A small controversy concerning a great photographer who apparently (if the stories are to be believed) quite often rubs people the wrong way.
I liked the comment by "John"—"It’s clear to me that unpaid internships function as affirmative action programs for the already privileged." Seems to me the decent thing to do would be to make sure your unpaid interns at least get some face time and a personal recommendation out of the gig. Especially if you're going to work 'em hard. Maybe that's just me.
Reminds me of this piece, from just about a year ago now. I'm not saying it pertains. I'm not saying it doesn't.
(Thanks to Stan Banos)
"In my experience, both from reading and from personal contact, there's a 'jerk' aspect to almost every famous artist, because famous artists are people who get their way. That's why they're famous: they actually do stuff, instead of sitting around complaining about why they couldn't do it. There's a certain necessary hardness of personality in people who insist on doing things.
"What, basically, is the difference between an unpaid internship with somebody like Nachtwey and going to college, except that you don't pay tuition? Does anybody think you'd learn more in college? Frankly, if I were a young photographer or post-processing specialist, I'd give my left nut for this internship, and I'd find a way to get it. Why would I care if Nachtwey is a jerk? The internship is about me, not about him.
"I don't know. This is starting to sound too defensive—by me, of Nachtwey, because I think his work is so good. But I really think these attacks on him are absurd. I can pretty much guarantee that the whiners on the other blog won't make it as photographers, because they are practicing what they do best—whining. Potentially good photographers would shrug and get on with it."
Mike replies: If whining and revenge actually helped anybody improve their own
work or their standing, then there would be lots of people climbing
that ladder. I have an "enemy" I made (inadvertently) through TOP. I have a policy that I don't allow people to propose themselves for my "Random Excellence" feature, for the good reason that too many people would propose themselves if word got around that I responded to that. Most people can take this in stride. So this one guy proposed himself, and I didn't feature his work. That apparently so grievously wounded his ego that he has engaged in an extended campaign to insult me in return—he has really worked very hard at it, for a long time (well over a year now).
After the most recent incident, I actually felt sorry for the guy. What I thought was, it's too bad for him that running me down doesn't help make him any better. He's just chosen a bad strategy, is all—a bad strategy for sticking up for himself and his work—and he doesn't seem to know it; he's expended a lot of time and energy on a project that doesn't benefit him even if it succeeds. Because no matter how well or often he insults me, he still sucks. Kinda sad for him, eh?
Featured Comment by Ken N: "Would I sign on as in intern under that criteria? Before doing so, I'd want to see a track record of all previous interns to see how successful they became as a result of the experience.
"I worked the recording industry for a number of years and internships are the norm there. Everybody starts out running the coffee pot and picking up the pizza. But fortunately, even the lowest of the low get opportunities to move up and establish relationships with the clients. If you aren't lazy or a jerk, you can usually move up the food chain pretty quickly.
"I have no sense that the same system would work for this particular photographic internship. This guy just comes across as a user.
"What I want to know is what labor and tax laws are being violated? Technically, the intern may be a contractor with an IRS-recognized 'day rate.' The 'employer' could possibly be on the hook for paying taxes on this unearned income.
"Can O' Worms?
Mike replies: I wish I'd taken your advice. The one assisting experience I had—working for a high-profile studio advertising photographer—was the result of sending the guy a letter, cold. I had no experience as an assistant, so I was surprised that this resulted in my getting hired full-time. I later learned why—the guy treated his assistants horribly, and none of the established assistants in the city would work for him!
Much later, I went to a party where a number of local assistants were also in attendance, and a number of them were wearing T-shirts that said, "I SURVIVED ------- --------" (the pro's name, which I'm not going to repeat). Turns out one assistant who'd been regularly ripped to shreds had made one for himself, and other assistants had requested their own, so he made a bunch of them and passed them out.
(I don't want to mention his name because he wasn't that bad a guy, he just had the unfortunate habit of venting his own stress during shoots by screaming at his assistants—for anything, or for nothing. It actually cost him business, too, because some art directors were made very uncomfortable by it and didn't like to work with him. I talked to one AD who mentioned that he never took clients to shoots at his studio.)
But even so, it was a great learning experience for me. I wouldn't do it again, but I'm glad I did it once.
Featured Comment by Brian White: "While I accept many of John Camp's points about the quality of Natchwey's work and the jealous complainers, I feel there is more here at stake. Mr. Natchwey has placed himself in a position of being more than just a talented artist. He has taken a social/political stand and has attained a level of influence as a result. I feel that this ad compromises him in my eyes. I don't expect anyone to agree with me. But I hold someone in this kind of role to a higher standard. You should live what you preach. If he was a fine art photographer, or a sports photographer, for example, I believe I would see this differently."
Featured Comment by Erlik: "I'd be more sympathetic with JN Studio if it wasn't for the requirements. 'Advanced Photoshop skills' with layers and masks. Right. Like the skills grow on trees. 'An understanding of film scanning preferably on Imacon scanners.' Right. Like people working on $10K-20K film scanners grow on trees. 'Daily workflow can range from assisting with printing/toning to studio managerial tasks.' Right. Managerial tasks. From an intern.
"This reminds me of a personal experience a couple of years ago. A girl was looking for a job and came to me for advice. There was this position with an NGO, had the glorious-sounding title of executive secretary. It would have included the regular secretary stuff. And working the accounts. And organising their projects. And translating. And working on building their website. And so on and so forth, I forgot all the details. AND all of that for about $400 per month.
"I told her not to drop it, but to kick it as far away as she could. She got in a huff cause, she said, not everybody can be picky about the jobs they take particularly if they don't have the experience.
"Fine, if you want to be exploited, be exploited. But at least find someone who will pay you enough money for that. Cause the only experience you'll get from a job like that is the experience of trying to soothe your nerves.
"JN Studio simply asks way, way, way...way too much for a non-paying intern job."
Mike adds: It's true what you say: traditional intern jobs are for people with no experience (I had none, when I started assisting), and certainly managing would never be one of the requirements to get the position!
On the other hand we might also need to consider the non-remunerative remuneration, if you will...because for someone, perhaps a resumé item from JN Studio with all of those tasks listed on it would be, as they say, priceless.
Featured Comment by Hugh Crawford: "For what it's worth, in NYC there are hundreds if not thousands of public high school students who meet all those qualifications, not to mention all the students in art schools and college programs. I know some middle schoolers who are qualified. It almost sounds like the course description or even the prerequisites for a mid-level class. By New York standards, advertising a position like this is much more democratic than just using word of mouth among friends of friends or restricting applicants to a particular school's program. Remember, there are thousands of people who pay tuition for a pale approximation of this, probably within walking distance of his studio."
Featured Comment by swr: "Back in the 1990s, the magazine The Baffler ran a story on how unpaid internships are precisely what 'John' says they are, affirmative action for the rich. It's worth looking up and reading.
"The comparisons between the financial industry and the 'glamor industry' are illuminating and deceptive. The important thing isn't the money. It's the way both work as social filters to keep out the working class.
"To take Nachtway's job, you have to be able to support yourself in NYC without pay.
"You could live in NYC on the pay you get in a financial industry internship, but the financial industry won't hire you as an intern unless you've been to the 'right' college, and that means you've already shown your parents were able to support you for four years for $30,000 or $35,000 a year.
"But at least in the financial industry, you get a future. There are always going to be banks.
"If you work for Nachtway, you're working for free to get 'experience' in an industry that's dying. Print publications are closing down. Video and blogs are more important than still photography. Journalism is in transition.
"By far the most important photojournalism in the 2000s was the Abu Ghraib torture photographs. And they were done by a few working class soldiers with cell phones. No Nachtways and no Sarah Lawrence or Rhode Island School of Design grads in sight.
Featured Comment by Jim Richardson: "Jim can afford to pay minimum wage...and he should.
"Now on to 'John's' greater point: 'unpaid internships are affirmative action for the already privileged.' Exactly! Those of us who have been in the field for a long time can cite a number of examples of 'trust-fund babies,' photographers for whom photography need not be a paying career and can therefore afford to indulge their taste for the exotic world.
"Perhaps some of these younger trust-fund babies will apply for Nachtwey's internship. The young assistant who can afford to work for Nachtwey for free will get a great boost into the greater world of photography. If they can afford the luxury it will be part of their ticket into the inner sanctums of photojournalism. Some of the young assistants who apply for this job will probably save and scrape in order to take the unpaid position. But I suspect others will have the bill paid for them by wealthy parents anxious that their children have every opportunity to follow their dreams.
"But as 'John' implied, the poor kid with talent may not get to have dreams. For them 'dreams' are unaffordable luxuries."
Featured Comment by JonK: "Having known interns who have worked for Nachtwey, and having met him on several occasions in various hot spots, I think there are a few different sides to him. Both interns I'm familiar with worked with him for a period of time, then quit/were fired after his unreasonable demands about print quality, etc. And I mean unreasonable in the sense of unattainable results that he was looking for from a 35mm negative.
"One can look at "War Photographer" to see how one darkroom tech fared with him.
"On the other hand, there is not a more generous photographer in the field. He is more than willing to share information, food, or even just a ride. He has repeatedly put his own life on the line for other photographers and he is often there with a word of encouragement in some of the world's darkest places.
"How these two sides of him line up is for someone else to figure out, but I think there is some truth somewhere in the middle."
Featured Comment by Enrique: "I've occasionally worked for Jim. The hourly rate he paid me was about what I got working at my University Library 20 years ago. Although he's never been anything but professional and courteous to me, I do get the feeling he thinks I charge too much. I consider it karmic balance for for the time I've spent at ad agencies. His regular staff—young people dedicated to photojournalism—were paid about the same.
"The skills level he asks for is not unusual in NYC. I could throw a rock down the street and hit five guys who are 'Photoshop experts.' I may even have taught some of them. Film scanning is getting to be a lost art, but you don't need to know every trick in the book, just learn to scan Jim's film Jim's way. After all, it's not a wet-mount drum scanner, just an Imacon.
"Which should give people a hint: Hasselblad bought Imacon in 2004. The scanner is older than that. Nearly all the equipment was provided by sponsorship. My memory of Jim's studio is of a poorly heated flat filled with hard-working people, a tiny fridge, and a microwave. His ad should require applicants to have wool caps and fingerless gloves too. The bathroom was in the basement of the building next door. There just isn't a lot of spare money in Jim's work; it all goes into the assignment.
"Consider the cost of covering a global story like this.
"Jim shoots stories that have to be told because they are so often ignored.
"Have you seen many ads featuring Jim's work? Salgado has Illy coffee, McCurry is seen in Dow Chemical. Both have beautiful books and postcards and posters for sale. Any of you bought Deeds of War or Inferno for your loved ones this Christmas?
"Since he was injured in Iraq, he's moved away from front-line coverage to places where he won't have to run from flying bullets. Nice, comfy, easy gigs like African AIDS hospices, Siberian prisons, amputee wards in Kabul. Not to mention amputee wars at US Veterans hospitals.
"His ad for unpaid interns doesn't outrage me. It fill me with pity."