Thursday, November 15, 2012

That photo, and the story so far

Two weeks ago, I photographed the Patriot Gala, which is an annual gala in Charlotte to benefit veterans of the military and their families. I soon discovered that there were six other photographers at the event, and they all were prowling the entrance to the event. I spent much of my time in the back part of the country club, trying to get photos for the Charlotte Observer that looked different than what everyone else was taking.

As I was getting ready to leave, I made one last look around the main dining hall. Recognizing someone in a group of five that was huddled together, I introduced myself, and got the group to pose for a photo. I soon realized that among the group was a local author, who had recently written a biography about a decorated US General and current CIA head. The author recognized me from photographing her at another event. After the group photos were done, the author and I talked briefly, and I took photos of her with her husband, who had also been in the group pics. 

The author gave me her card, and I promised to send jpegs of the pics. I did so the following week, and I received a very nice email from the author on November 8th. The following day, I was returning from a trip to South Carolina when I heard that the subject of her biography had resigned from the CIA, citing an extra-marital affair. Wow, I thought. What will that mean for the book? A few minutes later, it was announced that the author had been revealed as the one involved in the affair. I was stunned. I also knew that the Observer was posting my Patriot Gala pics that same afternoon. I wonder if anyone will find the pics, I thought to myself.

The following morning, I woke up to an email from the New York Post. They wanted to buy outright any and all of my photos of the author. I initially said yes, as the money was remarkably good. However, I soon began to have second thoughts. I wasn't used to making deals like this, and what would the Observer say? Still, I was prepared to go through with it. That evening, while photographing a gospel music event when I happened to check my email. The Post was contacting me in a panic, as other outlets had begun to post my photos. Complicating the matter was that I had left my cellphone at home, and could not call back or email the Post. I ran home, found my cellphone, and adjusted the contract to just be a purchase of one photo, and one-time usage. A good deal less money, yes, but in the long run, I think it was for the best.

As it turned out, many outlets had found the Observer pics. The Observer themselves put the photos on the front page of their Sunday paper, a rarity for a social event pic. In the meantime, major newspapers such as the NY Daily News, London Daily Mail, and other websites have since grabbed the pic, and published it. The irony is that while they did use the photo without purchasing it from myself or the Observer, all of the sites did credit me, which has allowed me to track the photo's usage. The photo has also been sold via Getty, which has a deal with the corporation that owns the Observer. This was also news to me.

So far, photos has been purchased by the NY Post, NBC, and People Magazine, who also interviewed me about photographing the author. And I appreciate their patronage, and willingness to buy the photo from me directly. The Observer has also confirmed that I do own the photos, which I appreciate. The other newspapers I mentioned will receive invoices from me shortly. Will I get paid from them? I don't know. But all I can do is try. This experience has taught me a lot about how the media works now, and how images and information can travel faster than you can hold it back.

Do I feel guilty about selling a photo that's related to an international scandal? Yes, a little bit. I got into photography because I wanted to take photos, not to be a part of what can amount to high-tech rubbernecking. But if I don't, other people will profit from my reticence. That's not an excuse, that's reality, and it's online for all to see. But I am being choosy about my options. What I do hope, when all the cameras go away, and the media moves on to other matters, if that the people involved  on all sides of this can put their lives back together. Sooner or later, when the fame or infamy fades, you're left with just yourself, and what you want (and need) to do to get on with the rest of your life. And I hope they do.
-Daniel Coston
November 15, 2012

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