Former Art Buyers and current photography consultants Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease have agreed to take anonymous questions from photographers and not only give their expert advice but put it out to a wide range of photographers, reps and art buyers to gather a variety of opinions. The goal with this column is to explore more of the commercial side of photography (not my area of expertise) and to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity.
I don’t think photographers could ever pull off a Union type situation. Never in a million years.
It is like trying to organize a million man march of independents. They are too much the loner mentality.
Many can’t even follow loose guidelines for rates or usage.
I would even love it if we could just get some standard licensing language and standard estimating forms like the film industry uses. Art buyers are already use to standardized forms from the film world. Why can’t we at least do that?
I am a member of the Director’s Guild, and the company I work through is a member of the AICP, which is a very strong and effective union. They have fantastic representation, and they are well respected by the Advertising agencies. They have a very strong voice, and they are quite successful at getting their voice heard and their agenda’s addressed. Witness the whole dust-up when a few of the agencies announced that they were no longer going to approve advances and they were going to go to a third party payment guarantee. The AICP President immediately announced that they would not support it, and that their members would not abide. Photographers on the other hand did nothing. In short it is a very good model, and there are many benefits for their members. Most of the (National) commercial on air … are Union spots. Most of the advertising agencies are Union Signatories, and therefore CAN NOT shoot non- union spots. Usually, only very small shops, and local companies can get away with non- union. So that said, I have no idea of the history, or how it got started. But one of the reasons that photographers are always dealing from a point of weakness is because they have no good solid representation. Here is a quick, off the cuff summary of issues that are already resolved by the AICP:
1. They have a standardized bid form.
2. Mark-ups are accepted and the norm- therefore when the scope of the job is increased, there is some additional profit, even if the fee is not increased.
3. Billing for Payroll tax and Insurance are standard.
4. AICP looks at and approves contracts.. No weird indemnities and other issues being passed off will nilly by the agencies to the backs of the photographers.
5. Payment is customary advance and final payments are scheduled.
One issue for sure is shitty purchase orders with indemnity clause, and work for hire clause written in. Which I ALWAYS STRIKE, I might add successfully. I have two previous employees that have recently struck out on their own, bad timing huh? But even though they were worried about being a small fish, they are usually successful at getting amended p.o.’s
Another huge issue as you know, that I have been railing on about, it is how hard it is to get insurance, how expensive it is, and how many people in our industry go with out it. If photographers were banded together they would have more clout in this area. Health insurance too…
Well off my soap box for now. I feel real compassion for those starting out now.
Only employees can form and be represented by unions.
Independent contractors can be members of unions but cannot be represented by unions. No collective bargaining by independent photographers. Illegal.
The one way around it is for photographers to work as employees. But if photographers work as employees, their employers are the “authors” and copyright owners of any images created.
Short answer: unions are a not the answer.
Art Buyers – International Ad Agencies
Art Buyer 1:
I’ll be honest with you. I would be against a union for Photographers. Right now, print is in a precarious place. We fight to convince clients projects need a print aspect as well as web and broadcast. In my experience, unions bring fees that would deter our clients from entertaining print. I’m not referring to photographer or crew fees. We know what the industry standards are and do everything we can to ensure they increase with the changing times. The fees I’m referring to are union dues, insurances, 10 – 20% production costs.
Unions would also create an uneven playing field. Photographers of different calibers would have the same fees. This would eliminate work to those photographers whose skill set does not match the norm.
This could also negatively impact our local market. Sorry to ask this, but how could I keep some jobs local? My local photographers allow me to of bringing work to the area because they’re fees are less than a New York based photographer. The proper term for this is not “under cut.” It’s “lower cost of living.” I’m fortunate to have amazing talent in my backyard. If they had to meet a National Rate, my creative would ask to see all National photographers right for a project instead of me being able to convincing them to stay right here.
Art Buyer 2:
This would be a terrible mistake. Unions within the Broadcast industry are having a terrible time keeping members. Agencies all over the country are dropping their union signatory status and actors are taking non-union jobs just to stay alive while unions look the other way. This is NOT the right time…
Amanda and Suzanne:
To Summarize, a union would not be approved in our current times. But believe us, something needs to be done to encourage talent to charge appropriately and to be taken care of properly on the client side. We need Insurance for our talent (I “Amanda” paid $2k a month for a family plan under a group plan – Highway Robbery). Photography is a demanding career and takes a toll on the body, emotionally and physically. Union is not the answer, but comradery and other creative collectiveness is. Standardized forms and usage and creative fees across the board verses underbidding fellow photographers. It is crucial to understand Agency Advances and fee structure, to know the tax laws in the city you live and the cities you shoot in as tangible property has become very grey. It is important to understand payroll services, since freelancers are not true independent contractors and the potential liability to the photographer on taxes and workman’s comp. The question we have to ask ourselves: “Are we print photographers running our business as if we were in a Union, are we running our business not only effectively but lawfully to protect ourselves?”
Call to Action:
Brainstorm with your colleagues, organizational groups and create ideas that can be shared and eventually (possibly) manifested.