Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: Attack of the Confusing Credit


I've been waiting to write this blog for months, and I finally had my nerve broken by a picture credit in the New York Times over the weekend; more on that below.

So, let me first start off by saying that for years I've been confused by picture credits, and as a photographer I'm concerned. I think the big picture agencies started confusing people a few years back when they stopped adding actual names with image credits. For example, how often do you see an image credit "REUTERS" and not "John Smith/REUTERS". I'm not familiar with the business terms with agency photographers but I've always been someone who thinks that images should always have the photographers names in the credit. Perhaps I'm just old fashioned but I like to know who is shooting what, and where - even if I've never even heard of the photographer before. I take a lot of comfort in knowing that there is an actual human being standing somewhere with a camera trying his or her best to capture the moment, all in the name of journalist integrity; and thereafter getting credit when that image is used. REUTERS was just used as an example, EPA, AP, AFP and Getty are all in on it as well. I know that sometimes agencies do this to protect the identity of the photographer, for example picture credits coming from Myanmar after the cyclone that it in 2008 when the government blocked aid and journalists from the country, and that's understandable. But is there a logical reason for all the other cases? Can anyone shed some light on this issue?

My second point I'd like to talk about is picture credits coming from war zones and regions where natural disasters occur. For example, during the May earthquake in Sichuan province Getty images, AP and a host of other agencies were syndicating images from China Photos and Xinhua News Agency. This is a partnership that has existed for several years where Chinese photographers contribute to local agencies in based in the mainland and through syndication end up having their images used around the world. It makes a lot of business sense, but ethically I think there are some loopholes. For example, who are these Chinese photographers? What are their names? Are they military photographers or journalists? Are the images made in a way that respects the subjects and the surrounding situation? Are the situations staged? China has some incredibly gifted photographers but the country lacks on integrity and any sort of journalism standards. There have been several well documented cases in the past were Chinese photographers have won major international awards only to later confess their documentary images were staged. And furthermore should the sale of images by major American agencies be aiding the Chinese military (if they are behind the syndication)? I believe that the big agencies should have to live up to these questions if they want to syndicate the work.

Lastly, is the photography agency VII. Just in the last week I saw 3 different picture credits from this one agency. The first was from one of the founding members, "John Smith/VII". The second was a photographer from their network of non-members but very gifted photographers, "John Smith/VII Network". And just this past weekend I saw a New York Times credit from the Congo of another photographer who was credited "John Smith/VII Mentor". So, what does it all mean? Is anyone as confused as I am. Obviously it's a great honor to be a part of a prestigious agency, but if you are part of a mentorship program is that really something you can credit in a publication? If I did an internship at Magnum and was shooting on my off days for a magazine could I credit myself as "John Smith/Magnum Intern"? Where is the line drawn?

Now, don't go and misunderstand me. Gifted photography is wide spread amongst the big american agencies, the Chinese agencies and top dogs like VII, but I wish the captioning was more straight forward. While there may well be a clear and simply answer for each of the questions and somewhat confusing situations I've described above, they don't appear obvious to me; and I consider myself to be in the business - or at least on the fringes.


Ryan Pyle
Website: www.ryanpyle.com
Archive: http://archive.ryanpyle.com


  1. Anonymous05:01

    I might be able to shed light on a couple of these. Some agencies (Newscom comes to mind) are re-selling images from other agencies, and just don't bother capturing the photographer's name. I had to buy an image a few months ago and just credit Newscom because no one on the picture desk there could track down which photographer shot the photo. (It was just of a subject at a PR event, so it didn't matter much to me.)

    VII vs VII Network I can understand, but VII Mentor seems to be going way too far.

    IMHO, I don't care at all about the agency you're with. Just print the photographer's name only and if someone wants to hire them, do a google search and get their agency.

    - Brent

  2. Gary Knight18:40

    This is silly.........



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