I have a weird job. It’s a fact. On a scale of abstraction, what I do is pretty far out to field. The service I provide does not create tangible stuff, nor does it progress society for the common good. The fact that someone in my position is making money from pointing plastic and glass at entertaining subjects, is pretty remarkable. “The Arts” are always a subject of scrutiny and loud scoffing noises from elder family members and those who still wear monocles – sometimes combined, though the latter is much less common. But, I feel that what I do offers a unique life-aid, in the sense that it provides people with a reminder of a moment in time, freezing an instance forever; a smile, a moment of athleticism, a silly antic, you name it – it’s life captured in a shutter stroke.
This summer, I was responsible of capturing moments of people, doing remarkable things while astride two wheels, in the woods, regardless of the weather or the amount of caffeine I [wish I had] ingested before setting out for the day. I can take pictures of other subjects that I find interesting, or other people find interesting, but I have chosen to do what I do out of love for the sport, the people, the venues, and the lifestyle. They say it is the big picture (pun intended?) that counts at the end of the day, keeping everything in perspective. With that in mind, it is important to remember that my job wouldn’t be nearly as exciting or interesting without the riders in the photos. On the flip side, without the photographers present, the riders would just be out and about, doing their usual business of sliding around in the dirt and temporarily flying over jumps – but without any publicity. It’s sort of like the paradox, “If a tree falls in the woods, but no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?”; “If Brook MacDonald is getting buck wild and scary-loose in the woods, but no one is around to shoot the moment, is it just as exciting?”. Argue in either direction on those points, I’m not here to draw a conclusion…
What I am getting at with that notion though, is that there is a great symbiotic relationship between Media Squids and riders. Without each other, we exist, but together, we create memories. Separately, we are still doing awesome work respectively, but being able to share it with each other, as well as a non-present audience is what really makes the whole situation work; this makes it particularly special. I dare not compare myself to a war photographer, but when they capture battle on camera and share it, it brings it home, it makes it real. On a much more upbeat and less significant scale, that is what Squids do – we give the lore of Sam Hill’s inside-line-abilities visual context and bring them to life on the screen and in the pages for the readers. It is personally inspiring to be present for rad moments like that, because as a rider, it spurs me on to try a little harder out on the trails when I get home. For the riders and paying companies, it shows proof of money spent and effort expended towards a common goal of winning results using a winning product.
As an editorial photojournalist, I am always curious who my work reaches. With the advent of social media and its ability to accompany my work as a secondary outlet of “reach”, my audience can become twice as wide, without actually having to put in twice the effort. Instagram has been a game-changer in that sense: I can put up an “instabanger”, and a link to my work online (in my profile), and suddenly, I can direct traffic to the source of more “bangers” without seeming invasive or appearing to be trying exceptionally hard. It is especially great when riders find the photos and coverage to their liking, and share photos [of themselves] via their Instagram accounts and further direct traffic to me, the photojournalist (via tagging and sharing). The riders know to credit the shooter and source, and all is well; everyone gets exposure and looks good doing it!
Problems sometimes arise though, when companies do the same thing, without prior agreement regarding usage rights i.e. paying for my services. A brand which is “for profit” and produces goods and/or services must pay for photos. Once a photo is used to directly tie a money-making entity to the photograph through brand recognition, money must be exchanged – that is basic business trade/craft and basic marketing know-how. It is odd to realize that this concept is lost on a too-large section of the industry, and businesses in general. I would never imagine being able to take a product from a store for free, based on the riders I shoot, just because of my affiliation with them. The riders have access to the photos because the photos are of them, and represent them. They are not going to make sales or gain market reach from a photo of themselves…it is their job to be on track in front of the camera, so I believe they are entitled to use the photo of themselves, for personal use.
Without the riders, we have no subject, but without the Media Squids, the riders have no proof of their efforts beyond intangible and unmarketable race times. Together, we are a team and we do great work. The people who make the products need to be reminded that the symbiotic relationship between rider and photographer does not extend to them, and they need to pay to use the teamwork, as it creates sales and revenue for them. Without our teamwork, they would just have a whole lot of metal, plastic, and rubber they need to sell, but nothing with which to show the buyers what these engineering marvels are capable of. I am thankful for the riders and companies who understand this partnership; to those who do not, please learn and take it to heart, my glass and plastic work tools were not stolen from a camera store that I at least credited with being the place from which I took them without permission. #mtbjesusiswatchingyou