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February 5th, 2009

Photo assignments from bloggers: new model or same old problems? 1

Posted by Alan Chin

Michael Shaw, who dissects the political posturing of newswire photos at his BAGnewsNotes blog, has been posting unpublished images from photojournalists for years. During the 2008 presidential campaign he assigned, and even paid, photographer Alan Chin to make original photos for the blog. Here Alan reflects on the implications of that collaboration for photojournalists. Check out “Photo assignments…2” when Michael explains how Alan’s images uncover the spectacle of political press coverage.
An image by Alan Chin from the New Hampshire primary season. © Alan Chin

An image by Alan Chin from the New Hampshire primary season. © Alan Chin

I’ve been collaborating with Michael for a number of years. Initially it was because he had picked up an image of mine that was in the New York Times while I was freelancing for them in Iraq. One day I had Googled myself and I saw [my photo] was on this blog. I saw his commenters were reading all these things into it and I wrote in and said, I’m the photographer and I want to answer some of your questions. I was very factual, just to give more context. Of course no one had done that before. It started this whole interesting conversation online. Somehow in the process Michael was like, I’m really interested in hearing what you have to say and I would love to hear some more.

And in the next few years, any time I did something that I thought was interesting, after it was published or if I couldn’t get it published, I would send him a picture to let him run it on the blog. I figured, if it’s already been published or it’s not getting published, then what do I have to lose. I might as well have it be seen and talked about rather than just sitting on my hard drive.

Then when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama officially announced their candidacies, both of them did trips in New Hampshire and I decided to go up and shoot that. And I’m not a political junkie; I’m not a Washington photographer. I’m not very well experienced in this, I’ve never been in the bubble, but I thought this was obviously a really important time. So I sent Michael pictures from that because I couldn’t get them published. And he loved it, and the audience of the site loved it. And basically he committed, he said, look, you’re having a problem getting assignments. How about I pay at least a little bit, so at least you don’t go broke doing this, at least you can afford to put gas in your car, and you can cover some of these primaries for me.

Supporters at an Obama rally in Ohio during the primaries. © Alan Chin

Supporters at an Obama rally in Ohio during the primaries. © Alan Chin

So when the New Hampshire primary came in January this year, I did it for him. And then I did the Ohio primary. And Michael got really into it. He felt it was adding something to his mission on the BAG, which is a political blog about analyzing photography. He felt that by having his own photographer in a sense he could see things he wasn’t seeing from Getty or AP or whoever. Which is, of course, why anyone assigns anyone. And I kind of pointed this out to him. I said you’re becoming the same as any other editor and any other institution. Because the minute you’ve actually committed money, even if it’s not much, me as a photographer, I have an assignment. It’s the same thing, whether it’s Time magazine or BAGnewsNotes, all of a sudden, I need to do my best to deliver something that’s worth him paying for. It’s that simple.

It was kind of a revelation for both of us. Of course Michael had never seen himself as an editor or publisher. Bloggers think they’re against the main stream media. But in a sense we’ve become it. Because whenever we try to do anything like this, you actually become that which you oppose and that which you disagreed with because you just think you can do it better. And that’s what we think: We think we can do this better than the New York Times. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t do it. Why do you bother going to press with something? Because you think you have something no one else has or you have a new way of looking at it. So we started rolling with that. And Michael was so pleased with what we were able to do, and traffic on the site was increasing. And the quality of what we were doing was very high. We were trying to get a little under the bubble of what they present to you, because it’s so packaged. So for the Democratic National Convention he really felt this was something we needed to do something on.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Do other photographers have stories about working with or being paid by blogs? Is an assignment for a blog drastically different than an editorial assignment or is it just another option for having your images seen?


  1. February 10th, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    ye qin zhu

    Frankly, I think it’s all the same with variants on the topography, meaning the source, place, site, etc. At the core of it, blogs and editorials, as well as any media outlet is a place to veer public opinion towards its own ideologies. Even on the blogoshpere, where there are multiple perspectives, generating dialogue and confusion, the values behind it is that under this heap of confusion there is something more true or more particular to one’s own questioning to be found.
    The importance of the topography(place) is the reputation it has and the how they go about gathering/delivering information. The gathering/delivering of subject is what sets each outlet apart. They are the laws that define what is valuable information and who the audience is. As the site traffic increases, the site and it’s mission begins to insert itself into media dialogue, promoting what it thinks is a more apt set of ideologies.

    Regardless of scale, contemporary media can operate on a one to one basis. Where as social philosopher Adorno would once say, we are being sold the same shit under the pretense of individuality; technology now has it that we can connect on the minutest detail. There is no distance between producer and receiver, they can be one. In other words, we are the archivers, archaeologist, historian, perhaps even cultural producers; we do not have to follow the prevailing hegemony. ok, that was a bit divergent, but i am positive about this blog and how it conducts itself. If paying for a photojournalist fits in the mission of the site and makes it more efficient to operate the site, then I am 100% for it.
    -Ye Qin

  2. February 12th, 2009 at 11:34 am


    Hi !!

    I am so glad to see you workin’!What else can we do?
    And moreover you have been shootin’ black and white!!
    Ohh man, Viva Obama !!
    Congratulation !!


  3. August 26th, 2012 at 8:21 am


    No, they are not live or videos. After siungp and when the workshop starts then a hidden area of our forum will be revealed to those who signed up. Sarah will release teaching materials to read over once a week i believe for the duration of the class and then you’ll have homework assignments etc. You will be able to ask any questions of her and she’ll also be offering her critiques etc. The course is image and diagram based so there is tons of pullbacks etc but no video. I’ll email you the course outline right now : )

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