Saturday, May 9, 2009

To hell with easy access!

A continuing battle with regard to America's scenic wilderness is the conflict between access and preservation. Wilderness areas can be difficult to obtain access to for those of us who are unable or unwilling to hike over challenging terrain to see the beauty of these wilderness areas. The National Parks and other nominally protected areas are under constant pressure to provide easy (often motorized) access to people who apparently only wish to "check off" visitations to great natural wonders. I say "No!" to those people, even if I'm becoming one of those unable to reach pristine wilderness. It's the very difficulty of access that has preserved such places. Let it stay difficult!

My position is affected by the fact that I'm getting older and less capable of hiking to gain access to those beautiful locations I would have found relatively easy to get at a few years ago. I can't stop the advance of time and my declining capabilities. But I can say without hesitation that I would prefer that we conserve those areas of natural beauty in preference to providing easy access for everyone. I say let access be denied to those physically unable to reach these wilderness areas, in preference to providing motorized, simplified access. Preservation trumps access, as I see it! It's not absolutely necessary that I (or anyone else) be able to see these places - for me, it's preferable that I know they'll be preserved for future generations. Access inevitably turns into exploitation.

You can call me a tree-hugger or whatever. It's far less important to me that you have a chance to see something beautiful, thereby destroying its beauty, than for me to know that its wildness has been preserved. If you (and I) can't get there by some simple means, then everyone is better off! The natural beauty of these places should outlive me - I prefer that their natural wonders be there for future generations instead of turned into some sort of touristic checkoff.

If we can save some semblance of these wild places, then that trumps any "access" argument, in my view of things.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The decline of stock photography

I’m constantly amazed at how little value people assign to photographic images. Over the years, there’s been a steady stream of folks who contact me, wanting to use my images for one purpose or another but aren’t willing to pay a license fee for that usage. Most of them want to use my images so their product will make money, but deny me the opportunity to derive income from my product!

I’ve made it clear on my Web pages that when the intended use is for science or education, and no one is being paid for anything in the process, I’m quite happy to donate my images. But many people who want to use my images for free – say on T-shirts for a charity fundraiser, or in a pamphlet providing information – see no problem with having to pay for the shirts, or for printing the pamphlet. In their minds, apparently, it’s reasonable to pay shirt manufacturers or printers, but it’s being unreasonable to expect that someone licensing images also has expenses to pay.

Instead, I’m offered the compensation of the user giving me “credit” for the use. The idea behind this is, evidently, is that I should be grateful for the free advertising. Imagine asking the printer of your pamphlets or the manufacturer of your T-shirts to be given the same “compensation” for their costs! It must seem to these people that high-quality, spectacular images are just lucky accidents and that I incur no costs in obtaining them. Well, my creditors won’t take this “credit” in lieu of payment! I find the very idea insulting, actually. I’d rather not license my images at all than to give them away at little or no cost to these people who see them as having no value – except to help them make money.

The situation has not been helped by various trends in the stock photo industry: the rise of “royalty-free” and “microstock” image collections, where the asking price for images has been driven into the basement. A concurrent trend has been the emergence of corporate giants in the stock photo industry – in particular, Getty Images (and to a lesser extent, Corbis). These giants have also done two things that are photographer unfriendly. First, they’ve allowed a rapid decline in the cost of image licenses, believing that volume can overcome the reduced price-per-sale. Second, they’ve steadily eroded the “split” with the photographer – that is, the percentage of the sale income they share with the image creator (the photographer!). When I entered the stock photo business, large image agencies were sharing the income 50-50 with the photographers. Getty now has driven that down to where the photographer only gets 30% of the sale. Getty and Corbis also have absorbed many smaller, specialized image marketing companies, which maintain their business identity but are allowed to market images through Getty and Corbis. Those smaller image companies may provide a 50% split with the photographer, but that’s only after the giant takes its 70%. The photographer share is thereby down as low as 15% when Getty is involved. As a means of making a living, stock photography is becoming unworkable for photographers. If I actually depended on this income to survive, I’d not be surviving!

But the general perception that images should be “free” is pervasive. Even copyright protection is being eroded by the notion of “orphan images” – there is movement to allow the free use of images from any source if the user can’t locate the photographer. Embedding information about the photographer and the means to contact her/him has only recently been common in the industry and there are many who will simply remove that embedded information and then claim they tried to locate the photographer but failed, so it was an “orphan” work. Copyright protection eventually could vanish, meaning the eventual demise of income from creative work. This is further reducing number of reasons to pursue stock photography as a source of income.

Theocracy in Oklahoma

The religious right-dominated Oklahoma legislature recently has voted to approve a bill authorizing the erection of a Ten Commandments display at the OK State Capitol. Once again, these Christian zealots are mixing their religion with politics, a notion contrary to the principle of separation of church and state that has been a cornerstone of this nation. The shameless pandering to voters by the so-called Oklahoma House of “Representatives” – who clearly don’t represent anyone not accepting the Ten Commandments as a cornerstone of their spiritual beliefs – is yet another indicator of the crumbling of our national commitment to protecting the rights of minorities. Many ignorant people see majority vote as the litmus test of democracy, but it’s not. Rather, it's always been the protection of the rights of the minority. In this case, putting the Ten commandments on the Capitol grounds is a clear violation of the separation of church and state, despite its being financed by private money (the author of the legislation, Rep. Mike Ritze, Republican, Broken Arrow, OK).

This seems to be an outgrowth of a 2005 decision by the Supreme Court ruling that by a 5-4 vote indicated that a display of the Ten Commandments on the capitol grounds in Austin, Texas, was somehow more historical than religious and so was not considered to be unconstitutional. Such a ruling is manifestly preposterous and evidently reflects how successful G.W. Bush was at packing the Supreme Court with ideological allies.

The threat of Muslim violence seems to have fueled the continuation of a religious revival here in the USA, and especially in “red” states. What the believers fail to recognize is that what the Muslim fanatics want in their nations is precisely what these Christian fanatics are trying to achieve here: a theocracy. It’s fine to have pride in your beliefs, but it’s contrary to the principles of this nation to force your beliefs on others.
Response to El Gran Rogelio:

Erecting a display of the Ten Commandments indeed doesn't establish a theocracy, but it's a major step in that direction. Regarding all the rationalizations you've provided: suppose a Muslim benefactor wished to erect a display of writings from the Koran on the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds, perhaps right next to the Ten Commandments display? Imagine the (literally) righteous indignation from most of people favoring this display of the Ten Commandments! The religious connection between the State and the Christian religion here is unmistakable and unambiguous. The Ten Commandments is in no way a historical document, unless you believe literally in the historical truth of the Bible.

There are many aspects of modern US government that are not formally codified in the Constitution, including the notion that all men are created equal (that's only in the Declaration of Independence). So what? The traditional "separation of church and state" was supported by many of the Founding Fathers and is inherently the right thing to do for a government that wishes to avoid a state-supported religion. I reiterate: the key to democracy is not majority rule. It's the protection of the rights of minorities. I view this action as an encroachment by the religious right - and can legitimately invoke the prospect of a "slippery slope" argument. If we merge the Ten Commandments with the government of the state of Oklahoma, why stop there? Why not institutionalize more religious elements into the state? Prayer in schools, religious iconography, and on, and on, and on. Eventually, the majority get their wish for a theocracy and the minority are systematically shut out and perhaps eventually persecuted for daring to be different. The US would be analogous to Iran ...

Not being forced to read the display is irrelevant. It's a clear intrusion of religious dogma into the state government.