Monday, 19 March 2012

And the photograph belongs to...

I did a shoot on Saturday with photographer Nagib after a gap of nearly four years. Yes, four years. It was a great shoot that went on for hours - we talked, tried different things and compared notes about taking photographs. Nagib loves working on photography that has a painterly look, many people are puzzled by it and wonder why he does not do 'real photography' - he does, by the way, more conventional photography too. I am into film photography but do not hesitate to scan films and do digital postprocessing because an unprocessed photograph is rarely perfect and needs some work and I prefer digital postprocessing, it is easier for me.  Of course I am a beginner, still making mistakes - like when I was in the lab earlier today processing a b/w film and left the fixer on for three times over the required time. Normally I just take photos for myself, but this time feeling a bit overconfident I took pictures for a friend who needs them for her dissertation and needs them fast - used to digital cameras she found it most bizarre I had to use film and develop it myself and could not cope well with waiting.  She has a deadline so I had to get up very early to use the lab before all the students got in. And when, distracted by an email I picked up on the iPhone, I forgot about the fixer, my heart sank, believing I had screwed up the shoot. But no, black and white film is very forgiving so I did eventually get the roll of film, with  nicely exposed frames. The look of pride on my face was noticed by the girl at reception when I got out of the lab and went into the adjacent room, the film in my hands, to cut it into strips.
But I am digressing. I was having this very interesting conversation with Nagib, whom I first shot with when I was having  problems with a very talented photographer with whom I fell out over ownership of photographs- the situation was later resolved. I do remember saying at the time that models co-own the photographs taken of them and I was really big on collaboration. In fact I even went as far as saying that models did the whole work and photographers simply took the picture - sorry, I do take it back!

 I have done a lot of thinking since then, especially since I took up photography myself. Oh yes. I too am one of those photographers who cannot deal with photos being processed by a third party (in my case developed and processed). When Domi asked me if I could give her the roll of film because she needed the shots in a hurry and could get them developed quickly  I was quite outraged by the request and endevoured to get up at an ungodly hour to be the first to reach the lab. No way, no one is going to touch my photographs.
And I told Nagib while modelling for him that the way I feel about photography today is that models can give from 10% to 40% input but the rest of the work is done by the photographer. So the photograph is rightfully the photographer's. Oh how would the former photographer friend love hearing me say this, after all those endless arguments. We no longer speak to each other, after resolving the issue of who would get  the photos we  parted ways completely, there were bad feelings involved. And now I find myself having exactly the same attitude as him (except that I say these things a little more charmingly). Nagib did laugh, especially when I described the feeling of dismay at the suggestion that Domi could get someone else to work on my photos.  Not my precious films. Nothing to do with believing my work is superb, on the contrary. It is because every roll of film I shoot is a learning curve for me and I want to be fully involved from start to finish.

So I guess I will not be very popular with other models when I say that the photograph belongs to the photographer (though he/she can 'give' it to someone if they so wish). Now if I could only put the clock back and take back  the silly  things I said in the past...

(All photos in this post are by Nagib El-Desouky and modelled by Alex B)


  1. Alex, I don't think you were wrong in saying that the model provides up to 40% of a photograph. In fact, I would say it's always close to 50% either way during the shoot itself. Model shoots simply do not happen without the model.

    What you're feeling is is the pride (and rightful pride) of being the author of the composition, design, execution, and final edit of a photograph. That is why the photographer has copyright. It's not just the photographer's eye, but the ability to translate a right-brain experience to the audience's eyes.

    The model is extremely important in the process. But a bad photographer can easily mess up the most beautiful thing in the universe. And since he (and I'm using the conventional "he") holds the camera, he holds the copyright.

    You are the photographer. You are nothing without your models, but nonetheless you are the photographer.

    Welcome to the other side of the debate. :)

  2. And remember that the model can walk away at the end of a shoot and not mind, he/she has been paid and for many that's it... The photographer has invested time to gather knowledge and skills and then has to worry about delivering to the client... And in reality, the client comes to the photographer to get the images that are needed. The photographer carries the responsibility and that is why the model signs the model release.

    Now the Muse is a completely different kettle of fish (as it were).... The muse contributes and is involved in the inspiration and creation of the work, and exciting collaboration.

    However, I would never argue percentages, simply who causes the work to be done is really the creator....