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The BJP - A Load Of Red Bull

21 August 2001 - EPUK

British Journal of Photography readers could be forgiven for being puzzled when that august journal launched a new contest in it’s August 22nd 2001 issue, Red Bull In Focus, with a defence of the contest rules and a vitriolic attack on a section of its own readership.

Usually when a magazine promotes a photo contest it is accompanied by a considerable degree of fanfare: after all, the magazine is hoping to encourage its readers to participate in the contest.

In the magazine’s editorial comment Jon Tarrant sought to present the contest as a golden opportunity for young photographers to break into a difficult market, and concluded that “those who seek to criticise do not out of genuine concern but out of either jealousy or ignorance”.

Baffled readers seeking enlightenment turned to the letters page where one would normally expect to find such criticism, but in vain – none of the criticism Tarrant referred to was to be found.

Red Rag To A Bull

Since Tarrant is apparently incapable of telling his readers what’s going on, we’ll help him out. It’s a sorry tale, but not an unfamiliar one. Many photographers view it as similar to situations they come across when corporate greed and magazines compromised by commercial considerations combine in attempts to exploit inexperienced photographers.

The fiasco began a couple of weeks ago when soft drinks company Red Bull – a multi million pound enterprise – began mailing photographers with an offer most would have little problem refusing: a so-called contest for budding sports photographers where the company would keep the originals and copyright of all material shot.

There was some comment from photographers at EPUK and other lists, but not much; such was the nature of the offer that most professionals regarded it with contempt, and barely worthy of comment. Then last week the BJP previewed the contest in glowing terms culled directly from Red Bull’s own promotional literature.

Photographers, seeing the editor of the prestigious British Journal of Photography, the longest established magazine for professional photographers in the world, actually promote such a competition, began to discuss it on EPUK’s private forum, and elsewhere, including on the BJP’s own Pro Forum.

Some went a step further, writing to Tarrant at the BJP, expressing surprise that a magazine of its supposed stature would endorse such a contest. The opinion was expressed that this was a mistake, and that possibly the BJP and its editor were not fully aware of the terms of the contest.

Seeing Red

If photographers were surprised at the BJP endorsement, they were amazed at Tarrant’s response to their mail. While photographers attempted to educate Tarrant on the basics of copyright and explain the flaws in the Red Bull contest, he replied in increasingly aggressive fashion, threatening action, legal and otherwise, against individual photographers, members of the Association of Photographers and EPUK.

Finally he resorted to attacking his critics in the pages of the BJP in an editorial which does not make even the slightest attempt to address the issues raised.

It has for a long time now been the general consensus of opinion in the professional photographic world that photographic competitions should not include a clause demanding copyright. Photographers and their associations have repeatedly got competition organisers to remove such clauses from their terms, in favour of a clause allowing limited publicity rights in connection with the competition.

Tarrant, instead of doing the accepted thing – asking the competition organisers to review their terms – launched an outrageous attack on, and threatened legal action against, those daring to question his judgement. In doing so he has only risked damaging the reputation of the BJP, particularly as those attacked are from his core readership, and some are subscribers of many years standing.

As for the contest itself, the BJP trumpets that it will be there to “report on the event and profile the finalists’ work in a future issue”. Does Tarrant really believe, given the furore the contest and the BJP’s promotion of it has raised among professional photographers, that anyone would actually want to be profiled in such a way?

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