Photographers Hiring Help – New vs. Old (school)

- - Jobs

How ironic. Aghan-girl-on-the-cover-of-Nat-Geo photographer Steve McCurry and my-dslr-is-a-freaking-movie-camera photographer Vincent LaForet post help wanted ads 1 day apart.

Old schooler McCurry goes for the craigslist classified ad seeking an intern who is “highly motivated” with a “proven track record of excellence.” This intern must be proficient in “retouching in Photoshop” and will work 9am to 6pm, 5 days a week for 3 months unless Steve is out of the office in which case you will be working on the weekends too. The position is unpaid (apply here).

New schooler LaForet goes for the blog post (natch) where his legions of followers can quickly spread the word and apply for 3 (yes 3!) open slots on his team. Applicants must be “proficient in Premiere or Final Cut Pro” and “obsessed with gear” and have the ability to “grade footage.” All positions are paid (apply here) and part time (2-3 days a week).

I’m not sure who wants to be not getting paid to zap the dust off old negatives over getting paid to grade footage (whatever that means), but the coincidence of it all felt very telling to me.

Someone sent me their application for McCurry’s internship:

intern

FYI, if you want learn more about hiring interns here’s some solid advice from the U.S. Department of Labor (here).

There Are 133 Comments On This Article.

    • @Nathan Blaney,

      I have several students who were so excited about the Steve McCurry Internship, they were falling all over themselves to apply.

      I would bet he got close to a thousand applications!

    • @Chris Schultz, There was a time that I wouldn’t have agreed with that statement. But now, I wholeheartedly agree. There is nothing wrong with working for free or even paying for an apprenticeship if it is a step on a ladder. But now, there is no ladder and there are no steps. People work for free and they’re stuck and will go nowhere.

        • @Ian Aleksander Adams, Helmut Newton paid for his first apprenticeship in Berlin. There is nothing morally or ethically wrong with working for free or paying for apprenticeships. The trades have operated in this manner for hundreds or maybe thousands of years. The difference between times past and now is that our current cultural and economic conditions can’t provide anywhere to go beyond free work or apprenticeships. So there is little point in doing them in the first place.

          • @Mike Moss, when I worked as an apprentice electrician I was paid like everyone else on the job site. And covered by comp, etc.

            Just because people used to do something doesn’t make it right. Sure we can talk about morals and ethics being subjective, but I’m pretty sure that unpaid labor is close to slavery however you spin it. That used to happen all the time as well.

            Obviously labor just for learnings sake (as we all did in school) is different. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single apprenticeship or internship where the employer didn’t get more out of it than the intern. In theory they’re great, but no one I know has done one without feeling entirely mistreated at some point.

    • @Chris Schultz, I agree. A corollary statement could be any intern who doesn’t provide at least $10/hour worth of value probably isn’t worth having around. Working for free is stupid. I’m disappointed that McCurry doesn’t have more respect for the profession and young photographers.

    • @Chris Schultz, I wouldn’t feel comfortable about employing an intern full time with no pay, but I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong. There are things you can learn from a top notch, successful photographer that you can’t learn at school, or anywhere else. There are photographers I would have gladly apprenticed with full time for free (when I was starting out).

      I’m very much in favor of respecting workers’ rights and treating people well, but if an emerging photographer and established photographer agree on a mutually beneficial internship involving no money, where’s the harm?

      • After reading more comments below, I wanted to add: of course it’s wrong to get a free intern if you’re just getting free labor, without offering them anything in return. But this can be a mutually beneficial situation if the established photographer treats the intern well, gives access to studio and gear, lets them observe shoots, and teaches about the craft and business of photography.

        Obviously it’s wrong to hire an unpaid intern for nothing but grunt work, without offering anything of value to them.

  1. I Love to Intern!

    I like the list of 6 criteria that is listed by the DOL. I met someone who interned for Hans Zimmer a while back. Han’s would like to add a few criteria to the DOL list…

    7. From 8 am to 5 pm Hans must receive a new cup of coffee every hour, on the hour, in the cups that only Hans is allowed to use.
    8. From 5pm on Hans must receive a new diet coke every hour.
    9. You will be told that this internship will lead to possible employment, but we don’t really mean it.
    10. You will pick up approximately $200 worth of take out food for Hans every day from local, elite Santa Monica restaurants. Hans will will throw away approximately half the food you serve.
    11. (really and extension of 10) If there are potatoes in any form on Hans’s plate, Hans will throw away the whole meal. Potatoes are peasant food, not Hans food.
    12. The work you do will benefit Hans.
    13. The work you do will not benefit you.

  2. There seems to be an over-use/abuse of ‘intern’ labor across all industries, nationwide anymore… (And the DOL is apparently asleep at the wheel.)

  3. Jean-Marie

    Some comments a friend heard while seeking an internship:

    1) “Why would we hire you as an intern when we employ Person X who has been in the business for 30 years and can run circles around you?”

    2) “Why would we hire you as intern, train you and teach you what we know, only to have you leave our company some day and take that knowledge to our competitors?”

    3) “Why would we hire you as an intern and agree to pay you to train you? If we’re going to train you, we can’t justify paying you. You should be paying us.”

    Sometimes the shortsightedness of old school media/old school business is surprising to me.

    • Tony Bryant

      @Jean-Marie,
      This is not confined to the US either.
      Here in Australia, where Aged Care training is all the buzz, a friend of mty wife was asked to PAY AU$800 for a 20 hour work experience placement.
      I was asked a similar amount for a similar length of placement for a Business Administration placement.
      These industries complain on a regular basis that they can’t attract staff, but they are dying thanks to the difficulties of entering those industries (and others…) without driving yourself bankrupt first.
      My end point is: No wonder Photography/Photojournalism is a dying industry! THINKS!!

  4. so wrong. i typed in all those urls:
    gregisfuckingawesome.com
    tinyurl.com/yfhzjje

    why don’t people have follow through and balls IRL? who should i invoice for wasting 5 minutes of my time?

    • @evablue, the tinyurl worked for me, but unfortunately the greg site doesn’t. I was really hoping it would be someone’s portfolio site. Would have gotten some great exposure here!

  5. Yeah, I’m really glad I had a similar unpaid internship for Rodney Smith back in the day. Which I lost after I sorted his archives and told him I would not be able to come in 5 days a week for no pay while trying to pay for an apartment in NYC. He didn’t like the 3 day arrangement so sent me a nice email telling me it wouldn’t work out.

    OH HAI CREATIVE INDUSTRY. fu2

    • I should note that I was really excited, since we had worked out the 3 day arrangement a YEAR in advance, and I’d saved all my money to move up there that summer. Good thing I paid my rent in advance!

    • @Ian Aleksander Adams,
      Really?!? Rodney Smith shoots some darn good stuff! That sounded like it would be an honor but after reading about your “internship”…left me with a cynical mind. They guy has a serious archive and his workshops are not cheap ($3575) and he couldn’t just pay you? GAH!

      • @Michael, yeah, I was pretty excited about it – after all, I’d been waiting a year since my interview the previous summer to finally get in there. I’ll never know what the problem was, maybe he just didn’t like me. But the last discussion we had was about how I couldn’t come in 5 days a week, it just wasn’t what we had agreed upon. And then he sent me a “polite” email the next morning about how I didn’t need to bother coming in the next week.

        He did have two paid (I think) assistants as well. But other internships I’ve done at least paid for transportation and meals, I don’t think he offered.

        I don’t know – he seemed like a cool guy in a lot of other ways, but it left me with a really bad taste (and three months in new york without anything else lined up.)

  6. What a joke. Thanks for posting this, how insulting and disgraceful for a professional to ask someone to work for free without offering anything concrete in return. If they guy had any conscience whatsoever, he could have stated that he will train, educate, give access to equipment resources etc, but I guess that would be too much to ask of a “master” photographer. Times have changed but decency and respect should be constant no matter who you are.

  7. They both should be really embarrassed by this.

    No one should work for free no matter what you “believe” the value and outcome to be.

  8. Try living in London

    Over here it seems to be very much the norm in London and its actually stupidly competitive to be an unpaid monkey for as long as a year. A friend of a friend interviews people for internships and says that a lot of them have worked 8 unpaid internships in a row…

    Its okay when you have daddy’s money but for the majority of us who are the walking talking starving artist cliche its very frustrating… and then at the end of it you’re competing against the rest of the city for 1 job where many many people have done these internships…

    • One thing that really doesn’t seem to be helping the situation in the UK is that next to no MPs want to kick up a fuss about it, because they themselves are one of the worst groups of offenders, almost all taking on illegally unpaid interns.

      BECTU and NUJ are offering to support legally and looking for people who have taken part in unpaid internships (despite whatever was agreed in the internship agreement) for lawsuits to claim back their earnings… HMRC are slowly cottoning on.

      • Try living in London

        Well they have been saying that they want to introduce something where they have to pay at least minimum wage but it seems to have been said for a long time.

        Thats cool about what BECTU & NUJ are doing, but then again they did know they were doing it for no money.

        Don’t get me started on the MP’s – ‘okay so we think we should make it so that in extreme cases students should pay 9 grand a year’. Now most schools have announced they are charging that.. whilst the MP’s sit and laugh because they got free education back in the day and they have bucketloads of cash to send their next 5 generations. So I feel sorry for those in 5 years with £50k of debt doing unpaid internships… (though I know in America school fees are pretty ridiculous as well.)

  9. Nathan Brough

    I think there was a great one-page article in the back of a comm-arts about paid/unpaid internships a few months back. Or maybe it was pdn. Can’t remember. It explained that it can only be unpaid if it’s an educational experience. i.e. if you’re behind a desk pushing paper, that’s not legal. If you’re on set and helping with lighting, and the photographer explains to you later what he was doing and why, sign me up. I’ll do that for free. That’s more than what I was learning at school, and that cost money. (this is assuming that it’s a legit photographer and you’re actually wanting to know how he lights things/people.)

  10. I think that working for Steve McCurry for nothing would be excellent experience for later in your career when you start hearing those, “There’s no budget, but the exposure will be terrific” , lines.

  11. From 9am to 6pm 5 days a week for 3 months? What you going to do then with no pay? Sleep on the streets and starve to a Nat Geo photog can look like he knows how to use Photoshop? It’s an effing disgrace.

    Spend the same amount of time taking your own photographs and retouching them then by the end of the three months you will have a good body of work and you can pay your own intern.

  12. Photographers like this are exactly why I withdrew from Parsons School of Design Photography Department. It was riddled with them. I transferred there with an Associate Degree, and of something like 80 credits they accepted 12, and waited to conveniently tell me until halfway through the year after I could get any sort of a refund. I quickly noticed that most of the photo students (especially the grad students) were doing internships like this for jerks like McCurry, making $50 a week and a MetroCard, and living in closets in Bushwick avoiding SallieMae calls for the $200K they then had in student loans for their “prestigious Parsons degree.”

    I specifically remember one professor I had that reminds me SO much of the attitude in this ad. She claims to be sponsored by Nikon, teaches workshops abroad like McCurry’s (she teaches for a well-known photo school here in NYC) and was a total dickwad in class. And, looking back, her work is totally nothing special. In fact, she has the same stuff up now that she did in 2004-5 when I was a student there. What a waste of $50,000. I’ve learned more about photography from the Strobist blog and Flickr group. No joke.

    • @Rhys, Right on. David Hobby is a great teacher, AND a nice guy. Seems rare these days.

    • @Rhys,

      I’ve learned more about photography from the Strobist blog and Flickr group. No joke.

      Get real, do you think you are going to learn about the reality of the business from reading a blog by a former PJ who shoots/teaches with little flashes.

      Benefits of assisting and interning: Learning how to be a professional, understanding what works and does not work in a career opportunities, networking with other professionals, meeting future clients (possibly), understanding how to run a business (promotion, proper lighting, insurance, liability, courtesy, production, how to travel)

      These are items that you will never or rarely learn from reading a blog. They come from experience and being on location or set.

      Try lighting a high-end editorial or advertising portrait with the little strobes and their vaunted connectivity systems go astray. Embarrassing? How many SB900’s is it going to take you to get to F/11 in a Octabank or Breise?

      • @BD, I didn’t say I learned everything about photography from Strobist. I said I learned more than I did at Parsons. Where no, they did not teach me a damn thing about business or how to make a living doing photography. Or how to turn my work into profit, or about any of that. Which is why I withdrew after one year and did not fork over $50K a year for another three years. It wasn’t worth it to me. Oh, and notice I didn’t say I learned about the business of photography in my comment… I said I learned more about photography. And that is absolutely true. In that group, there happen to be a lot of great photographers and great people that I have had the awesome opportunity to talk to and learn from. Specifically, I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with Don Giannatti and subsequently took his workshop last year in Florida. It was amazing, and that guy is more of an educator than ANY of my Parsons instructors were. So yeah… that learning came indirectly from reading the Strobist blog and joining the Flickr group.

        All that said, I did learn more about photography from reading the Strobist blog than at Parsons. I’ve learned other things from interning and assisting and going to workshops and reading and practicing and shooting and networking. I didn’t say that reading the Strobist blog gave me every bit of knowledge or experience needed to be a successful photographer. I just said I learned more than at Parsons. And I absolutely stand behind that statement 500%.

        • @Rhys,

          Question the source is what I am suggesting. David is a nice guy and he has created something very special and extremely profitable for himself. All the more power to him. However, creating location portraits with little strobes can be challenging.

          You may learn how to light something with the Nikon strobes but the quality of light from them is vastly different than from a ProPhoto head in the correct modifier.

          Part of being a professional is showing up with the right kit, knowing how to use it, have back-ups and the ability to always make an outstanding image 100% of the time. You can only learn the reality of this business by experiencing it with solid professionals. The key is to assist for several people who are on top of their game and willing to teach you how to conduct yourself as a professional. I assisted three people over four years. I learned what I knew was not enough and what not to do. It was a valuable lesson on how to light, be a pro and how to present myself. A workshop will not do this, only the nitty gritty of being a working assistant.

          I’ve employed interns and given them a fair wage. Most of my former assistants have gone on to successful careers in photography. They were all motivated and had talent. Three of them are nationally known advertising or fashion shooters.

          • @BD, I think everyone has their own way of learning. You’re right, creating location portraits with little strobes can be challenging. And you’re right, the light they produce is vastly different than that of a monolight. I have learned this well, and I have actually learned it from reading Strobist, going to workshops, and practicing with all of such equipment.

            I think what you described is one way to learn. I don’t think it’s the only way, however. I certainly respect your opinion, however, I do not have the same opinion that the only way to succeed in the professional photography world is to assist for professional photographers. (If that is not exactly what you were implying, forgive my misconception.) There are many, many professional photographers who are learning the ropes and finding success for themselves in other new and exciting ways.

  13. Rob, make sure this intern’s post makes the PE Hall of Fame. Make sure to forward copy to SM. The best laugh I’ve had in awhile,

  14. I always feel a great sense of irony when I come across ads like this from photographers. On one hand they complain vociferously about how someone is undercutting them, or about “the war on photographers” and on the other they ask everyone else to willingly do the same just to serve them.

  15. About 5 years back I worked for a So Cal photographer who contacted me through a friend, he needed an assistant for a 3 day shoot up in Alaska. He’d craigslisted a 2nd local assistant “intern” who he berated throughout the whole shoot. I heard later the Intern stuffed a .22 in the photogs carry on before dropping him at the airport.

    I’m still laughing

  16. Just because you can get someone to work for you for free doesn’t mean it’s right. McCurry should be embarrassed. Can’t help wondering what some of his illustrious Magnum colleagues and forbears might think about one of their own exploiting up and coming photographers for his own gain. At least Vince will pay the people who work for him. And they’ll probably learn a lot more too.

  17. Hey Rob,

    Fantastic post. Very interesting that your readers lock onto the pay issue of the intern. What is interesting to me is the business model of Laforet vs Steve McCurry. That Laforet is hiring these people to work on his blog, and that McCurry is hiring them for what I asume will be something to do with photography. Vincent wants 3 bodies, and Steve wants one.

    So where and how do you think each photographer is making their money?

    David

    • Donnor Party

      @David, Yup. Also note that Vincent runs soething more akin to a production company producing commercials. Steve M. is a doc shooter. Vastly different outfits, markets, buisness environments.

  18. I would like to know why I hear so many stories about photographers who constantly take advantage of people being the one’s to get hired again and again. After reading a few more stories about this guy I blame all those who put him on a pedestal but don’t know his path to fame and fortune…

    The story about the man who paid for a workshop only to be used in an Apple add by McCurry without his knowledge is unbelievable !

  19. How surprising. David Allan Harvey of magnum, post an ad on FB looking for an assistant in Brasilia. Unpaid but promise lot of fun. Like you would guess, tens of people whining “me! please, take me mister DAH!!”

    Sorry but stupidity is part of being human as you might know…

    • @Yves Choquette, I think you got a few facts wrong regarding DAH’s ad (including the spelling of his name ; ) )

      It was in Rio not Brasilia, and it was paid.
      Here’s what he posted:

      “Wanted:Digi assistant Rio de Janeiro. Now. Long hours, low pay, and very best time of your life. Guaranteed.”

      The person who took the post did mention she had the time of her life and was paid for it.

      Quite different to the McCurry case, I think. Let’s not put all Magnum photographers in the same bag.

      cheers

      nacho

      • @nacho, Hey mister nachos, where do you think Rio is? in China? My spelling might be bad because english not my first language but your geography not really good either. ;o)

        Yves

        • @Yves Choquette, David Alan Harvey is spelled with one l in Alan. Brasilia is a city in Brasil – so I think nacho might have thought you were referring to that city.

        • @Yves Choquette, Hey Yves, take it easy. It wasn’t my intention to offend you. Sorry if I did.

          My geography is probably not the best, but I can tell between Brasilia (Brazil’s capital) and Rio, where I lived for a while.

          Anyway, my point was not to correct your spelling but the fact that you were accusing David Alan Harvey of offering and unpaid job, when that was not the case. By extension you were calling stupid anyone who replied to his ad.

          Cheers,

  20. I wrote about Steve’s workshop in my blog (http://arifiqball.com/blog/2011/03/01/reflections-on-steve-mccurry-myanmar-workshop/). One of his assistants (a wonderful person called Dallas) attended the workshop. I did not ask him personally but was told that he paid for the trip himself (his birthday was during that time) but he ended up working almost all the time and could only accompany us for a few meals and only 2-3 times for shoots.

    I live in Japan and this kind of dedication is not uncommon, but in Japan’s case, one always learns from the Master (i.e. it is a win-win situation) and if you read the feedback from the workshop, the Master here is not a teacher.

    • @Arif, thanks for your blog post, and for being open about your views. Some time ago, a friend of mine complained that MeCurry had taken a long while to reply to his Facebook request. When the King finally responded, he politely “apologized” to my friend, and then promptly invited him to join his FB fan page, because he had already filled his quota of friends. Like a fool, my friend did this, because he likes MeCurry’s work. The “master” continues to posts ads for slave labor. And of course, the intern should feel privileged to work for him. A clear case of an ego, running wild.

  21. Great post! Also, for the record (but not to stir the pot) McCurry has been running this racket for a very long time, I remember seeing these ads on Craigslist years ago. I suspect he has been doing it consistently for 5+ years now.

    I was looking for an internship years ago and I saw his ad. I subsequently found one, unpaid, for nearly 3 years but mine was well worth it as I learned a lot, made some money on shoots that had a budget and found someone I really enjoyed working with.

    I believe the idea of interning for free is wrong, but no one puts a gun to your head to do it. In my case it was a great choice, never regret it for a second.

  22. (Devil’s advocate alert)

    …and still I think people are doing them. (I’m guessing even amongst the criticism, McCurry’s getting some pretty qualified applicants writing him.)

    Remember the Nachtwey one a couple years ago? And didn’t a lot of people whose names are recognized ‘in the biz’ did them also, back in the day?

    Could it be that they’re actually worth something for everybody? A net positive, in some way?

    I’ve never done one, but I’ve often wondered whether I might not have gained skills that would have taken me further along my career arc in a given timeframe.

    I’m open to the idea that unpaid internships might in fact be evil. But unconscionable and embarrassing though they may be, they might also be one way to pay one’s dues.

  23. In a world where photographers working with Getty willingly sign away most of the value of their work is it any wonder that some people are desperate or dumb enough to sign up to work their asses off for Steve McCurry for no money?

    • @john mcd., Note to photographers, to experience radical change for business ‘just quit Getty’

  24. Enough people take advantage of photographers without pros feeding off their own young, it’s despicable, inexcusable and beyond low- and McCurry should be called on it by every professional and industry organization out there of any substance or note (which pretty much tells you how many of those exist).

    Competitive as it was even then, when he was coming up it was a lot more of an open playing field, and he should be striving to give back (a la DAH) instead of sucking out every last, free drop from those who can afford it least. Classic, shameless, predatory behavior. And he does it because he can get away with it.

    Those in position really need to step up and take the necessary steps to speak out, condemn and end this servitude- and if it can’t be done formally on an industry wide basis, then it’s time for anyone and everyone to start calling out and shaming these shameless pricks publicly.

    And if you are naive enough to voluntarily put yourself in such a dubious position- when you finally do wake up and find you got nothing to show for it, go the extra mile and leave these bastards something they’ll long remember for time ill spent. It’s the least one can do.

  25. Past Intern

    This seem to be more than the ‘norm’ in NYC especially in this competitive market. I worked at an internship with a self proclaimed photographer in NYC, we shall name her “A” for now, that had 5 part time free interns that made up her entire business. Each one’s job ranged from retouching to retouching to CREATING ARTWORK for her to creating and updating her blog to oh did I mention retouching? She didn’t pay for lunch or even really allow us to take a lunch if we’re late, and we actually had to pay for our own transportation (subway pass) to get there. 5 people would work of this 1 ikea desk in her living room of the 1 bdrm apartment that she sleeps, eats, shoots, etc etc in, and have to deal with her dead cat in the freezer. If we ask her anything about our work, she throws a fit and says we are disturbing her. Needless to say I didn’t stay too long, but talking with the other 5 interns, they said she goes through waves and waves of interns for the past few years making up her work force. What amazes me is still the amount of people willing to continue to do it after they find out how bs this particular ‘intership’ is!

    • @Past Intern, is this for real .. what in the world of photography is the point of doing that ? Surely commonsense has flown out the window; or desperation reigns supreme.

      • Past Intern

        @Jon, yup 100% real. I felt the mistake of taking on the internship the first day there and got out asap. I felt real bad for the other people that stuck around and actually finished the internship…

  26. Great post..! a knockout letter; someone give Gregory a decent job, if he hasn’t got one by now!!

  27. NYC PHOTO INTERNSHIP POSITION (LONG ISLAND CITY)

    Date: 2011-04-27, 5:28PM EDT
    Reply to: job-sfkr6-2349831949@craigslist.org [Errors when replying to ads?]

    Magnum photographer Steve McCurry has an internship position available in his Long Island City (Queens), NY office.

    REQUIREMENTS:

    The position requires a highly motivated self-starter with a proven track record of excellence.

    Candidates should have photography work experience and be proficient in retouching using Photoshop.

    The ideal candidate should be highly organized, flexible, resourceful and intelligent in their approach to the workplace.

    Requirements: 3-month commitment, full-time availability (9-6), and are currently living in the New York Metro area. Interns are required to help out on weekends when Steve is in town. Applicants must be able to start immediately.

    Qualified and interested applicants should send a detailed resume and three strong references.

    First selection is made based on your skills relevant to our current needs.

    Transportation and lunch stipend is included, but this internship is otherwise unpaid. No phone calls, please.

    Location: LONG ISLAND CITY
    Compensation: Will discuss with qualified applicants.
    This is an internship job
    Principals only. Recruiters, please don’t contact this job poster.
    Please, no phone calls about this job!
    Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.
    PostingID: 2349831949

    • @Steve McCurry,
      Thanks for giving back and responding in such a thoughtful, creative and insightful manner, Steve. Guess this really lays to rest any possible, remaining doubt. And should this added contribution not be you, but the work of a clever impostor/hacker/whatever, and you are simply choosing not to respond in a meaningful manner- well, the same still applies.

    • @Steve McCurry,

      What’s the matter, Steve, Craigslist isn’t yielding the right level of gullible idiots so you’re trolling for fools here too?

  28. how hard, or how seriously are interns going to take their job if it’s unpaid . . ?imagine what kind of blog post or rant or other mischief an unhappy intern could create . . . seems to me that it’s a losing proposition no matter how you slice it. It’s unfair, it’s unethical and it appears to be poor business practice. I’m surprised that a guy like McCurry is actually playing this game . . . I’m sure you’ve checked your sources and this is a legit post!

  29. Wait, did McCurry just post the ad in the comment section???? (two comments up!) Thanks again Rob, always good to get insight into HOW people do what they do.

    t

    • Tom Hood

      @Tom Hood,

      Oh sorry, nevermind. I just realised what an idiot I am for assuming that this was actually Steve McCurry. Of course anyone can post using his name.

  30. Girlphotographer

    In all fairness to state labor departments, they have their hands full at the moment taking down commie-sympathizer murals which don’t convey the right capitalist message.

  31. Interesting, and some predictable albeit justifiable reactions. But assuming the McCurry ad is genuine, isn’t it just the tip of the intern iceberg? People are making a fuss because he’s a high-profile smudger, in the same way as there was a fuss over Nachtwey’s internship offer a year ago. But are there any figures for the number of photo intern posts per year in the US? Or for intern posts in the US media as a whole?

  32. I think any extremes are never any good.

    kudos for the thoughtful pro photogs who see an intern as someone they want to benefit in exchange for some grunt work. at one intership with a nyc photog, he asked me during my one-day-a-week unpaid [i sought] iship what i had learned, and he made sure i learned something each time. i ‘d go to bat 110% for someone like that. it commands loyalty and respect.

    the old days of treating interns like servitude are dead (what i kept hearing sweet old-timers harp about when i got in a few year back that us young cats have it easy), as most of us are learning quite a bit from so many available free-resources and a couple of courses at places like icp or school of visual arts. so that old model of slaving years under pros is no longer relevant.

    most of us are learning the tools of the new digital age on our own, and not so badly, too. i imagine interns checking out the work of pros 30 years ago only on magazines. while today us young photogs can see a ton of work 24 hors a day, and become immdiately influenced by it. while also picking up marketing and business-know-how nuggets from places like ’tis here ap.

    so my generation has more resources at our disposal to learn more and faster and cut the learning curve substantially that the old timers. we are truly blessed and goddammed lucky if you ask me. still, i learned more on that one-day a week 3 month iship that i had been able to learn on my own for a couple of years.

    as a young photog, i really believe it is still very valuable to intern, even if it is unpaid. BUT… my motto is i expect to learn something new each time i am there, or the iship has no worth or interest for me. so for all these reasons a good chunk in my generation is less inclined, at least those of us who really are gearing up for making some type of living out of this artform, to become abused servants.

    it is the young photog responsibility to not enter abusive relatioships, and kudos to Rob for educating us on this issue. the more you old guys set decent standards for those of us who are following in your footsteps, then better we can recapture some of our industry’s strength.

    as a young photog, i’d give an eye, cook, and clean shop and intern free for a couple of days for someone like miles aldridge or steven klein. because i know very clearly what my objectives are with photography, even as i am still developing a voice. why? because there is just no replacement for a master in any craft, and an apprenticeship truly teaches an apprentice in ways we could never manage on our own, or any school. still, i would hold even them to some decent standards, and made sure they knew i was expecting some knowledge in return.

    now, honestly, keeping things simple and unemetional always work best. the whole iship thingy is like dating a new gal. you take her out on a few dates and you’ll know if you’ll have a good relationship or not, and viceversa.

    anyway. yeah.

  33. When my sister told me she wanted to work in the movies, I told her she was dreaming. She had no experience and no qualifications. I told her that the most famous and connected people’s children can’t get jobs in hollywood and that she would have a better chance walking on as an major league pitcher …

    Fortunately, she did not listen to me. Instead she wrote a simple letter and scattered it throughout the industry – “I have no experience but want to learn. I will work for free and I make a killer latte.” Fast forward 20 years and she is one of the top casting agents in the Hollywood.

    The lesson here is that there are no rules. It is an individuals decision weather or not to pursue an opportunity. It is impossible to predict the outcome.

    • Michael Harding

      @Mark Katzman,

      Your sister is obviously dedicated and talented – I suspect she would have got there anyway. Twenty years ago, working for free was a novel idea. Now it’s just typical, expected.

      Ultimately, this strategy can only devalues all our work…I know what my day rate is today and what it used to be.

      And why…

  34. Before we were married, my wife took an unpaid internship with Lauren Greenfield after finishing school at Brooks. As a pro, my future wife listed me as a reference . I was interviewed by Lauren’s husband, Frank, who told me that Lauren was very dedicated to the “learning” process for interns. My wife’s “learning” experience consisted of running errands around L.A.: going to Canon, picking up drycleaning, buying cough drops, etc.

    Her only photo related task included transcribing audio from a video interview from a project that Lauren had shot and keywording. So she learned the very valuable skills of typing and negotiating LA traffic.

    Interns were not allowed to be present at a photo shoot! Too distracting. You must sit at the computer and transcribe.

    Needless to say, I was very disappointed that I had any part in her involvement with this “work” experience and was relieved when she left. At the time they were looking for three more unpaid interns to transcribe video.

    Internships, paid or unpaid (I did an unpaid one at a big city newspaper while in college) are for learning a skill, NOT for free labor for menial tasks that you don’t want to pay for or do yourself.

    I wanted to report them to the California Dept of Labor, but she wouldn’t let me. We had mostly forgotten the experience until we read the blog post this morning. Good one, Rob.

    • @Michael, Unfortunately I’ve heard stories like this from numerous of her interns, and horror stories about other photographers. Having interns perform the menial tasks you think you’re too good/busy to perform yourself is wrong. Hire a personal assistant for those things. Interns are there to learn how to become photographers not how many sugars you like in your latte. It’s the misuse of these individuals that give other photographers a bad rap when they are really looking for interns to work fairly.

  35. As a photographer myself I too use unpaid interns though I always make sure they are fed. I require them to come once or twice a week for the hours they can spare. I don’t want them to miss out on school plus I’m understanding of their own paid work they require to do. When I have a paying gig I’ll use them as a paid assistant (depending on their knowledge) or allow them to come observe. Sure there are times when the task at hand is boring ie photoshop but photographers don’t shoot everyday and a lot of what goes into what we do is actually boring computer work. But we do it together.

    I’ve come under criticism in the past for not paying my interns, that this is akin to slavery but in my defense (and probably many other decent photographers out there) there are other ways to pay an intern. For example I once had a girl come from London for 2 months and she lived with me for free in my NY apartment (plus she was not expected to work for me everyday of the week). That’s a mighty big saving for her. I’ve used miles to bring interns with me on shoots in other cities to observe. And I always allow them to borrow gear so they don’t have to pay for rentals. So yes, no money is exchanging hands but I think between the other perks and knowledge I impart on them it’s a pretty decent pay off.

    On the same token, interns, don’t be silly. If you feel you’re being taken advantage of, leave. Tell that photographer to take this job and shove it because you certainly won’t have gained any useful skills after those 3 months time. Go find a photographer you really like their work but if you don’t feel comfortable with the situation there is no shame in telling that person that this isn’t what you signed up for.

    Finally, it works both ways. I’ve taken on interns who have failed to show up without calling me or have gone awol entirely. If you want to be given real tasks and be trusted by the photographer you really need to earn it and that’s as simple as being punctual and responsible. I’m a one-woman show and to have an intern actually can be a huge time sucker as I have to stop what I’m doing to show them the ropes. That said I find it works best when photographer and intern are mutually respectful of each other and each others time.

  36. We stopped doing unpaid internships because it tended to result in only kids from privileged backgrounds whose parents could pay their living expenses. Their work ethic was almost always inferior to the folks who had actually had to work before in their lives.

    • Mike Moss

      @craig, You bring up a damn good point because the majority of internet commentary in regards to “working for free” seems to come from the stereotypical Marxist viewpoint of exploitation of the proletariat bla bla bla. But my experience is that it’s only the rich kids or people supported by their bourgeoisie families that get to fill these types of positions. Paid assistants often have similar backgrounds because the pay is so low and work often sporadic that it can’t usually be relied upon to meet basic needs.

      • @Mike Moss,

        Yep. A lot of e-mails we get are from art school grads from the same sort of background. Personally I don’t care what someone’s education is as none of the programs actually teaches how it goes in the real world, and you don’t need a photo degree to compete (sorry…). I’d rather teach a person with a solid reliable ethic who wants to learn the ropes and doesn’t mind carrying cases and sometimes sweeping the studio floor. After all, that’s what I do when we’re between jobs…

      • @Mike Moss,

        And you’re totally right about assistants too. Every rung in the ladder gets harder hit by the recession the lower you go… they never had it easy before, but when work dropped to less than a day per week, how could they pay their living by assisting? I try to help out whenever I have a decent budget but there’s only so much one can do. It’s been hard holding on to the good crew.

    • @JMG, actually the text for the internship is pretty much identical to one that McCurry has been issuing for many, many years.

  37. to Answer Rob’s question: “grade footage (whatever that means)”

    From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_grading

    “Colour grading is the process of altering and enhancing the color of a motion picture, television image, or still image either electronically, photo-chemically or digitally.”

    In other words it is post shoot processing. The job of making what the camera and/or medium records end up looking the way the photographer, videographer, or director wants it too. This can include matching the results from multiple takes and possibly multiple cameras to appear to be part of a emotionally resonant and aesthetically continuous final piece.
    Based on my experience who used to assist many years ago and as someone who now ires assistants regularly, the job of an assistant is to to do just that : assist the person who are working for get their job done. If you learn anything that will be useful to you in your own career later so much the better. Also those who who take the job seriously and dedicate themselves to it tend to get more out of the process — but it really depends on who the photographer is that you go to work for. The other aspect is that after you assist someone you should really try to kill off what ever obvious influence their visual style has infected your own sense of the way things should look. If you worked for a bad egg their manner of dealing with people also needs to be tossed.

    If you are dealing with McCurry’s entire archive including the outtakes I suspect there is a great deal to learn about why one frame is so much better than the others and there may be good connections to be made. Same with LaForet.

    I get offers regularly from people who want to assist for free. I never take them up on it for three very pragmatic reasons:

    — If I am not paying them I have virtually no say over how they will behave and all of their actions are a reflection on me.

    — I will have to worry that they will show up on time or be reliable. After all they are there of their own volition. Trust is earned. Mark Katzman’s sister obviously is a highly motivated person.

    — In case, God forbid, something bad happens, I incur a lot of liability.

  38. Internships (as I’ve seen them put to practice) are a prime example of the duplicitous, short-sighted nature of our industry. How often do we hear photographers piss and moan about being undercut by some student/newb/colleague/what-have-you, only to turn around and hunt for free/lowball labor? Sure, you want to maximise profit… and that is fine for the short run. However, there is an unspoken cause and effect in play. You’ve just taught your intern that it is ok to give away their time, for a foot in the door. Seriously people, you can’t have it both ways.

    To those who would give away their time: If you don’t have to spine to command value for your time, to a photographer, how can you expect to get anywhere with an art buyer? When you agree to work “for the experience”, what you are saying is: “My service is worthless”. Everyone’s time has value… even yours. If you’re always bent over, they’ll never see your face.

  39. Michael Harding

    The thing I find baffling is why anyone at their level would be advertising on Craigslist? Here in the UK there is an excellent professional photographer’s association dedicated to assisting young people into the industry, and on an ethical footing. In the US, I know of two similar associations.

    A weird move on both of their parts, I think.

    • Donnor Party

      @Michael Harding, those organizations have limited use in the US.

      • Michael Harding

        @Donnor Party,

        Really? Perhaps you haven’t been in touch with ASMP? (http://asmp.org/) They have various programmes that I feel are very helpful to photographer development.
        Here in the UK, the AoP (http://home.the-aop.org/) certainly do help younger photographers into the business.

        Anyway, folks, pay peanuts, get monkeys.

        Value your work, behave professionally and get the respect you deserve.

        • Donnar Party

          @Michael Harding, I have. Much better 10 years ago. The members make it what is is, and what it isn’t.

          I agree with your statement “Anyway, folks, pay peanuts, get monkeys.Value your work, behave professionally and get the respect you deserve.”

          Fantastic.

        • @Michael Harding, I also like your statement on monkeys who accept peanuts, Mr. Harding.

  40. Donnor Party

    One thing to keep in mind is that Steve McCurry’s generation is coming from a different place. When they were young NYC was cheap, a dump in SoHo was $90 bucks a month. Pizza was .50 cents a slice. I remember stealing electricity from Con Ed using my gaffer skills. People had low or no expensis, nobody was whoring for an Apple product that required a data plan. That world is gone.

    I don’t fault McCurry for using unpaid interns for basic photoshop work, mainly because YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE THE “INTERNSHIP”. Its a raw deal, but one you don’t have to take.

    • @Donnor Party, Well I don’t know about 90 peanuts a month, but lofts that sell for multi millions today probably went for about $50,000 in the 60s. Times have truly changed, Party Man.

      • Donnor Party

        @Paul, When I was a kid, in the 70’s, in New York, my parents’ friends squated in all those lofts west of 6th Avenue. any of them held on to them, and aquired title to them, and still live there. In the 60’s those lofts were factories or warehouses. Two bedrooms were $90 a month, even less. Our apartment on Thompson and Spring in what is now SoHo was $90 a month. New York was great when it was cheap and existential. Even the 90’s were great. Now its just shopping.

        • @Donnor Party, those prices are unbelievable. And the meat market district has gone through a real gentrification the last 20 years, too. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, with lotsa extra cheese, thrown in for free.

    • @Donnor Party, I don’t fault anybody for looking out for number one, but I do fault them quite a bit for breaking the law. What he is doing is illegal, and that’s the long, short and median of it.

      • Donnor Party

        @MarcW, I don’t know if we can say with any kind of certainty that what McC. is doing is a violation of any labor laws. It may be, it may not be. Some people report an educational experience, some don’t.

  41. A Steve Intern

    As a former McCurry intern I am so glad to see this issue being addressed. His typical ‘photo-related’ tasks were unappealing to say the least. These included reorganizing his three 5th Ave apartments where he hoarded what seemed like everything he’s ever owned. My personal favorite was the enormous collection of Afghan girl paintings, drawings and miscellanea that we would endless shuffle around until he got tired of directing. The biggest disappointment was learning that such a well respected image maker is so disconnected to reality and has a general disdain for the people he shoots.
    I did, however, learn that as a photo rockstar you can do whatever you want. I think of him as the Terry Richardson of photo journalism. But alas…his name looks good on your resumé.

    • @A Steve Intern,

      Who in this business actually has a resume? I’ve never had a client ask for one.

      Believe me, nobody that matters cares who one has interned for. I’d rather work for a noble but lesser known person than a famous crazy. One has more useful knowledge in reality than the other.

      • @craig, we’ve all interned for “crazies.” We learn from it and move on in our collection of life experiences as fledglings. When we are established, it’s a good story to tell.

        • @AC,

          haha I’m well established :) I never interned for anyone crazy. I assisted (briefly) a couple of assholes, but that comes with the territory.

          • @craig,

            I assisted for three people in my early years. Two were excellent teachers and very fine photographers. One was a total coke fiend who was a great bullshitter who could not light his way out of a paper bag. But who did I learn most from? The coke fiend. I learned what not to do, I learned how to do everything wrong and I applied those lessons to my fledgling business. From day one I have always treated assistants fairly, paid my bills on time, treated crew to meals on my own dime and upgraded crew and clients on long flights with my FF miles. Small things but important because this is a service business. The coke fiend was a total and complete Ahole who lost his business and I heard his marriage. It was unfortunate but he created his own world. So, if you work for a jerk, there are lessons to be learned and carried forward. You learn what not to do and frankly those lessons helped me more than any other. Just a thought.

  42. Alas, Overseas in Paris – France we can find also the same kind of one time life “offer” http://paris.en.craigslist.org/med/2359551157.html
    very funny to mention that apart being a young, dynamic and diligent lad, ‘knowledge of Digital Photography, advanced knowledge of Mac, Photoshop, Capture One, HMI Flash Units and solid Photo Retouching skills are REQUIRED. ” as they wrote.
    They ommit to mention that depressing the button camera is forbidden because you could be to close to be the real owner of the copyright…

  43. Isn’t there something to be said for paying one’s dues, the way the maestros did, in the time before their time?

    Just sayin’.

    • Past Intern

      @AC, there’s definitely no wrong in paying your dues. But if you be smart about it and have the option of skipping that process, would you still continue to do a bs intern for free?

  44. I used to work at a very large company with billions in the bank, and the legal dept. there brought on a law student as a summer intern and didn’t pay him. I couldn’t believe it, but he seemed happy enough to beef up his resume.

  45. Need to generate some of your own pocket change while saving famous photographers a bundle by working free for them? Shoot and sell microstock during your free time.

  46. Dallas Raines

    Arif, thank you for your kind words about me, but I’m afraid you are misinformed on several points. I am a salaried employee, and being given the opportunity to travel to Burma with the expedition was a special favor from Steve, and a great privilege for me. Since I was “on the clock”, what time I did find to accompany participants to meals and shoots was really just a very nice fringe benefit. Steve paid for all my travel, meals, lodging and salary during my time in Burma.

    As a point in fact, I started my relationship with Steve McCurry Studios as an unpaid intern. This was a great option for me to get my foot in the door at the time, and I recognized it as a real opportunity to prove my worth, drive and ambition to a proven professional. After several months of interning I was offered a position in the company, one which I gladly accepted. Even had I not been given this opportunity, I can confidently say that I would have been happy with my choice to intern with Steve. This is a rare opportunity for young, determined photographers like myself a chance to get “in” with what is oftentimes a very closed industry. The fact remains that this is a completely voluntary program, and has helped many people like myself get a leg up in the field.

    I wish some of these issues with the expedition had been addressed at the time – when we could have done something to rectify the situation. I feel like I made a special effort to reach out to everyone during the trip, and made myself open to questions and complaints. With only a few minor exceptions, no one expressed any concerns to me about the direction or approach of the workshop, and to my view everyone was very positive and happy at the conclusion. I’m sorry this was not the case for you, but I wish you had said something at the time, when we could have addressed the issue.

    • Dallas, good to hear from you and I appreciate your detailed reply and I am really glad you were paid for the whole trip since you worked very hard and tried to help everyone with their photos. It seems like this intern position would then report to you and your warm personality suggests that you would take care of the intern and give them a positive experience and I hope it will work out for the intern the same way it did for you.

      Regarding the workshop, I was not alone in how I felt (and what I conveyed at the time to the organizer and which resulted in an adjustment on the last day I was with the group), only perhaps I was the only one brave/stupid enough to write about it and risk comments (although many have also written to agree with me). Seems others tried as well. To quote another participant from the second workshop “We tried everything sticking to his heels, being relentless with questions, questioning, probing etc etc and expect for a few gleamers of advice ….nothing. In the end there were some spectacular, screaming fights with Steve shouting.. THIS IS MY F*”+ing WORKSHOP and I’LL F**!!ing RUN IT HOW I WANT!!!”. Enough said, I still respect Steve as an established photographer.

  47. deardorf

    it seems like only “Famous photographers” are taking advantage of people by not paying them. and a few cheap schmucks that are losers types……
    even avedon offered $90 per week with no overtime but at least it was paid….
    you are a chump if you work for free for a famous photographer today….
    unless your soooo special and have a privileged family to support you for the rest of your adult life. and are tragically desperate to be a cool photographer and blow up like your famous boss……even a rich kid should know better….

    never work for Free.

  48. ResoL101

    @ Rys…

    I feel you. I’m currently dumping $125k into a Visual Comm degree at SCAD and I’ve encountered the exact same thing. I have had some wonderful redo’s with some of my current professors…but for the most part I’m leaning more and more on just packing a backpack full of Diet Mountain Dews, my gear and Slim Jims… and finding out about it all on my own. $125K buys a sweet effing boarding pass.

  49. Anonymous Intern

    Wow, well this is a long comment thread, but I’d like throw something out there.

    This past summer I worked for a major magazine under a major publisher. I moved myself over a thousand miles for the duration of the internship and worked 20 hours most weeks, by the end I went in almost 40 hrs a week. I shot studio work and did menial photo gathering (calling pr reps, etc).

    Should I have gotten paid for this? At least minimum wage? I absolutely appreciate the experience given, especially since they published and credited me. I’m thinking of returning to this magazine after I graduate – but – on what terms? What kind of timeline towards employment should I be outlining? A year?

    Any advice is highly appreciated.

    • @Anonymous Intern, I really think your drive and dedication are amazing. However, I do NOT think you should have interned under those conditions, and I also think what the magazine did was unethical and illegal. For that reason alone I do not think you should consider working for them in the future.

  50. Andre Friedmann

    I can name three of the great Avedon’s former assistants who are/were in the business: the great Hiro, the darn good MacWeeney, and the pretty good Lewin. Avedon had hundreds and hundreds of others. Ditto Penn.
    The history of commercial photography since WW2 makes clear that assisting is, mostly, the kiss of death. Free internships are no improvement.

  51. The only people this guy pays are the poor objects of his photography, who are mishandled and rudely treated as disposable models.
    He’s a scumbag who makes babies cries for a good snap.