The Smithsonian is responsible for a lot of amazing things. This year, they're responsible for one thing that is, frankly, an abomination - the devaluation of intellectual property - at the annual 2009 Folklife Festival.
A call when out recently, which read, in part:
We are specifically looking for volunteers with experience in audio, video, and photo documentation. As a documentation volunteer you will be asked to assist with recording performances, interviews, and presentations in different program areas. In addition, photography volunteers will be asked to take photos of specific subjects
along with general happenings at the festival.
So, the Smithsonian is looking for a few good
They've solicited for photographers on Craigslist, and overall are looking for people for a total of ten days worth of work. Who's going to screen these people for the right gear? The right skill-set? Who's going to manage the intake of all the images, with proper and accurate captions? What all-rights-in-perpetuity-without-pay contract will they be asked to sign?
Photographers....err...Documentation Aides, will be asked to attend a
James Smithson, who founded the Smithsonian, for the purposes of an "increase and diffusion of knowledge", is probably rolling over in his sarcophagus right now in the castle in DC. He died in 1829, and ten years later Daguerre made the first ever photo of a person, making his "daguerreotype" showing a city street with a man getting a shoe shine in Paris, and heck, France agreed to pay Daguerre a pension for his formula, provided he declare his discovery as being a gift to the World from France, which he happily did, in 1839. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is clearly not honoring the French this year - they are honoring "The Power of Words in African American Culture"; "The Americas: A Musical World"; and "Wales Smithsonian Cymru highlights the creative culture of this dynamic country". Nothing like celebrating amazing creativity on one hand, while stamping on the value and intellectual property of the visual creative community with both feet, like so many fragile grapes, destined for a wine bottle. Yet, after the fact, the photographs, lack of solid captions, great-pictures-if-it-weren't-for-the-fact-that-it-was-shot-on-small-jpeg, and so many other professional-level services will be the swill that the organizers will be tasting. Sure, there will be a few gems - even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile, but how many things that should have been documented, will be lost to the mis-steps of amateur hobbyists who will try to fill the shoes of professional photographers?
It's one thing to ask people to send in their favorite photos, or even for the Smithsonian folks to browse Flickr looking for great folklife festivals, and then having the museum encapsulate them in some way, but to be looking for day-in and day-out volunteers to work (yes, Documentation Aide appears under "Work Descriptions" on the Volunteer Questionaire, so it will be work), is just plain wrong. It may be well-intentioned, but as my mom tells me - the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival should utilize it's talented in-house team of photographers, and leave the one-chance-only documentation of this event to the professionals.
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