Over the course of a month, I receive at least five emails requesting that a link be posted on this site. While there hasn’t been any clear-cut policy on what kinds of websites do get linked, I am pretty partial to serious and committed photographers, writers, artists and designers who have some connection to South Asia or who work in South Asia. Even among those, I am picky about what gets linked and what does not. I have to see interesting and quality content, a simple yet stylish presentation aesthetic and a strong commitment to whatever their chosen art form. These are the basic requirements that allow me to discriminate between hacks and the real deal.
I received two requests recently, both from India. Girish Menon wrote in with a quick note to ask if his site could be linked. I took at look at it and decided quickly that all three of my requirements were met. I didn’t hesitate for a second to drop his web site link into my site. The second web site had a slew of issues that I am about to discuss here. Bear with me, because this is a very long post.
I received the second note from Binoo K. John, a journalist based in New Delhi. His site states that he is a “journalist with 25 years experience in English newspaper and magazine journalism.” Mr. John works for a broadsheet news weekly as an Associate Editor. He has also published two “travel books, which have won critical acclaim in India.” So far so good. Mr. John is apparently also a photographer. Nothing wrong with that – a writer who also photographs is rare but certainly not unique. I applaud all those who are able to bring words and pictures effectively together.
However, here is what got to me; Mr. John’s site – www.albumindia.com – failed my simple requirements. The images were mediocre, the presentation so-so and his commitment to professional photography was suspect.
What follows is my sincere and short response to him:
Thanks for your patience. I took a look at your photo website. I link back to sites of only professional photographers; i.e. those who derive most of their income via photography. From the look of your most recent email you are an accomplished writer. I would be happy to provide a link to your book on the site under WRITERS.
Mr. John was clearly perturbed by my decision. Here is his response:
tks for your mail. There is only a thin line between professionals and part time photographers. the thning is to have quality photographs. the idea of my site is to break the stranglehold of professional agencies and photographers who charge up to 100 dollars for a pic. the result is no one who cant pay up, gets to use a pciture. for instance if you want to use a kashmir picture on your site, where will you get it from, unless youlift it from. If you want an Indian Gate pic will any photographer give it to you for less than 100 dollars? albumindia is an egalitarian concept. any nri who wants to keep an india pic on his desktop can get it from albumindia. Such efforts need to be encouraged, dont you think. Kindly reconsider.
How does one give a link to my book? cn i send you a synopsis with reviews?
This note from him pissed me off on various levels. First, he says there is “only a thin line between professionals and part time photographers.” No, there is no thin line. Actually, it’s a big fat one. If you are a professional, you derive your income from your profession. It’s less about art with a capital A and more about running a business for yourself so that you can feed your family, throw a roof over your head and perhaps imagine upgrading your equipment every two or three years. It’s a hard life and Mr. John belittles the profession, equating it to the ilk of weekend snap-shooters.
Mr. John then goes noble on me – “the idea of my site is to break the stranglehold of professional agencies and photographers who charge up to 100 dollars for a pic. the result is no one who cant pay up, gets to use a pciture.[sic]” Hmm… there is no logic in this statement, just empty Marxist/Leninist rhetoric. Professional agencies and photographers have to run a business and they attach a value (one that is depreciating thanks to the antics of people like Mr. John) to their work. Whether an image is really worth a $100 or lower, or higher, is for the market to decide, though the decision is also reached after careful analysis of one’s cost of doing business. So, Mr. John has no concept of the business side of photography.
He then says,“for instance if you want to use a kashmir picture on your site, where will you get it from, unless youlift it from.”
Never mind the funky grammar, but Mr. John suggests that thievery is the only alternative to paying a reasonable licensing fee, if you want a picture for your desktop or your website, or any other sort of publication. Hogwash! Does anyone else follow such a crazy concept? If you can’t pay for something, you have no choice but to steal it outright? Com’on!
Then there is the aesthetic side of his photography that made me wonder about his abilities as a photographer. I would have really reconsidered his request to link to his site if his images were really exceptional. His presentation, too, made it very difficult for me to accept his work. His casual, nonchalant approach to his own images perturbed me. They were inconsistent in a myriad ways; color, size, quality, content. Look below for a small sample of images from his site:
This one has been compressed so much that it has degraded to a great extent. Nothing in the frame is in focus; we aren’t privy to what these poor people look like. Their very existence smothered by an overzealous and conspiratorial photographer.
Not sure why Mr. John insists on even displaying these types of images. Can you really appreciate his handiwork when you can’t clearly see his images?
This one survived the onslaught of JPG compression. This guy should be pleased. He sits in front of his carpet business oblivious of the fact that Mr. John is making a dime of off him. Mr. John, do you have a model release for this kind, patient gentleman? I really wonder how he feels about being exploited in this manner.
I wrote a scathing note back to Mr. John and told him that he was devaluing the profession of photography by offering his images (regarding their quality continue to read below) for such a cut-throat (literally) rate. Mr. John’s lengthy response is as follows:
Tks for your long reply, though I cannot trace it now thanks to the complicated system in gmail. I read it only once but here is my reply to that.
1. You argument is in fact very basic and the roots of that go a long way back. It is the same argument put forward by many people who did not want religious texts like the Bible and the vedas to be read by the common man. Whenever any new technology comes people who tried to spread messages that are sought to be blocked or prevented by others. Before printing press was invented how many people could read? People who read holy texts were burnt at the stake. Similarly the internet has come as a godsend to people like me who want to spread our message (or pictures) far and wide and break the stranglehold of those who have monopoly over pictures. Your attitude clearly stands comparison to the priests and manuvadis of the middle ages.
2. To press my argument further, why is that I can read the New York Times and Guardian sitting here in New Delhi, when it costs Rs 46.50 in NY? Like you, did the NY times people say that if we put it up on the net we will lose our raison d’etre? Ten years back could I or millions of others have read the NYT or Guardian sitting at home? Why is it that some people always feel threatened when technology opens their art and craft up to a large masses of people. Why is that I can put up my pictures and you feel threatned about it? If there was no internet could I have put up my pics for sale?Why is it that you regurgitate your shallow, measly thoughts on the net in the form of a blog for people to read it for free but do not want people to use or see your pictures for free or for a nominal sum? Why is it that your thoughts are free and your pictures so pricey? Do you underestimate your own thinking process but overestimate your photographing abilities? Turning around your own argument, can I tell you not to put your thoughts on the net for free, since writers like me who live by selling our thoughts in the shape of books at a price, will find their market devalued? Will such an argument make sense to you?
3. You are of course free to have your views on my photographs. All the pictures have been resized and put up as very low-res pictures and that is why some appear as unfocussed. In fact the real images are all in 300 res and highly sharp pictures. This low-res pic is also to prevent copying. Even the enlarged images appear unfocussed because it is low-res. You should have known that. My pics are newsy pictures taken from the field at the moment of happening or what Cartier Bresson called ‘the decisive moment’. Though I may not have captured the decisive moment the attempt is there.I dont claim all th epics are In a few months time the site will have much better pictures
4.There is nothing wrong with the Dal lake picture because it is what it is : a post-card shot. It has been printed twice already. It means a lot to a lot of people. You may have shot the Dal Lake empty without a person in a boat in it but I prefer to people my images.
5. I have no problems if you dont give a link. Its’ cool. After all the internet does not belong to you. There are many other ways for those like us trying to break the shackles imposed on by a clique of photographers/agencies who are scared of the masses.
6. It might be a good idea if you put this debate on your site. But considering that you dont want messages/images to reach a larger audience I dont think you will do it.
Anyway thanks for your time.
So, now the conversation turned a bit ugly. Mr. John equates my resistance to post his link akeen to a brahmanical “attitude” that presumably prevented the masses from learning the Vedas.
Here is my response [gMail bounced this message back for some odd reason, so in all fairness Mr. John hasn’t seen this yet]:
You may want to grab a fresh handkerchief for this one. Here is my reply to your misplaced, half-baked ideas of what I do for a living and why I have to do what I do.
1. By comparing what are standard business practices in the world to an elitist mindset, I can only gather you are a knee-jerk left leaning Communist who simply does not understand that it takes a huge amount of financial [and other] resources for the world to go around and those resources are created by all – you and me; it is what the proletariat does in most capitalist societies. People work, they get paid for it. I am of the working class for the working class. No doubt about it.
You want to live in a Communist state – getting your weekly rations doled out to you – fine by me. I would much rather create my own wealth and security to be the master of my own domain. I have every right to call you on something when I see that you are dead wrong. Wrong for all of us, even the working masses, because all we are getting is your junk for a price that is simply easy to approach. Your images aren’t inexpensive, they are cheap. Therein lies the difference. Look those words up in a dictionary. By selling your mediocre images for a buck, you have unintentionally brought the market down to a level where others will also expect photography for the same undervalued price. You may feel like a revolutionary, but in reality you are nothing more than a sabot.
But I am really curious to know why you have priced your images at all. Why not just give them away? Why charge for them? What joy do you milk out of people having to put their money down for your images? Is there a small corner in your heart that beats to the rhythm of the American dollar? Are you a closet capitalist? I don’t get why you would even bother to set up such a site to sell your images when you are so bent upon giving the images away for almost nothing. Just go over the edge yaar and give it all up. Seriously this schizophrenic nature of your business is confounding.
I also noticed that your books are selling for Rs.300 and Rs. 250. Give them away as well. Please. You think people can afford Rs. 250 books in India? Think again. They can’t. I think you will be a happy man if you do that instead of hawking it to the next unsuspecting buyer. I wonder if your publisher will accept such a scenario, though.
2. The NYTimes and The Guardian are supported by advertising. They can survive in this big, bad and ugly world and pay their bills and taxes on time. If you think they are “giving” their content away, you are sadly mistaken. They have your eyeballs in a vice while you read their content. Advertisers pay for the production of news because they know quality writing attracts quality people who will buy their quality wares (in time).
Regardless, you are comparing apples and oranges; an argument that is bogus from the get-go. When we photographers get as large as the NYTimes and The Guardian, we’ll be happy to also give away our content (if we have a bevy of advertisers supporting such a whacky move). I don’t know about The Guardian, but after a couple of weeks The NYTimes clamps down the access one has to older articles. They usually want you to pay. I wonder if you will start a campaign against the gray lady as well then.
If you found my thoughts to be “shallow and measly,” why have you bothered to approach me, to be associated with my site? If you didn’t think there would be some value attached to my linking to your site, you wouldn’t have written to me to ask that your site be linked. Right? Well, that too is perplexing. Your thinking is rather muddled and riddled with hypocrisies.
Some of my thoughts are free to be shared. Some are valued when I write an article for publication which inevitably turns that article over as a product for their consumers. If they get paid, I get paid. Everyone is happy (for the most part). Some of my blog entries in the future may also be valued in the same way and people may have to “subscribe” to the site. The blog exists as a way for me to share what I have found freely. Generally the sites I link to are interesting and have some value to me personally. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes they piss me off. Yours is of the latter. I just felt I ought to skip dissecting your site for all its inconsistencies, but now you give me no choice. Time to call a gander, a gander. What I find most offensive is your weak attempt to pass your images off as high-quality and intrinsically valuable. They are neither. They suck. If you had a site that simply posted those images (and there are a zillion of those on the free Internet), such as a photoblog, I wouldn’t be so pissed. It’s your shtick and your have every right to do what you want with your images in that regard. But your telling me that you are selling crappy images for a buck and then wanting me to link to your site is downright a living joke. It hurts my profession and I will defend it as best as I can.
3. I have attached a couple of screen grabs off of your site. I use these images only as examples. Your technique to prevent copying is antiquated and displays your ignorance of the features available in today’s image editing software. The image: binoo3.jpg approaches some sharpness (actually nearly in focus), while the other two have a lot of pixel noise and are out of focus. Why this difference in quality? The inconsistency lobs you into the amateur camp. Is the man selling the carpet [or sitting in front of it] of less value (so people can more easily copy it) than the boy standing in front of Dal Lake? Do explain.
I understand that they are low-resolution versions of the apparently high-resolution images you are willing to sell for $1. Perhaps it is just me, but even if all I am going to give up is one dollar, I want to be able to see sharp images and be sure that the image is really what I want to buy. Your site makes this impossible to do. Please check out other truly professional websites (you know where the links are on my site). Every single site uses low-resolution images. If they didn’t the Internet will come to a stand still because of the sheer size and volume of content that needs to go through even broadband pipelines. It’s not necessary to tweak your images so much that it disfigures people’s faces and fuzzes out the entire picture. Afraid of people copying your images? Gosh, I thought you wanted people (“the masses”) to have all the pictures they could ever want off of your site. So, why this silly paranoia that people will swipe your low-resolution images?
Unless you incorporate expensive encryption technology [check out http://www.digimarc.com/] you really have no way of showcasing your images today without someone, somewhere swiping your images. Throw a watermark on them, if you wish (there are lots of free software that can do this for you), but presenting images such as these that are utterly out of focus is pointless and counterintuitive.
“My pics are newsy pictures taken from the field at the moment of happening or what Cartier Bresson called ‘the decisive moment’.”
First of all – you may be trying to be a photojournalist, but your images are not “newsy.” Your images lack three things – 1) news or editorial content 2) a high-quality presentation and 3) a unique perspective on things seen and experienced. While you may be attempting to be like Mr. Cartier-Bresson, I hate to tell you this, but after perusing through your site, I have yet to come to one image that says that you have got the true meaning of the words as described by Mr. Bresson. If you get the chance, read Mr. Bresson’s essay. Oh, yeah, unless you go to the library, you are going to have to either buy (spend a lot of your money) or some schmuck may have done you a favor and lifted it off of the book and dropped it into his/her website for you to read for free.
4. The Dal Lake image – are we talking about the same one with apparently a young boy in the foreground? I have attached it with this email (yes, yes, it’s the low-resolution version I understand). If you have sold two images, you are about Rs. 100 richer. Chump change, but woohoo! You do get a point for including a human element in your frame. That’s what most true photojournalists would have done if that is what is called for in the story.
5.“I have no problems if you dont give a link. Its’ cool. After all the internet does not belong to you. There are many other ways for those like us trying to break the shackles imposed on by a clique of photographers / agencies who are scared of the masses.”
Didn’t you hear? I just bought the whole Internet. For a buck. It’s all mine now. No, you are right. It does not belong to me. Shame on me for thinking that it belonged to me. Let me set the record straight – we aren’t afraid of the masses. All we are asking is that the masses respect our work; from how we approach it to what we produce for their interest or information. Your site, in short, disrespects us well-meaning, hard-working photographers. It devalues the art of photography and it shames the legacy of scores of photographers who have gone before us, practice it today and will come in tomorrow. This business about “breaking the shackles” is just empty rhetoric; blather directed to someone who has rejected your attempt to make a quick buck.
Until your photographic work approaches the high standards and quality expected of professional image makers, I am afraid all you will ever end up making through your site is a pittance. And there is no honor in that. However, if you are at peace with languishing in a sub-standard environment, who am I to tell you otherwise? You say on your site that your books have achieved “critical acclaim.” I am plenty impressed that you have a couple of books out but your photography pales in comparison. If you are willing to learn to do better, I would be happy to carry on a conversation with you about that. I am here to help, not hurt. Indeed, if you are so willing to check out Tiffinbox again, in the next week or so I’ll be posting images from a young photographer/activist who is aching to do a better job with his newfound passion.
For the record, the same week you requested your site be linked I received two other such requests. I declined to post one link as that site has some issues displaying images [sort of defeats the purpose]. But check out Girish Menon’s web site [http://www.gyrax.net/index.php]. You may just learn something useful.
6. Oh, don’t worry – I am going to put your pleas to be added to the site and then my responses in their entirety online. This could be useful to other hacks like you, with very little integrity, who think they are going to make it as professional photographers.
I think I was plenty p’od at this guy and rightfully so. Do let me know if I have been unusually harsh. Would love some feedback about this post. Let this not dissuade you from contacting me with your links, suggestions or comments. I am extremely open to criticism, if it is warranted. I know this site, nor my own photography is perfect, but I also realize that’s the case and am willing to make those required changes.