About two years ago, I wrote an opinion piece for my high school newspaper regarding the importance of giving proper credit to photographers for their work. At the time, I was photo editor of the paper and was in my third year of working as a freelance photojournalist, photographing athletic competitions, events and news stories. In this opinion piece, I wrote, “Just as a firefighter makes their living off of fighting fires and a writer makes his or her living off of writing, for a photographer (photography) is their livelihood.”
When I wrote those words, I had no concrete inclination to pursue photojournalism as my career path; I chased stories here and there and photographed them, but my future remained unclear to me. I was incredibly passionate about storytelling through my camera and my words, but I was not sure where that would take me. Here I am now, 18 months later as photo editor of The Daily Northwestern. Although my mind has been set on my career path being what I do now, my mentality regarding the lack of respect toward photographers has not shifted.
I have been working in the field of photography for five years now, and in those five years I have seen many cases where I have had to fight for even the slightest bit of recognition for the work that I do. There will be hours, sometimes days, spent on an assignment and once the work is published, there is a high probability that somebody uses the work without giving me credit. If it’s on the internet, it seems to be free rein. Admittedly, I have downloaded music without paying online, and I know how harmless it can seem to take something off the internet without paying or giving someone credit.
But this is why I am writing: to bring awareness to the fact that those who create work and share it, whether it be online or in print, deserve credit to their name and due compensation for what they have done, just as an author has their name written underneath the title of what they have written. For the work that I do, there is no requirement to share my photographs and videos on social media, but I do so anyway. I put my work out there for the enjoyment of sharing with others and showing what I have created. Certainly, if I had not done this in the past, I would not be doing what I am doing now, as I would not have the connections that I have built through social media.
Requesting credit to a photo online can be as easy as a few words typed in a caption, which will get you off scot-free for using my work without payment, or asking that a watermark remain in the photo because it is work that I created and would enjoy having my name attached to it. I do this in vain at times, knowing that no matter what I say online about requesting credit, people will find the need to go against such simple requests.
And this is where the lines seem blurred to me. We live in an era so infatuated with fact-checking, with the fear of getting things wrong and an obsession with not plagiarizing work. In high school, we lived under the reign of TurnItIn.com, and at Northwestern the strong hand of academic integrity rules our campus. If this is all so important and drilled into our heads, why does it not apply toward music, photography, video and all other art platforms?
Do people really believe it is okay to ignore the hard work of others and disregard its just reward for doing so? A watermark is on an image just as a signature is on a corner of a Monet. It is to claim the work as your own, despite sharing it elsewhere for others’ enjoyment. In an extreme example, one certainly would not try to take a Van Gogh and use it without saying it is his. If you are willing to pay for something from a store, you should be more open to doing the same when it comes to art you are interested in acquiring and/or using. I’m making this fight for due recognition for all artists.
Colin Boyle is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members at The Daily Northwestern.