Thursday, January 11, 2007

At least the Hypocrite Knows Right from Wrong

I have a great regard for photojournalist P.F. Bentley. Back in 1989, when I was a young, inexperienced buck, I ran across P.F. in San Francisco while I was covering the San Francisco Earthquake and he and I talked for awhile. We looked on with amazement as another photojournalist took some "police line do not cross" yellow tape and moved it so it looked better in her photo. We both shook our heads at this ethical breach, yet I was probably more shaking my head because PF was, not because I disagreed, but because, I was taking a que from him, as he affirmed what I knew to be wrong.

PF was celebrated by the President of Time in this article, which reads, in part, "...Gingrich's heady first 100 days were documented close-up by TIME's prizewinning photographer P.F. Bentley. "P.F.'s passion is recording history as it happens," says picture editor Michele Stephenson. "He has great instincts, and he gets rare access because his subjects trust him."

Yet, this trust seemed to actually not carry much weight with the folks at Time, when they devolved their contract with onerous additional rights demands without increasing compensation to their contributors several years back. PF was chosen by the Time contract photographers around March of 2000 to handle negotiations regarding the new contract, which he did, full time for four months, without pay, on behalf of all the contractors (who were able to remain out earning a living completing assignments), and in that proposed contract they raised the day rate by only about $200 (a nominal increase from where it had remained stagnant since the mid 1970's). The contract also had an overbearing rights grab that was not fair. When discussions broke down, and the contractors were talking the talk, both PF and Dirck put their money where their mouth was. Many of the loudest voices of objection to the new contract simply chickened out and caved, and PF and Dirck stood their ground. It didn't make sense for Time to have taken that stand and they lost out. PF either got some well deserved time off, or was (more than likely) booked by others who knew what he brought to the table.

However, most of those that looked up to PF, sought his counsel, followed his lead, or otherwise considered him someone to aspire to be like, chose not to stand in solidarity with him, also objecting to the new contract. They were quick to see this not as an opportunity to do the right thing, but rather, an opportunity to get all those assignments that PF would no longer be doing. I was not one of them. PF did the right thing, and as I was looking to grow my assignment load, I made not one attempt to secure assignments from Time because in doing so, I would be dismissing the actions-as-silent-advice I was getting from PF. Once again, PF and I were standing there at a dinner in Washington discussing the matter some ten or so years later, shaking our heads again, as a line was wrongly being crossed, this time, it wasn't a yellow-taped police line, it was moral line, hypocrites all of them, knowing they shouldn't be doing so, but doing it none-the-less.


Anonymous said...

Hear hear for a little moral clarity! In this day and age it seems the occasions are too few and far between.

Walter Dufresne said...

For so many of us, it's a fear-driven business. That might be because, for so many of us, we either don't understand the value of what we do or, what's worse, we don't have any belief in the value of what we do.

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