Once upon a time, I used to be a photographer who confidently recorded the world around me to generate a reasonable living. Then, all and sundry decided they would either prevent me from taking pictures by imposing regulations, or if they couldn’t do that, they would dip into my wallet to take a piece of the action by imposing permits and fees. They conveniently chose to ignore the fact that my pictures were part of an established symbiotic relationship that enhanced their profitability. Where photo fees are now imposed they are inevitably at a level which, in any sane society, would be equated with banditry.
This year again, because of these regulations, I have become an outlaw. As recently as yesterday, I committed the crime of publishing this photo of the Darling Harbour precinct in Sydney in a Russian consumer magazine.
Sydney's Darling Harbour by night. © Rob Walls
The magazine paid $38US for the privilege of using my photo. The former USSR is notorious for its low publication fees, but this was quite generous by their standards. My share: $22US. Not only did I break the law by marketing this photo, I had at the time of taking it, compounded my crime by shooting from a tripod!
Looking back through my picture sales, this year, I realise I am, so far, a three-strikes habitual criminal. In January, I licenced for publication (through Alamy), this photo taken on Bondi Beach (no permit/no fee). It appeared in an Italian consumer magazine with a print run of 150,000. I wonder if the number of Italian visitors to Bondi increased this year?
Bondi Beach, late afternoon © Rob Walls
This picture of the Sydney Opera House was used once in a text book in January, and also in a consumer magazine in Taiwan, last March.
Sydney Opera House at sunrise © Rob Walls
Now, these organisations are content to take the profits generated by the tourists attracted to Australia by my photographs and those of other photographers, but they want it both ways. I have absolutely no argument with the authorities about ownership of the space or property. I don’t question the need to impose sensible rules that regulate the work of commercial photographers or film units in these spaces. That’s only common sense. But in every one of these instances, my photography imposed no more interference or obstruction than would any tourist.
What I do question, is the right of government to inhibit my freedom of expression…and their assumption that they own and can charge me for using the light reflected from these objects.
Footnote: These publications earned $US276.82. My share after commission: $US167.29. This is less than the Waverley Council would charge for one hour of photography on Bondi Beach ($150 application fee, $75 an hour).