One Reporter's Opinion

Proud sponsor of The Partnership for an Idiot-Free America. Andy's random observations -- a potluck of politics, a mix of music musings, and whatever else transcends the transom. (Unless otherwise specified, all pictures are copyright of this blogger. Some rights reserved, subject to the terms and conditions specified under the Creative Commons license.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Word on the Creative Process

I don't know if anyone out there reading this spends considerable time and capital to create stuff. And by "create stuff," I don't mean cobbling together some ideas that someone else came up with and posting it on a weblog with some snarky commentary attached.

I mean someone who paints. Or who creates art of of scrapyard metal. Or writes original prose or poetry. Or plays and records music. Or someone who takes pictures.

I make no complaint of the investment I've made, or of the return I've made thereto, either (the former is substantial while the latter, well, not so much) -- I do photography because I enjoy it. While I don't want to get overly precious about it, I share my work because I enjoy communicating what it is that I see in the universe. My pictures are my artistic voice. As such, I like being properly credited for what I've captured, and I am an unapologetic control freak about how my own work lives out in the world once I let someone in on what I see in the viewfinder. This craft is not merely a hobby for me.

To give some meager idea of what this journey has been for me, personally, in the last few years... I invested in a high performance computer platform which would help me render my art in Photoshop, and I have upgraded in that span. I have invested in three camera bodies in under two years time, I've bought lenses and tripods and digital memory and glass filters and Photoshop plugins and tripod heads and color calibrators and USB tablets and scanners and printers and ink, I've spent money on classes and magazine subscriptions, I've invested in my own website, I've spent money to take trips just so I could get up at 5 in the morning to catch the golden rays of the sunrise, and countless other hours have gone into shooting and post-processing.

And all of that before I even made a dime from my work.

Honestly, though, I couldn't care less about the money. What I care about is how my voice is represented.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter if you take your pictures with a pinhole camera or a Canon Snappy or a Minolta X700 or a Holga or a 2.0 megapixel Kodak or a Hasselblad with a Leaf Digital back or a Linhof 4x5 direct view camera. You, the artist, own the vision which went into creating that image, you own the time which went into creating that image, you own the discipline which was involved in developing that vision and skill, and thanks to international standards of copyright, you also own the right to display that work as you please, to control the context in which that work appears, and you own the right to say "no" if someone insists on appropriating your original works. It also doesn't matter if the photograph in question is a piece of crap or a candid party pic. You don't cede your right to control your copyright once you reveal your work to the public, and nothing says you have to play nice if someone doesn't respond to a completely reasonable request to stop infringing your creative rights.

What constitutes sufficient grounds to say, "You can't use my picture," you might ask? Just because I say so. There need be no other reason. Even if I put a picture out there on the Internet for all in the world to see, my exclusive rights are not ceded until I say they are.

Am I guilty of running afoul of others' rights in my own lifetime? Yes. I'd be a liar if I said I'd never taken illegal dubs of songs or committed other acts of "unfair use." However, I am sensitive enough to respect the wishes of others when it comes to their original works, and beyond that, I'm smart enough to know when to stand down.

Now that I'm trying to get established, it's becoming a really tough call. The minute you start to share is the minute you open up the possibility of getting ripped off or misrepresented. I learned that one the hard way when I trusted a local journalist to use some photos I'd taken as collateral for his column -- and while they indeed appeared under his byline, there was no compensation and there was no credit given, despite assurances to the contrary. And this was, I thought, someone who would appreciate what it means to create something.

Once burned, twice shy. It's just easier not to share at a certain point.

Isn't that why copyright exists in the first place? It gives the creator of original works some discretion as to how their ideas are contextualized and represented, at least for a time.

I typically choose to allow casual, non-commercial uses of my work, so long as attribution is carried and no derivative works are made of my photos. I'm seriously beginning to reconsider my definition of "appropriate." I can scarcely afford to feed my avocation, much less pay lawyers to defend my right to render exclusive jurisdiction over my stuff once I choose to share it.

It's a tough call. I'm all about "sharing," but I'm really not jazzed about the idea of someone using something I brought into the world in a context I don't feel right about.


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