the case. The "elite" photographers would have the same work they wanted, and when they were unavailable either because they were so booked, or there was a booking date conflict, or they were comfortable enough to limit the number of days they shot, then those assignments would be available to others. The terms would (should) remain the same.
So, since you're an inexperienced photographer, you should be more amenable to a bad deal? Bad deals are almost always about rights, and then secondarily about low pay. WMFH, low/no pay...that's the downside of down, and there is no upside. Look elsewhere. Walk away.
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