I have wanted to write about this for some time but I have put off doing it because this is a tough one to tackle. Today I’ve decided to give it a shot while I’m waiting for the sun to rise.
There are many approaches to ownership in art and in photography in particular. Some people share their images freely and don’t let themselves be bothered about other people using them, whereas others don’t even want to post their photos online in the fear of being ripped off or imitated. My personal view on this lies somewhere in the middle. I want to show my work online but I don’t want people to use them for their own purposes without asking me. However, it has taken me a long time to figure out where to stand on these issues. I’ve found myself going through many questions such as ‘Does posting images online ruin my chances of showing them in an exhibition?’, ‘Do I need to be sure that people don’t use my images for their own purposes?’, ‘If someone wants to buy any of my images, what is it that I am selling them – the ownership of that photo, a copy of that photo or the rights to that photo?’
I started posting my images on Flickr two years ago, since then I’ve gone through many ideas and through trial and error found my own way of relating to the questions above. I upload only small pictures with low resolution and I add my watermark on the photos. I know the watermark can be removed and the images reconstructed but I doubt if the quality is the same in large prints because that is what I sell. I’ve made the watermark translucent so that in my most recent images it is hardly noticeable. I’ve noticed some people don’t like watermarks and to be honest, they do bother me as well. Still, for me watermarking means claiming the ownership of the photo and letting everyone know that it belongs to me and no one else is allowed to use it. It is a bit like writing your name on your cup in a party to tell everyone else not to use it. The world today is flooded with images and many people have no idea whatsoever about copyright laws, not to mention decency to respect moral ownership. Moreover, finding our way to cope with social media makes many people confront these issues for the first time, not thinking about the consequences. And I find it unfair to assume that they do, unless I state it clearly in my image: this one belongs to me, not to you. And still if someone does not understand or does not want to understand, I have made sure it will not ruin my chances of showing my images in an exhibition or selling large unique prints to customers, because the images that are online are so small. And most importantly, that way I can get only the positive out of being visible in social media, not having to chase the bad guys.
Yesterday I friend asked me if there is a photo that I would not sell. I told her ‘no’. The images that I sell are large unique prints (80x50cm or larger) mounted on aluminum and signed. I sell a copy of the image, not the rights to the image, but the copy is a unique piece. I still have the ownership of the files and I can look at them anytime and post them online. In a sense then I guess I’m selling a promise, a promise of a unique art work. And in that sense I guess I should have answered my friend that ‘yes, the ones that I’ve already sold’. The idea of any of my photos can easily be imitated, but as anyone who has ever tried that knows, it does not work that way. The light is different in any given time and place, and the cameras can be adjusted in innumerable ways. Having just sold four pieces without any marketing makes me confident that the way I’ve figured it out might just work.
With all this said I have to conclude that selling really is not my main goal in photography. I have always liked to be out in the forest and take pictures, making art of what nature provides has evolved on its own and the need to sell prints has emerged from the outside. Navigating in the social media with all this is not always easy and finding my way of doing that has taken me a long time. I hope this post will help some of you in your own path finding.