Lipsher: The value of professional photographers can’t be overstatedBill Linfield is a friend, a great guy and a superb amateur photographer who takes pride in his exemplary wildlife and landscape photos.
So why is he persona non grata among the professional photographers in Summit County?
Because Linfield freely — and that’s the appropriate word here — shares his work with the Summit Daily News, which never replaced its beloved longtime photographer, Mark Fox, upon his retirement and which instead relies upon the kindness of strangers for its Page 1 photos.
“I take photos daily because I have a passion for it and enjoy sharing the beauty of where I am able to live and play,” Linfield said. “Besides, if I don’t share my photos, why am I taking them?”
Local professional photographers lament that Linfield and others offering their work without compensation are enabling the paper to devalue photography, which they contend remains an integral part of newspaper storytelling.
Matt Lit, a Summit County photography educator at Colorado Mountain College and a former news photographer, praises Linfield’s work as “quite stunning” but fears it is another step in the inexorable march toward the demise of professional photojournalism. Good photography lures in readers who, as a result, see the advertising that supports the news outlet, he said.
“Once upon a time, I used to earn money selling my photos,” Lit said. “If I sold a photo to a television station to use on their broadcast, that’s air time and that’s valuable stuff. What’s the equivalent ad rate for that amount of air time or for that amount of newspaper space?”
Of course, the issue isn’t limited to Summit County. Newspapers all across the country have been cutting photographer positions, with the Chicago Sun-Times in May taking the extreme position of eliminating its entire full-time photo staff, then saying four of the 28 will be rehired. (The Denver Post has not been immune to industry-wide downsizing, unfortunately, but it still retains the core of its top-drawer photographers, including two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Craig F. Walker.)
Last month, David Becker of PetaPixel pointed out that the annual American Society of News Editors newsroom census, compared year over year, shows that U.S. newspapers are employing 43 percent fewer photographers, videographers and artists than they were in 2000.
In many cases, media outlets now are asking reporters to take cameras with them on assignments or simply relying on “crowd sourcing,” in which “citizen journalists” — basically anyone with an iPhone in his pocket — can snap pictures and willingly share them.
And it’s not just newspapers.
Linfield’s work also has appeared periodically on 9News, where anchor Kyle Clark recently had the audacity to complain in a special on-air editorial that readers were sending in boring photos depicting snowfall on patio furniture.
“Why is it that every time it snows that we whip out photos of our patio sets like we’re showing off baby photos of our kids? Is that really the best we can do?” he grumbled. “We live in one of the most beautiful spots on Earth, but we point our cameras toward the back porch … . Let’s be more original the next time the snow flies.”
That’s right: Clark is protesting the quality of free photos that 9News receives from amateurs.
Another Summit County photographer friend of mine, Tim Faust, doesn’t fault the media for taking advantage of free photography but does think that complaints like those raised by Clark are a case of beggars can’t be choosers.
“It is supply and demand,” Faust said. “If people are willing to provide free images, then why should media pay for them? However, I take issue with a media outlet complaining about the lack of quality of their free images.”
Any professional photographer these days can recount being asked to take photos for free or to accept insultingly low fees: friends want a “quick” portrait, businesses request “cheap” images for their websites and brochures, wedding parties can’t understand why they need to pay so much for what they don’t realize typically amounts to more than just a day’s labor.
Yet just a few days ago, we were all reacquainted with some indelible 50-year-old images from newspapers that remind us how powerful good photography can be in telling a story: Jackie Kennedy standing stoically in her blood-stained pink dress and pillbox hat as LBJ took the oath of office on that crowded airplane, Ruby shooting Oswald, John-John saluting his father’s coffin.
It is a shame that professional photography is being so undervalued today, and that’s made even worse when media outlets exacerbate the impression that it’s not worth paying for good photos.