10 days ago a story I shot over a period of around nine months was published online in my latest Buzzfeed article.
What followed was complete madness. I’ve written and photographed stories for Buzzfeed before, and of course many other outlets, and my images have accompanied many languages, but this was my first experience of having a story of mine ‘breaking the internet’ as a friend put it.
Yes the story is about refugees, yes it’s about LGBTI rights, both of which are somewhat hot topics these days, but also both things I have documented at my own expense and time for more than the past seven years, before hashtag trends, and before masses of volunteers went to Greek islands to make new arrivals tea and give hugs.
What irritated me more than anything was that the stories I work on about LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees that don’t have a happy ending, don’t end up getting attention like this one did, don’t get shared, and don’t move people to tears as this apparently did. For me, the story of Omar and Nader was the happiest, lightest one I’d shot in a while, especially on the LGBTI refugee related work I do, a project I’ve called Kutmaan. They couple had hard times, and they were both struggling, but aren’t we all? After all, they had both been given a new life in Norway and neither of them had to make the arduous and life threatening trip by sea and land. I hope the more political points of this story came across, and not just the cheesy romantic love story.
Then, the journalists, editors and copycats came and the dirty underworld of tabloid journalism vomited over my gmail and facebook inboxes. “Great story, I’m writing about the couple too and wondered if we can get the photos.” Firstly, how can you write about people you’re not interviewing and haven’t met, and secondly, when you say, “we don’t have budget for photography” I HAVE to proudly reply to inform you, “then you don’t have photographs!”
I had 24 requests from people who were looking to rewrite my story, publish it under their name, and worst of all expected the photographs I’d taken in two countries over nine months for FREE. There were also a couple that were willing to pay, but usually only after lots of negotiation.
This rant it to say, WHAT THE FUCK do you expect this industry to look like in five years, when photojournalism (and photography more broadly) is seen as disposable, free, and not worthy of paying for? You all seemed to like this story, and if you want more like it, and more international journalism, then you’ll have to pay for it; flights aren’t free, I have rent. I have exactly £17.52 in my bank account as I write, plus I’m on a debt repayment scheme for the loans I took in the past for equipment upgrades, etc. Seems like the photographers are disposable even though the photographs themselves are loved and cared for.
This of course isn’t a new revelation, or something particular to me, but it was interesting to see the sheer number of requests, and the shamelessness when asking for my WORK for free. Considering that I did this story singlehandedly, then someone, somewhere wants to put their name to it, and then rub my face in it, it was all rubbing me up the wrong way indeed. To all of you who sent me those emails asking for free photography, I say BOLLOCKS TO YOU.
This blog seems to have become a venting platform, but I think we should all be honest about the sad state of this industry, and not be afraid to speak out. The next post will be much more optimistic, hopefully…
My edit of this Syrian love story can be found here: www.bradleysecker.com/lovewins