What Happened to Attribution?

English: Logo of LIFE magazine.
English: Logo of LIFE magazine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We lost one of the icons of photojournalism last week, Bill Eppridge.  If you haven’t heard of his name, then surely you have seen his photographs.  One of his photographs, a black & white image of the lifeless body of Senator Robert Kennedy on the floor of a hotel kitchen after he had been murdered, has become one of the signature images of the 1960’s. It has been etched into my memory since the first time I saw it in 1968.

Bill was one of his generation’s greatest photojournalists.  His images graced the pages of Life Magazine, documenting the tumultuous decade of the ‘60’s.  His colleagues at Life at that time included notables such as Alfred Eisenstaedt, George Silk, Paul Schutzer, Eve Arnold and Bob Gomel.  I know that because I used to pour over our weekly copy of Life Magazine and I saw their names printed under their photographs.

Imagine that, a photographer’s credit appearing under their image. I say that sarcastically because nowadays photographers’ credits seem to have all but disappeared.  If an image (especially a stock image) is credited in a magazine, many times it will only say “Getty Images” or “AP”.  Why is that?  It doesn’t cost the magazine any more money to credit the photographer who shot it – nor does it take anything away from Getty or AP.  Why not credit an image  ie: photographer name/Getty Images?  When and why did someone somewhere at Getty or a publishing house decide to omit a photographer’s name?

It seems to me, that in the virtual world we live in, where trust and authenticity has given way to blurred or hidden identities, we would want to know who the person was that took the picture we are looking at.  We all know a corporation didn’t go out and shoot it – sometimes putting their life on the line.

As a photographer, I insert a clause in my contracts that states that  a penalty will be charged if my credit is omitted. That is if it’s my contract, but too many times stock photo agencies don’t require a photographer’s credit and in fact don’t seem to want it.  Why?  I would love to know why. I also wonder if this new precedent will affect our future photographic archives by making them less tangible, less personal.  That would be a tragedy.  What makes an image linger in our minds, decades after a picture is taken is that it makes the captured moment – real.  I can assure you that when a photographer decides which moment to capture, it’s about as real and personal as it gets.  Why not give credit to that moment and that photographer who captured it? Don’t you think that future generations will appreciate it if we do?


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