So Mr Kleine is still crowing about the advantage a legacy oil company had in meeting the “cost of transfer” from analog to digital (yawn)- yes it gave them the opportunity to buy up 180 odd companies and form a monopoly. They weren’t the first to get high res download on the net BTW but hey.. The recent weez is to team up with an arms company (hence the new squeamishness?) and laden Getty with another 2.4b dollars of debt to facilitate more luxury consumption at the top.. but pick any of the “Big Three”, they all buy market share with low price to remove any competition, transfer what is left of the monies earned previously by photographers to the executives at the top and in the process destroy the possibility anything but the most ubiquitous, uncritical picture.. Not a new economic model exactly but typical of the internets’ unholy marriage with big money to make monopoly work for the few..
If we do want to think about new economic models, we need to approach this very differently. How do we have professional and supported photo/journalism so crucial to a democratic and knowledgeable society when editorial production is no longer paid for by advertising?
Wuhan, China January 2nd: workers spent 2 days on the roof of the factory threatening to commit suicide by leaping off in protest at the appalling working conditions and brutal treatment of the young workers by a military style of management facilitated by the Chinese dictatorship and enabling fine profits for major Western corporations. The Wuhan factory is thought to produce the Xbox 360 for Microsoft as well as Apple products.
According to the Telegraph “Foxconn, which manufactures gadgets for the likes of Apple, Sony, Nintendo and HP, among many others, has had a grim history of suicides at its factories. A suicide cluster in 2010 saw 18 workers throw themselves from the tops of the company’s buildings, with 14 deaths.” After international outrage Foxconn installed safety nets, promised to increase the low wages and improve conditions. Although no improvements materialised Foxconn are planning to Replace workers with up to a million robots.
The Telegraph have reported that the workers were put to work without any training and paid on a piecemeal basis: The latest protest began on January 2 after managers decided to move around 600 workers to a new production line, making computer cases for Acer, a Taiwanese computer company. “We were put to work without any training, and paid piecemeal,” one of the protesting workers told The Telegraph “The assembly line ran very fast and after just one morning we all had blisters and the skin on our hand was black. The factory was also really choked with dust and no one could bear it,” he said. The workers went on strike in protest. The management gave an ultimatum to return to work or leave with a months wage for every year they had worked, only for Foxconn to renege on the deal -sparking the rooftop protest with hundreds threatening to throw themselves to their deaths. They were eventually talked down.
Microsoft, the owner of the Xbox 360 brand, issued a statement claiming to be “committed to the fair treatment and safety of workers employed by our vendors, and to ensuring conformance with Microsoft policy.”
Corporations like Microsoft and Apple depend on the ruthless exploitation of Chinese workers in sweatshops like Foxconn’s. With the popularity of iPads and iPhones, Apple’s profit rate has risen to 30 percent in recent years, compared with 1.25 percent for Foxconn. In the first half of 2011, Foxconn recorded a net loss of $17.65 million, whereas Apple exceeded Exxon Mobil with the world’s largest market capitalisation.
Apple is the first technology company to join the Fair Labor Association. The Washington-based FLA was set up in 1999 to monitor workplace environments globally in an initiative by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and its board members include Nike Inc. (NKE) and Adidas. Apple also released its annual suppliers’ audit yesterday. Van Heerden, of the FLA, said growing scrutiny of global companies by investors and consumers means they are more likely to insist suppliers introduce best practices in countries where governments are unwilling to do so. “If you’re a 16-year-old girl in a developing country, your best chance of enjoying proper rights is if you get to work at a multinational,” he said. “The power of their contract is more powerful than the power of law.” White collar criminologist William K Black writing on AlterNet says the report shows “anti-employee practices as common as iPods” Apple’s Foreign Suppliers Demonstrate Widespread Scamming and Horrific Abuse of Employees. According to Geoffrey Crothall of workers-rights group China Labour Bulletin independent monitoring is no the panacea to problems in China’s factories: “The problem isn’t whether or not they do audits, but whether workers are treated in a reasonable manner,” he said. “What the workers need is an effective voice in the workplace.” Something the employers in China, with deteriorating exports, a collapsing real estate bubble, and tightening credit, will increasingly resist.
Whilst editorial photographers may sometimes struggle to have their hard work valued, by contrast those photographers that make it as “Artists” seemingly have a rather different problem. Whatever the “enfant terrible” persona developed in the past by avant garde artists, Art of course has long since been commoditised as a luxury item- a process that seems to have ensured its’ depoliticization. By way of example, in a triumph of post-modernism Andreas Gursky’s photograph titled “Rhein II” has just be sold for $4.3 million (£2.7m) at Christies, making this the most expensive photograph in the world:
What a staggering “piece of work”! Gursky has spoken of “a particular place with a view over the Rhine which has somehow always fascinated me, but it didn’t suffice for a picture as it basically constituted only part of a picture”. He “carried this idea for a picture around with me for a year-and-a-half”. Apparently it is a real improvement on the 1st version (known as “Rhein I”) “In the end I decided to digitalise the pictures and leave out the elements that bothered me,” Gursky added.
Obviously you have to be a genuine connoisseur to appreciate this. Christie’s said the viewer was “not invited to consider a specific place along the river, but rather an almost ‘platonic’ ideal of the body of water as it navigates the landscape”. Gosh, don’t those old dualistic ontologies do the business!
I do hope this will at last put a stop to all those cynical comments about modern art being vacuous, meaningless, empty bullshit that is just another vehicle for commodity speculation… And whilst Andreas won’t see a cent of that particular sale, I’ll bet he has some exciting new work lined up. “Rhein III” perhaps? One waits with baited breath..
“Enough is enough” states Jim Pickerell at Selling Stock in a remarkable about-face from the hitherto stalwart of the neoliberal economics: “the question for the image creator” Jim now tells us “is how long can they continue to allow their work to be licensed by organisations that totally undervalue it?”. His target is the appallingly low rates agreed with book publishers by the major distributors Getty, Corbis, and Alamy but I’d argue it is true across the board. This, Jim states, is due to those companies lowering prices to try and maintain market share. We need to get the attention of the management at those companies supplying pictures at such low rates said one commentator – at some point they must stop licensing images at ridiculously low prices to publishers who, after all, are making very good profits indeed. If they don’t stop suppliers should. I applaud this realisation that there is a contradiction between the needs of the producers at the bottom and the profits at the top.
We have been arguing against this”creative destruction”of the photographers’ existence for some while now. The executives at the big suppliers see the anti competitive price/volume model as their modus operandi and in their short term interests, whether to maintain their debt value rating or to enable them to keep skimming the cream off the top. These distributors persuaded photographers and smaller libraries to acquiesce (not without a lead from some who should have known better)–and agree to supply their pictures with no floor under the pricing, largely on the grounds that the “management knows best” some years ago. To think we just needed to “get the attention” of these managers, now multi millionaires, is to seriously underestimate their commitment to the business model and one should add, their cosy relationships with publishers–one hand, as it were, washes the other. For the last decade at least it has been argued by the likes of Selling Stock that this situation is the natural, inevitable and irresistible result of “the free market” and/or “digital” and there is nothing to be done– I hope suppliers can see past that and get organised, though the utility of endless amateurs in preventing any return to such “restrictive practices” is well understood by Alamy etc. and none of the CEOs will agree to any return to a set of minimum rates, however reasonable, on principle. A trade group of agencies (BAPLA/ CEPIC was once such) would need to push against and discredit that business model (rather than championing it as they do now) in the interests of sustainability and diversity. An organisation of photographers would have to press from below for rates that allow them to continue to live and work. We have the NUJ in UK but such has been the success of the “savvy marketers” in convincing photographers that “there is no alternative” to this spiral of decline (or once even an advantage to it!) the now lowly “snapper” is often to be found enveloped in an acute and debilitating demoralisation. It is difficult to overestimate the difficulties we face, from the attempted commoditisation, to the crisis in journalism, to which we can add an apparently endless recession. Nevertheless this must be overcome -for a start we need to stop seeing markets as inexorable forces and recognise they are the result of decisions made in particular interests to which ours are now counterposed. Publishers need to understand rates must be realistic. Photographers must stop doffing their caps in complicity and stop supplying the “Wal-Marts of photography”, develop alternatives and create a differentiated market. Enough is indeed Enough and I hope others will join us in saying “No” to unsustainable low rates. We need not so much “fair trade photography” as “fair rate photography”.
Google has come up with a “search by image” PicScout killer which would appear to be of tremendous use in locating copyright infringements — upload an image and it’ll find, where it has actually indexed the web, uses web uses of that image. However, it is worth checking Googles’ “universal license” paragraph 11.1 which says whilst you retain copyright, ”By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”
There have been a number of discussions in recent months around the idea of “Fair Trade Photography”, most recently at the Redeye National Photography Symposium in Liverpool when it became apparent that it may be adopted by the British Photography Council, an umbrella for the various groups representing photographers.
The extraordinary popularity of imported, mostly agricultural products, labelled “Fairtrade” is of course based on the ethics of a) providing a sustainable minimum price for the workers producing say, coffee, regardless of the market variations resulting from commodity speculation, coercive competition, lack of effective demand etc and b) facilitating a modicum of democratic determination through cooperative organisation.
For this to apply to the production and distribution of pictures in any meaningful way, “Fair Trade Photography” would have to put a floor under the currant coercive and unsustainable price competition with a commitment to 1) minimum rates no less than those recommended by the NUJ, 2) asserting our moral and intellectual rights and 3) compliance with the NUJ Code of Conduct — which in our case would include maintenance of the veracity of data and so specifically outlaw photoshop fictions.
A code of conduct for publishers could also be devised.
Without these imperatives “Fair Trade Photography” could become so much “fairwash” — providing ethical cover for less than scrupulous would-be monopoly companies using price/volume in an attempt to enrich themselves at the cost of the photographer.
The IFJ have already begun a campaign. Other groups campaigning around the human effects of continuing global integration include: No Sweat which campaigns against the poor pay and appalling conditions in sweatshops frequently found to be supplying major high street stores. The Ethical Trading Initiative, which counts leading supermarkets NGOs and trade unions as members, and which tries to get rid of the worst abuses by gangmasters in the fields, abattoirs and packing houses not only in the UK but across the globe- itself a result of the low prices paid by supermarkets and the requirements of farmers to turn a profit. The corporate members audit their suppliers and are required to submit an annual report to the ETI. The Trade Justice Movement argues for increased international regulation, and against what it sees as unfair trade agreements that favor the big corporations. Whilst it is the trades unions that have made much of the difference in the workplace, in the US unions such as AFL-CIO federation (which has a department dedicated to the label) have also tried “union made” labeling to try and influence consumer purchasing power to at least buy products made by union members, though often with nationalistic overtones like the earlier “Buy British” campaign here.
I was asked to contribute to the January edition of the BJP- to an article on the way inwhich the current crisis has effected “business imagery”. Comments came from the captins of the veritable giants of the picture industry: Corbis (who famously have never made a penny), Getty (who recently further inflated their private equity leveraged debt mountain by another quarter billion or so to around $1.25 bn as presumably Kline & Getty required still more dosh to fund their luxuriant lifestyles) and of course, that smiley Wal-Mart of photography, Alamy (holding onto their thin profit margin by ceasing, for now at least, their charitable donations to their founder’s Family Trust).
Apparently, because of the collapse of the speculatively inflated, socially useless and largely fictitious capital bubble in the financial sector, which has been moved around to become our collective responsibility in the shape of a “debt crisis” and of course the consequent ongoing economic stagnation, Top Manager Types now have to be pictured looking “concerned” rather than “heroic”… Furthermore there is now, they say, a renewed interest in “honest workers”. This was amply illustrated by a Coca Cola advertisement that used real workers- yes real people! And from Up North in WAKEFIELD no less! Their love for the beneficence of the company clearly showed through- realism indeed. To some this newly acquired interest in the horny handed sons of toil just at the very point where jobs are being lost may seem a tad cynical or even worse as cover for more of the same.