Street-style photographers push for #NoFreePhotos

"As long as newer people come into the game willing to work for nothing to get their foot in the door, and legacy brands and titles gain from that status quo, this is a situation that will keep perpetuating itself.'' - FASHION BLOGGER BRYANBOY, whose
"As long as newer people come into the game willing to work for nothing to get their foot in the door, and legacy brands and titles gain from that status quo, this is a situation that will keep perpetuating itself.'' - FASHION BLOGGER BRYANBOY, whose real name is Bryan Grey Yambao (left, with stylist Declan Chan), on street-style photographers not being adequately compensatedPHOTO: NYTIMES

MILAN •They roam in packs. Milling expectantly, dozens of street-style photographers hover on the sidewalks of fashion week cities in the hope that stylish pedestrians will cross their paths.

When they do, the photographers will even charge into oncoming traffic to get that perfect shot.

Is it worth it? Recently, about 40 photographers united to suggest that it was not. Members of the group, which calls itself an "unofficial union", began adding the hashtag #NoFreePhotos to pictures posted on their Instagram accounts.

Their beef? Influencers and brands repeatedly using street-style photos for editorial and commercial purposes without adequately compensating photographers.

Mr Nabile Quenum, a French photographer who runs street-style journal J'ai Perdu Ma Veste, said: "We want people to recognise that this is our livelihood and many of us are struggling."

For the uninitiated, the street-style universe works like this: A woman becomes known for her style. Photographers take her picture, by chance or agreement.

She posts images on her Instagram account, which rapidly gains followers and fashion brands start to notice her pulling power.

Sometimes, they send clothes for her to borrow (or keep). Often, she wears them to a show. More photographs are taken. The brand (and increasingly, glossy magazines) then publishes an online street-style post. The woman's profile receives a boost, possibly resulting in paid partnerships or a sponsorship deal.

Arguably, everyone is using everyone else for mutual advantage - with some kind of contract being the ultimate goal of photographers and influencers alike.

But the photographers believe they are being used the most.

Along with the hashtag, group members are now adding to their Instagram bios: "My images are not to be used without consent."

Another photographer, Mr Adam Katz Sinding of the blog Le 21eme, said: "Our copyright-protected street-style photos are constantly being used without our consent, be it by brands in their news releases or by influencers who use them in order to fulfil their contractual responsibilities to brands when wearing their clothes and accessories.

"These partnerships drive millions of dollars' worth of sales and hinge on our work, yet few photographers ever get paid for their service and that just isn't right."

He added that many photographers spend thousands of dollars a year covering the shows in the hope of getting a paid contract.

Few, however, are successful.

Both photographers emphasised that the campaign was more about raising awareness of the issue than criticising any group - but it provoked at least one heated response.

"It feels like an attack on us and the fact that we get a larger piece of the pie, and that isn't fair," Mr Bryan Grey Yambao, the blogger known as Bryanboy, said.

Many influencers pay photographers to shoot street-style work, he noted, while few brands pay influencers to attend shows.

"We also spend thousands of dollars" attending fashion weeks, he said. "Like photographers, we, too, have business expenses."

How photographers could be compensated is unclear as there is no generally accepted rate.

But on one point, the photographers and influencers believe the "work for free" culture must end.

"There is still no clear way of quantifying the value of new ways of driving industry sales - of which street style plays a major role - compared with old established strategies like print advertising," Mr Yambao said.

"As long as newer people come into the game willing to work for nothing to get their foot in the door, and legacy brands and titles gain from that status quo, this is a situation that will keep perpetuating itself."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2017, with the headline 'Street-style photographers push for #NoFreePhotos'. Print Edition | Subscribe