Articulating Attribution / by Maria Spadafora

My friends know that each time a newspaper, or whatever, publishes one of my photos without crediting me, I have a little rant. I may come across a bit diva, but it matters. The words are attributed to their author, so why not the images?

I’ve been reliably informed by someone who used to work in newspapers that the press have become so sloppy and complacent (unprofessional) that photographers are sending them big bills. I haven’t dared do this. Yet.  A few years ago an organisation I know created a flier using an image downloaded (stolen) from the internet. We’ve all probably done that – downloaded pictures then shared them on social media without acknowledgement, but in this instance the organisation in question were sent a bill for around £1000. The biggest gripe, legally, was that it was being used to promote a public event that people had to pay for, hence they were potentially profiting from what boils down to naïve theft. (They pleaded ignorance, argued their case as a small charity and got the bill reduced).

I’ve had people Tweet my Instagram photos pretending they took them. I’ve had the Yorkshire Evening Post Tweet my photo then credit it to someone else (and when I messaged them, they just removed it – no apology or reply). Sometimes it’s carelessness, like those who misspell my name (well, it is foreign, and who can be arsed double checking, right?) but mostly it boils down to a lack of regard and professionalism. Local publications and newspapers are the worst. You know those students who make a short film and think they’re an auteur, the credits reading as a repetition of their name? Bradford Review is like that. Ego-tastic authors, but no photography credits for other contributors.

My work as a photographer varies. I do paid work covering events and performances, and in one instance, where my pictures were used as part of a longer project, I’ve been paid a ‘future use’ fee as well as my session rate. That’s because they are a professional company in every sense of the word. But I also do a lot of things for free, and I do this happily. There’s the old adage ‘it’s good exposure’ but most of all, it’s because I know so many brilliant people, and I value the work they create. Being part of the team on something everyone feels proud of matters way more than money. Plus I learn so much from every project I do and really value the opportunities I'm given.

Most recently one of my images was used as the cover of a book published by Bloomsbury. A book! But it was only credited to the cover designer, and not me. So, something that was a big deal for me, something that I wasn’t paid my usual freelance fee for, that should have been really exciting, has felt like a kick in the teeth. And now goes in my ‘don’t bother showing the grandchildren one day’ pile.

That expression ‘credit where it’s due’ – it matters. It’s a sense of pride and achievement. It’s an acknowledgement of your time and your contribution. It’s something you scrapbook and look back on. It’s a thank-you.

And we all need to say thank-you more often. That person who helped you put a funding application together, and two years later you made the work? You need to acknowledge them. That person who made you cups of tea whilst you were sweating over your schedule? You need to acknowledge them.  That person who simply helped you string a brilliant blurb together because you had brain freeze? It may have only been a paragraph, but you still need to acknowledge them.

It’s only ‘good exposure’ if people know you did it. And a simple, genuine ‘thank-you’ goes such a long way.

Oh, and a Tweet (afterthought) doesn’t cut it.