According to Wikipedia, “Sustainability is the capacity to endure. For humans, sustainability is the long-term maintenance of responsibility, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions, and encompasses the concept of stewardship, the responsible management of resource use. In ecology, sustainability describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time, a necessary precondition for the well-being of humans and other organisms.
Human sustainability interfaces with economics through the voluntary trade consequences of economic activity. Moving towards sustainability is also a social challenge that entails, among other factors, international and national law, urban planning and transport, local and individual lifestyles and ethical consumerism. Ways of living more sustainably can take many forms from controlling living conditions (e.g., ecovillages, eco-municipalities and sustainable cities), to reappraising work practices (e.g., using permaculture, green building, sustainable agriculture), or developing new technologies that reduce the consumption of resources.”
I’ve lost count of the requests I get from magazines seeking to educate and inform the public on the popular topic of sustainable architecture. We simply love your images but as “we’re a not-for-profit publication” I’m afraid we don’t have a budget for licensing content we publish. So can you just give them to us for nothing? Of course we’d like you to sign this release to allow us use of the images for our printed edition, our electronic edition and also for the downloadable subscription edition archived on our website. Then there’s our Flickr pool, our Facebook page and our Twitter feed. We’ll even credit you!
So tell me, I ask, do you get your electricity for free, did the telephone company just hook up the line you’re calling me from, does the printer donate the paper and his time, does the delivery guy get by on fresh air? Are you working there for nothing? (awkward sound of crickets chirping on the end of the line…)
Because that is exactly what you’re asking me to do.
Like any business, photographers have operating costs too. We’re not making any profit until we meet those basic operating costs. Sending out our work for use by others, particularly when that use generates income (whether directly through sales, or indirectly through advertising click throughs) for somebody else, is tantamount to financial suicide. Strangely, a photo credit doesn’t curry much favour with my banker.
In a practical sense, I wonder how this business model would be greeted at the local grocery store?
Publisher – “I’ll have that carton of milk please”
Grocer – “That’ll be $2.50 thanks.”
Publisher – “Tell you what… I’ll just take it for nothing, shall I? But rest assured, I’ll tell everyone I meet where I got the milk. It’ll be such great exposure for you”
Grocer – “Are you out of your fu%#@*g mind?”
By way of illustration, I was recently forwarded this book cover by an architect client, asking if I’d licensed this usage. Neither the architect or the project, which was photographed seven years ago, had been credited and he was quite understandably bothered by this omission. While I had been credited with the image, I’d not been contacted about the use and of course, had received no compensation for the use on the cover. Further investigation revealed that the image had been passed from one publisher to another (and possibly to another). My feeling is that the architect may have signed a release for a single use several years ago that has somehow been exploited by the original publisher.
Private Residence, Inverness, California Studios Architecture
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for supporting the notion of green technology, of environmentally responsible design, of a better and mutually beneficial world. I just don’t think I should be the only one subsidizing it. So when people tell me that they are pursuing the idea of sustainable architecture, I’ve taken to responding that I’m pursuing the idea of sustainable architectural photography.
In my own modest way, I too, am going for green.