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Bull in a Curry House

3 September 2001 - EPUK

Displaying the survival instincts of a man who blunders into a minefield and thinks his best course of action is to run in circles and stamp his feet, BJP editor Jon Tarrant did it again last week.

Displaying the survival instincts of a man who blunders into a minefield and thinks his best course of action is to run in circles and stamp his feet, BJP editor Jon Tarrant did it again last week.

In an extraordinary editorial Tarrant compared photographers to prostitutes and made a rambling detour into the ins and outs of running a curry house, while signally failing to achieve his stated intention – to provide an agreed definition of what constitutes a “rights grab”.

That’s not the issue

The editorial, “Let Us Agree On The Terminology At Least” was the beleaguered editor’s latest attempt to defend his magazine’s promotion of the by-now notorious Red Bull Photofiles contest. But the issue is not and never has been terminology, and Tarrant’s pretence otherwise is merely an attempt to divert attention from his own embarrassing cock up. The issue was and remains the fact that a magazine for professional photographers is supporting a competition which by its very nature is damaging to the industry.

The reasons why have been made clear to Tarrant. He has had feedback on the BJP’s Pro Forum, he has had photographers email and telephone him. There were articles posted on the EPUK web site explaining the problem. But John, apparently, just doesn’t get it.

Some good advice

His inability to grasp the problem is made all the more extraordinary by the fact that Tarrant is the author of “Professional Press, Editorial & PR Photography” (Focal Press 1998), in which he states “It was my aim in writing this book to give some of the information that I wish I had known when I first started out myself.”

Tarrant’s book contains some good advice for young photographers, but unfortunately he appears to have forgotten his own counsel. In a section on business contracts he describes copyright as “probably the most important issue.”

Later he warns that ” If you do assign copyright, you wave your pictures good-bye”, and in particular he stresses “if a client really does insist on taking over the copyright, then he or she will have to pay a commensurate fee.”

But despite his previous good advice Tarrant continued to promote precisely the opposite argument in public last week. Determined to engage the enemy on all fronts, he attempted to defend himself on the BJP Pro Forum and in the UK Press Gazette, but managed to fire only blanks.

Attacking EPUK in the latter he claimed “They are scared of an intelligent debate”, alleging that he had been denied access to the EPUK web site to put his side of the argument. But this entirely fallacious claim only served to illustrate that his grasp of modern technology is as shaky as his understanding of copyright and rights grabs.

Tarrant did, acompanied by legal threats, attempt to gain access to the private EPUK list, but he has at no time requested or been denied the opportunity to present his case on the public web site. As an editor should know, a private mailing list is entirely different from a public web site. Just as the BJP’s private editorial conferences are different from the published magazine. The BJP doesn’t invite photographers to participate in the former – although the editor might learn something if they did – and EPUK doesn’t invite editors to our private mailing list.

EPUK has however offered Tarrant what he claims he wants – an opportunity to present his argument on the EPUK web site: whether he accepts that offer remains to be seen.

Over on the BJP Pro Forum each of his attempts to defend his position only resulted in further attacks from photographers.The highlight of a string of gems from the forum was his assertion that “there IS room for negotiation in the Red Bull contract, albeit of the take-it-or-leave it-for-the-money-on-offer type.” Photographers were quick to retort that so far as the Red Bull contest is concerned, there is no money at all on offer – photographers are expected to work for three days, hand over all their material and copyright, and walk away with empty pockets.

Why, oh! why?

So what on earth persuaded Tarrant to promote the contest in the first place? It’s not as if the BJP is the only photographic magazine in the UK, nor even the best selling one, and nor was it the only publication approached by Red Bull. In the brouhaha surrounding the contest, the one aspect which has been overlooked is what Tarrant and the BJP get out of it.

One might speculate that the reason he’s so keen on the contest is that with a budget of only a few hundred pounds per issue a copious free supply of extreme sports pictures with nice Red Bull logos would prove a welcome page filler. And the prospect of three days in Cornwall sampling Red Bull’s corporate hospitality as part of ones paid (unlike the photographers) work may also have its appeal at BJP towers.

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