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Saturday, 12 December 2009


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Unpaid internships used to be mean that newly acquired knowledge and experience would more than make up for the lack of monetary remuneration. Now, however, it more often than not simply means free labor.

The sad thing is that some poor sap, desperate for a recognizable name to add to his resume, is going to take this position in the hopes the time spent will catapult him/her into a new career.

Good luck with that.

p.s. Mr Nachtwey, my sister is getting married this summer and doesn't have much money for a photographer. Any chance you could come over and snap a few pix. She can't pay you, but you'll have her undying gratitude. What time shall we expect you?

I see Natchwey in a whole new light with this advertisement. It's spoiled the whole social justice thing for me.

I do not know James Nachtway and have never met him. Hence, I've no opinion of him beyond his photography which I find quite engaging in a documentary sort of way.

With that as background, I find it remarkable that a stream of mostly anonymous people who also do not know Mr. Nachtway have no reluctance to hold forth on his character in this internship solicitation post. Judging by the language (I'm being generous in even calling some of those posts "language") and style it looks like most of this mess is dripping down from the "fu*k-you-I'm-great-and-entitled" generation.

Mike, I think it might have been a mistake to shine a light on this 3rd party's blog. It's a mess.

Reminds me of one of my grandmother's sayings, "handsome is as handsome does."

Short version: quality of photographic work does not correlate with quality of teaching or employee management.

An internship can only be as good as the soul of the person you work for. Learning comes through your connection your teacher, experience comes from participating with your group. Everything else is just getting better through growing up, or picking up tricks you could learn from a book. Talent never rubs off.

Is this internship unjust? Probably, given how expensive NYC is, and how unlikely the internee is to get useful references. Many people have pointed out that this is a bad deal, it's not unlike a kerfuffle in the SF writing world right now. Scalzi, a successful author, pointed out that a new magazine was paying dreadfully bad rates, and that this was a bad deal for any writer. It's not worth it, not even for the
'experience', he said. This sounds quite similar. There is ongoing whining about how this is terribly unfair to new writers.

Are unpaid internships unjust generally? Yes, but the world is unjust. The rich get richer because they have more resources to work with.

How could it be done right? Joel Sapolsky has a good model for his software company. Which, incidentally, is based in Manhattan. Quote: We always give our interns a big project working on real, shipping software. For example, in 2005, all four of our interns teamed up to build a completely new product from the ground up. By the end of the summer, they had launched Fog Creek Copilot to paying customers.

It's a paid internship, btw:
Our internship program includes a great salary, free housing, free lunch, and free weekly events, like Yankees games, a boat trip around Manhattan, walking tours, museum trips, Broadway shows, movie openings, a trip to the Hamptons, and parties.

Despite the unfairness of the rich getting richer, they have one moral advantage: they can pay you well.

If they are good enough to employ they are good enough for AT LEAST minimum wage and fair treatment under the local employment standards. Anything else is outright exploitation regardless of how lofty the stature of the exploiter or glowing their after the fact recommendation of their victim.

On the subject of artists as a**holes: where did we ever get the naive notion that art and artists are any different from other products produced by human beings or the people who produce them???? That's equivalent to saying that if someone is a drunken, wife abusing pedofile druggie we are still "obliged" to recognize and buy support their work. Arts is product for consumption just as music or hamburgers and if we don't agree with the behaviour of the producer, as consumers we still have the right to protest with our wallets and our feet. They can be happily famous after they are dead and doing penance in whatever afterlife they ended up in.

I have to comment on the following written in the post linked to herein.

"So is Bruce Gilden a genius or an a**hole? I don't know him, so I don't know."

I have come to know Bruce. Actually he is a sweetheart, funny, a great story teller, and generous.

Don't confuse his approach to photography with the man.

Coming up photo assisting recently, this is a big problem in our industry. I was hired to assist a photographer for one day of a job, because his intern was going to come in and work the rest of the days.

Interns should be in charge of answering the phones, tidying up, and maybe some light photoshop work in a pinch.

"That's equivalent to saying that if someone is a drunken, wife abusing pedophile druggie we are still 'obliged' to recognize and buy support their work."

I don't think that follows. I'm just saying it doesn't determine whether the work is good or bad, not that you're obliged to do anything as a consequence.


Ho hum...

Ten bucks Natchway worked for FREE when he started out.

Same sort of S*^T storm went down on Lighstalkers last year.

Don't like the deal, don't do it.

One sided story.

Seems like a continuation of the apprenticeship system the old guilds used, which was largely geared for the benefit of the master, not the apprentice.

I don't see anything wrong with it. When I went to journalism school, part of my program entailed an internship and it was unpaid. You did it because it was part of the program and, as it was explained to us by the teachers of the program, you learn more during that one-month internship than you do during the rest of the one-year program. For what it's worth, they were right; there's no substitute for on-the-job training. And let's face it, when it comes to photojournalism, there are few people better to learn from than James Nachteway. Hell, I'd pay him if he let me hang out with him and learn from him each day. I'm willing to bet people would do just that if he took a teaching post somewhere.

You should read what Annie Leibowitz's former employees/interns have to say about her.

I once did that at a still/film studio in NY. Awful! I told my parents about how he treated me and the paid help. Then, we had to face him at our synagogue. Awkward is not the word.

And at the end of the summer, he hired the intern who put up with that excrement. One year later, that employee opened his own studio, and treated everyone well. Maybe I should have let it run like water on a duck.

To those who mutter how Jews are clannish - ha! The guy he hired was Catholic.

I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, if an unpaid internship is structured so that the intern and the teacher (?) both benefit from it, I think it can be a good thing. The listed qualifications don't necessarily indicate that the intern would be functioning as an unpaid employee. They could be in place only to assure the teacher (?) that the applicants are sufficiently advanced in the trade so that they won't get in the way, forcing the teacher (?) to spend valuable time on subjects that the applicant should have learned in school.

On the other hand, the ad doesn't go into any detail regarding the intern's responsibilities, or what benefits he'll derive from the experience. As a result, it's a crapshoot for the applicant.

If I were a student, looking for a leg up, I wouldn't consider applying for this position without more information, regardless of Mr. Nachtwey's considerabe talents. Then again, I haven't been a student for at least thirty years, and that time has given me a different outlook on life. Had Gene Smith offered the position thirty years ago, I might have actually paid to do it... I dunno.

At least he doesn't charge the intern for the experience. But that may make it legal. Seems to be a moot point in that requiring employers to pay for benefits received is one of thousands of unenforced laws.
Pretty small potatoes in today's moral hazard patch but hazardous none the less.

"this mess is dripping down from the "fu*k-you-I'm-great-and-entitled" generation."

Which age group would that be?

I think the ad is bogus. A skill set at a very, very, high level, and no mention of what is in it for the internee. No mention of working with the famous guy learning something. Just labor in his support operation?

What a deal!

John Camp's featured comment included the assertion:

"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."

I disagree. There are plenty of people -- artists, scientists, scholars, craftspeople, priests -- who accomplish a great deal without developing this sort of "hardness of personality." The difference is that while they care about doing stuff, they don't care about being famous for doing stuff.

It's the drive to be famous -- essentially, the drive to scream "LOOK AT ME!" loudly enough to drown out all the other screamers -- that understandably produces a "hardness of personality."

You never want to lose sight of this distinction. If you care about being famous, you may have to pay your dues by apprenticing unpleasantly under someone who already knows how to be famous. If you don't care about being famous, run away!

I don't fully understand what is controversial. Unpaid internships are everywhere in the work world. My field -- public-interest law -- quite depends on the work of unpaid law students, for instance. And my sense is that much of the art world -- museums and galleries and artists -- offers unpaid internships. And even when there is compensation, it's nominal.

Yes, life is always easier for the "already privileged" -- they don't have to take out loans for school, get to travel the world on their terms, have the freedom to select non-remunerative careers, etc. There's nothing unusual about the unpaid internship.

If I were a young, non-privileged person seeking a career in photojournalism, I'd seriously consider this opportunity, even if it means couch-surfing for a few months or working at McDonald's on the weekend. There's no better way to learn than by watching / experiencing / absorbing the work and thought processes of a master in his or her field.

Nachtwey is offering this opportunity because he can -- I bet there are hundreds of applicants despite the lack of monetary compensation. This is the case because, by his estimation and those of the applicants, working for Nachtwey (and being able to say on a resume that you've worked for Nachtwey, or being able to use him as a reference) is itself sufficient compensation.

I do not know James Nachtway at all.

There's no excuse for the rudeness shown in some of the replies to the advert. I wonder if the writers are that rude in person, and if they get into fights a lot. I would not want to work for them.

I do not believe you should work for a business for free. Going to work costs money in transport, food and clothing.

I would not expect to be paid a lot, especially if I was a student who has not had the responsibility of working for someone. It may also be that paying someone makes you value them more.

I do work for free, regularly doing various maintenance tasks and sometimes event photography. But going there (it's a Japanese Buddhist Temple) is good for me. It keeps me sane in a mad world. Of course, they are not a business.

I would imagine that photographers like Nachtwey regularly get people asking to work for them. "You don't have to pay me ... I'll do any work you need ..." So they set up an internship program to satisfy the apparent need.

Would an internship for someone less famous and established be more useful? You might find someone talented making their way, they might really need your help, and you might actually make a difference in their business. A recommendation letter from such a gig could mean a lot.

When I interview job applicants who have worked somewhere prestigious, I want to know what they did there. This internship would demonstrate "pre-press" experience -- scanning and Photoshop. Possibly a good deal if that's what you want to do for a living, but there might be better opportunities elsewhere.

Why is this an issue?
The work may be tough (or not), but you get the opportunity to work in an environment that few people ever get to see. You can learn just from being in that place if you’re motivated, and seriously, when did an internship become handholding?
Why would he, or any other “established” photographer advertise an internship with “no experience necessary”? This is a real world experience, with real expectations, you take away what you put into it ( I also expect thanks is given…to those who handle themselves as professionals, just not those people who want a letter of recommendation from a “name” to speed their pursuit of “fame” for themselves). Why does Nachtwey, or any other
name" owe anyone a break just because he is successful? I remember when you actually worked your way up from the bottom, and were all the better for it. How times have changed...

I don't think paid or unpaid is the issue. The question is whether the work experience is valuable.

Do we have an ex-Nachtwey intern in the house who can relate whether the experience was valuable?

In the absence of that... there's not much to say.

Even with that there's not much to say.

Mr Nachtwey makes good and very powerful photographs. He testifies to things.

We have his book - I forget the title but it may be just his name - it's in storage in another country at the moment. It was given to my wife and I by a dear friend.

I can easily call to mind some of the photographs in the book - the greasy smudges that were all that was left of bodies faded into the ground.

It's dangerous ground talking about his character.

Google around and there are two versions of tha "ad", one saying actual work with Nachtwey. There are also quite a few people listing internships with him, on their resumes. The intangibles might be very valuable, though some of the interns would probably do just fine, being somewhat driven, themselves, High requirements weed out the chaff, and it may help show that you have the "chutspah" for being a PJ. You know, selling some BS.

I don't think it's required to be a jerk to be successful, regardless of field, but a certain "spicy" personalty seems common, as JC notes. I've actually encountered some very accomplished people who were "nice guys".

In a traditional guild system, the initial relationship was often highly slanted towards the master, and the apprentice often did not receive any benefits for years. However, if he managed to gut it out, the master was expected to help the apprentice to set up his own shop, or allow the apprentice to take over the master's operation.

I do not know the circumstances of this particular operation, hence I am hesitant to critique based on one ad. However, if N. can afford to offer some kind of fiscal support to the intern, then I think it appropriate to do so. Especially in this economic climate where educational costs are so, so high. (This would be in keeping with N.'s own social justice message, and it would alleviate some of the class bias noted by "John" and Mike.)

At the very least, the internship should be a viable educational experience for the intern, and thus the program should have a clear plan that tells the candidate about the goals, training, and outcomes. And, provided the intern performs well, the internship organization should be willing to offer back up support to the intern when they apply for jobs (letters of recommendation, a mention on the web-site, etc.)

Finally, some have said that N. may not be responsible for the actually contents of the ad. Ummm. He may not have written it, but as the operator of the business, and the person under whose authority the internship is offered, then he is accountable for the program. If his office is going to bring in an intern into a working relationship that does have unequal power dynamics, then he needs to make sure his regular staff treats the intern properly.


Perhaps the hardwork/no pay ploy is to scare off any would be slackers. Maybe he will somehow, someway make it pay off in the end- unlikely, but perhaps (although some one already indicated such was not the case). I don't know either way- but this is definitely not part of a larger in house program necessary for a license or degree.

I still have the utmost respect for Mr. Nachtwey- for his photography, and yes, his humanity. It's just a damn shame if his empathy doesn't extend beyond the realm of his lens. And what John Edwin Mason said still rings true, "...that unpaid internships function as affirmative action programs for the already privileged."

A couple of years ago I found myself yelling (silently, to myself), "you asshole!" and "what an asshole!," and other such aphorisms so often that I figured that someday it was going to slip out somewhere embarrasing in a conversation. So I made the point of replacing "asshole!" with "jerk!" and speaking it softly.
It was even worse than I had thought, and it actually took a couple of months before "asshole!" virtually disappeared from my conversational vocabulary.
Too bad -- it is a great word, and so descriptive. I miss it. ;-)

Yes, we really don't have enough information to do too close a reading of the significance of this ad. One thing we don't know--if the ad is real. Another--what the conventions are in internships among big-time pj's (i.e, what's expected, what's normal). Another--how many people want such positions. How many photo programs, for instance, urge their graduates to write to people like JN for internships?

Regarding the latter, I now get between twenty and fifty requests every week from people who want me to help publicize their books, contests, events, products, websites, print sales, gallery shows, charitable efforts, other blogs, etc., many of which I'm quite certain are very worthy projects (more worthy than my little site, many of them, perhaps). I'm sure some of those people think I'm an arrogant jerk for not replying or turning them down. I'd be very nice and write an email back to everyone except...well, I get twenty to fifty such requests a week.

So a certain tone would be expected if James Nachtwey's studio manager gets hundreds of requests from would-be interns every year. We just don't know....


I'm sure Mr. Nachtwey has to deal with his share of odious a**holes too. Maybe the situation is the opposite of what the whiners seem to believe.

Maybe the ad is just an a**shole filter of sorts.

Seems to be working rather well.

I don't see what the problem is here. A quick search (5 minutes) and I found that Joel Myerowitz and Magnum do the same thing. If I were younger and just coming out of uni I would do it.

I certainly advised my students to do it, I'll explain why later, as long as they don't feel exploited. The college ran a work experience unit but it was found to be problematic with most of the photographers exploiting the students horribly. From sexual favours to mowing the lawn there were numerous complaints. So the programme was canned. This meant that students had no exposure to the real day to day nitty gritty of the profession. Most of the lecturers had had no experience of real world photographic work. So how do the students get to find out what the profession is really like? So I am fully in favour of internships as long as the intern goes into the situation with both eyes wide open.

I find it odd that people can just write off a person's character based on something like this especially as it seems to be the industry norm at the moment. In Australia we call this "Tall Poppy Syndrome". Whenever anyone experiences some measure of success and rises above mediocrity then the masses look for any excuse to cut them down. To all the internet experts I would say if you think it's easy being James Natchwey (or Annie Liebowitz for example) why are n't you doing it?

The whole "internship" concept is evolving, and is different in different fields, but yeah, unpaid internships are not uncommon especially in artistic and public service fields. Financial firms tend to pay interns. It just varies all over the place.

If it works right, the intern would gain valuable real-world experience, contacts and probably recommendations from someone who means something. I'm sure it doesn't always work right :-(.

Paul, they aren't really looking for an intern. Look at the job requirements.

Of course with flickr replacing paid photographers maybe this is the new intern. I hear that the UK hopes to have enough cameras trained on their populace that a simple freedom of information type of request for the images should cover most wedding photography needs.

What I didn't see in the ad:

Should have own Kevlar helmet, flak jacket and gas mask.
Should be able to leap away from exploding mines.
Should have knee and elbow pads to dive away from sniper attacks.
Should be prepared to have the shnit beat out of you.
Should be able to withstand seeing humanity and poverty at their worst without falling to your knees crying/praying.

This internship looks pretty posh to me.

As many here have said, unpaid internships are the way that things are often done. As the comment quoted by Mike says, this is affirmative action for the wealthy. Unpaid internships enforce social and economic disparities, decrease social and economic mobility, and make the professional world less of meritocratic and more of a monoculture than it otherwise would be.

Nachtwey can, and should, do better than that. If he doesn't, he is not walking his talk.

I'm having a problem with this. The job description was very clear about what they were asking for. I can't say that I understand the logic behind the offer, but it is likely that there is some. It strikes me as patently unfair to assume that this is a case of hypocrisy and exploitation - not to say that it isn't, but it doesn't sound like anybody has asked the question.

Surely anybody interested in this position would be asking the question "what's in it for me?" There are probably as many answers to this question as there are people considering the position. I think we disrespect the applicants if we assume that they aren't approaching a position like this with open eyes and a clear sense of the potential costs and benefits.

Jeez, no need to pay much - pay just a little bit, but pay. It's the honorable thing to do.

A few years ago, when I was living and teaching in Spain, one of my students came to tell me she was really interested in an internship at a famous architecture studio.

She talked to the principal, who was a real narcissistic egomaniac. The principal told her, "it is a privilege for you to be here, there are countless others who would pay to get this internship"

I told her, well, he's certainly quite famous and quite good, but can you afford not to pay the rent or eat (which she barely could with her current job). And, I knew that most interns were really cannon fodder anyways, and the guy had no interest in promoting anyone.

I am glad she didn't take it.

And to all who posted above, suggesting that young people nowadays are whiners, etc. etc., well, are you saying that because you were treated like sh*t, you wish to see the same treatment applied to everyone else? Shame on you.

There were quite a few people that thought John Lennon was a jerk and a bully. Those aspects of his character were not apparent in his music, which was all I cared about. Nachtwey's been at it long time now, and my problem's not with the man, it's not the subject. That kind of aesthetic is just too familiar to me now, Just doesn't have the impact it once had, at least not for me.

I am not sure that the analogy between internship, in general, and going to college/university holds. If you intern for an artist, well, that's one thing and is not unlike doing graduate work in scientific research, for example, although grad students in the sciences often receive stipends. But interning in a commercial organization (bank, mining company, film company, etc.), so that the intern contributes to profits without renumeration is just shy of a rip-off. That situation is completely open to abuse, so you know it's being abused. There may be grey areas, of course, and this situation may be one of those. I don't know how Mr. N. operates his business, so make no comment on him.

I think some caution is needed with the point of view expressed by JC. I am sure that it's true that some of the character traits of pushy annoying successful people help get them where they are, but I have worked with lots of brilliant people, and only a small minority relied on arrogance and bullying. Enduring the bullies seems a high price to pay, imo, because you can usually do better.

But we're hooked on myths. How many people think that genius and madness go hand in hand? A priori, it's a ridiculous idea, but one that is perpetuated because of a few high profile cases. Often, when people meet an arrogant pushy a**holes, they think, wow, he must be a genius. Well, maybe, or maybe not. You can be single-minded, determined, aggressive, in many different ways, without the need to take it out on the most vulnerable people in your entourage. Is this some weird kind of boot camp mentality?

Working for free is simply immoral.
No matter the man, there is one precise word for this: EXPLOITATION.

"Working for free is simply immoral."

Let's not tell that to the many millions of parents and volunteers who put in endless, selfless hours of hard, unexciting work every week for absolutely zero pay.

The merits and problems of this particular case notwithstanding, in life there are plenty of rewarding reasons to "work for free," many of them quite admirable (see two examples in previous paragraph).

"Poor is the man who thinks money is the only reward in life."

I for one would have been glad to have put in a few hours for free at the Magnum offices in the 1950s, or Ansel Adams' home darkroom in the 1960s, even if my only reward was getting to know legendary photographers and watch them in action.

It's not working for free if you get something back. If the "pay" is non-monetary, then it's a form of barter. Barter is a two-sided transaction. I guess that implied in the ad is that you get some valuable education or experience out of it, though that should probably be stated clearly. If I were a photojournalism student, I would be very interested.

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.

You mean, they might get a similar job with a similar salary elsewhere later? :-)

Hugh, it may be a cultural difference but, although I know kids who are Photoshop whizzes, I don't know anyone who would fit those specific needs. It seems they are looking for somebody who would exactly fit into their workflow, without practically any need for them to educate the intern or teach them anything really worthwhile.

To draw an analogy, let me digress a bit. I've been a journalist, a reporter, an editor, an editor-in-chief... And a "redaktor", which might be translated as "copy editor" but with much more authority-a "redaktor" is allowed to change the structure and the style of sentences and the text itself, as well as the style of writing. Quite a responsible position, really.

So, if a magazine puts an ad looking for a person who can edit texts, check the texts for factual/ stylistical/ grammatical errors, who will check whether the illustrations/photos have proper captions underneath, who will contact people to arrange for interviews and so on... all of that for free. Should I apply?

Of course, I'm being sarcastic. :-) An intern would be allowed to write a short news item or to copy photographs from one folder to another. An intern in a photo studio should be allowed to see how ICC profiles are made and only at the end of the internship would be allowed to fully integrate into the workflow. IF she or he learned to do all of that stuff. And, if they are good, would be asked to stay at the studio.

Put as an internship, with all the requirements and the implied short-term duration, the ad really sounds like a rip-off.

Nothing new unfortunately.
This was discuss many times on lighstalker.org

"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."

Yeah, that's just basic ethics. You don't even have to use any time on it, just let them be there while you work, and explain what you're doing while you do it.

"Working for free is simply immoral."

I am reserving my right to respond to this statement until I can do it justice. I do think it will include at least one reference to Mother Teresa.

Your intern setup in the States would be shunned here in Oz. Exploitation is jumped on pretty quickly by everyone here for the most part - Govt, public and (usually) business.
We have an apprenticeship system but that is almost always paid work. If Nachtwey thinks he's getting some flack in the States, he ought to consider himself lucky he didnt setup shop here. He'd be chopped at the knees here! On face value, I have to say he's not someone I'd want to buy a beer for anytime soon.

Robert, Dave,
perhaps I should have been sharper and use the expression "do-a-job-for-the-material-profit-of-one's-employer" instead of "working" (English is not my mother tongue). When it comes to voluntarism I totally agree with both of you, of course. I do volunteer myself, which I could not afford if I worked for free. As for unpaid apprenticeship, as a craftsman I find it is the best way to really learn somebody's skills. Provided it's a real and fair barter. The Nachtwey case (if the stories are to be believed) is far from being one.

For people who decided to misunderstand "working for free is immoral", serious sermonizing...

Being paid for your work is one of the basic human rights, if I'm not wrong. Volunteering and charity work doesn't come into that. If everybody in a company gets paid for their work and the "intern" doesn't, while doing the work at about the same level, it breaks the "intern's" rights. Why do you think Croatian Work Act has a paragraph saying that a worker cannot renounce their salary? Or something equivalent in other countries' laws? Or why do you think there's "minimum wage"?

If you work for somebody, you have to be paid. Internship is a position where you're taught to do some kind of work and that's why it usually isn't paid. Although, as others pointed out, interns are also known to get some money for their work.

And let's not bring either Mother Teresa or the Pope or anybody like that into the discussion. Their basic needs were and are covered, so you might say they are paid for their work.

When Robert MacNamara was secretary of defense (Vietnam era), he renounced all but $1 of his government salary. CEOs of major corporations do this now and then as well. Nothing illegal about it here that I can find, and since it's done at least partly as a publicity stunt, it's not done secretly.

People should be paid for their work - as simple as that. Anything else is abusive.

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