Anyone trying to sell an image to the commercial market has learned the ugly truth: the difference between selling an “editorial” image and a “commercial” image is about 50 times the price. What makes the same image “editorial” instead of “commercial”? The absence of property and model releases.
The recent demand for “released” images is a function of litigation. Not actual litigation, mind you, but the threat of litigation. Once upon a time, a person who chose to appear in public accepted that their conduct was public. No more. The aura of assumed “privacy” travels like a putrid cloud, no matter where a person goes.
The result is the relegation of documentary images to the unprofitable “editorial” category, and the rise of abstract, faceless, or hyper-cropped images. In a wide swath of commercial images we no longer see identifiable faces, or the brands, logos, and places that inform the story of that subject’s existence. A generation’s moments and context has been sanitized and neutered. A generation of expressions is going unrecorded by the very professionals who have the skill to document them best.
George Kelly summarized the choices and decision that make up how we perceive and understand our fellow humans: “what a person really is [is] an abstraction of a series of events.” (A Theory of Personality at 125.) More specific to photography, Cartier-Bresson likewise explained:
Man’s continuity somehow comes through all the external things that constitute him … . If the photographer is to have a chance of achieving a true reflection of a person’s world—which is much outside him as inside him—it is necessary that the subject of the portrait should be in a situation normal to him. We must respect the atmosphere which surrounds the human being, and integrate into the portrait the individuals’ habitat … .
(The Mind’s Eye at 30.)
A person’s “habitat” includes the logos and places with which a person associates, as well as his face. Absent an incentive for professionals to document our public lives, we will lose our record of humanity and the history of our time to those least motivated to record it objectively.
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