The Photographic Cost of Liquidation

At one point in time, agencies ruled the photography world for magazine work. If you got yourself aligned with one of the good ones, work would flow in and you could travel the world on someone else’s expense voucher, telling important stories.

But that agency model has been eroding for the last 15 years. Work-for-hire agreements and technology have obsoleted so many of these organizations. Clients want all rights and the ability to electronically serve up images instantly have changed the way work is licensed and – worse – bought.

Which leaves the question of what happens when the agencies with massive troves of images – images that depict world history – fail financially. A few weeks ago rumors starting floating that liquidators were preparing to destroy up to 10 million images from the Sygma collection.

Representatives now say those rumors are not true, but the process of returning images to their owners – perhaps as many as 10,000 different photographers – is daunting, to say the least.

Is there a lesson to learn here? Maybe. I wish I had it on this Saturday morning, but I haven’t had enough coffee yet to figure it out …

Mark E. Johnson

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