Does “Food, Inc.” Apply To Stock Photography?

August 2nd, 2010 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

A Review Of “Food, Inc.,” A Question And A Questionable Future For Stock Photographers????????

Steamboat Rock, Echo Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado, 1955 by Philip Hyde. His most published and widely used stock photograph. First published in "This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country And Its Magic Rivers" ed. by Wallace Stegner with photographs by Philip Hyde and Martin Litton. Also exhibited nationwide.

(See the photograph full screen CLICK HERE.)

This is in part a review of “Food, Inc.” and in part a warning to photographers that the business of stock photography, as well as other types of photography, may well go the way of farming, to a hostile takeover and domination by corporate giants that could care less about quality or about the supplier, or even worse, could bring about the end.

Food, Inc.” is a must-see, even for those of you who believe you know everything there is to know about the decline in food value in the last 100 years and the rise of corporate farming. I was one of you. Besides growing up on my mother’s home-made whole wheat everything, home grown vegetables, scratch-made meals, hand-made butter, cottage cheese, tofu, sea salt and so on, about 15 years ago I found out even more about food through the process of learning to eat and sell dried up green slime (Super Blue-Green Algae). The pitch is that this nutrient-rich dried green pond scum gives us back the nutrients that are no longer in our food. For example, it helps you sell compacted pond scum if you know that it takes 75 bowls of today’s spinach to equal the nutritional content of one bowl of spinach in 1910.

Fear And Loathing In “Food, Inc.”

“Food, Inc.” takes all of this to a whole new plane. “Food, Inc.” not only informs, it horrifies. The New York Times book review of “Food, Inc.” said, “…One of the scariest movies of the year, “Food, Inc.,” an informative, often infuriating activist documentary about the big business of feeding or, more to the political point, force-feeding, Americans all the junk that multinational corporate money can buy. You’ll shudder, shake and just possibly lose your genetically modified lunch.” “Food, Inc.’s” narrator tells us that the food we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than the last 500. In the supermarket and in advertising we see plentiful agrarian images, but when we go behind the scenes we find a factory, not a farm. To get gross right away, “Food, Inc.” explains and shows how the industrial food system that now delivers us most of our supermarket food, is the same system originally perfected to supply fast food chains.

Corporate Takeover, Domination And Takedown

The part that applies to photography, as we will see, is that in 1970 the top five food producers owned 25 percent of the market share of food. Whereas today, the top four producers hold 80 percent of the market. This is the kind of oncoming speeding truck of which it is healthy to be afraid. Speaking of trucks, the average meal in the U.S. travels 1500 miles before we eat it.

After the decline of tobacco, many southern farmers began raising chickens. Chickens used to take three months to raise, now they take 49 days and can barely walk, defecate all over themselves and each other every day and the chicken farmers are for the most part all in debt and under the complete control of Tyson, Purdue or Smithfield Foods.

It is the same story across the board. Take corn, for example. One acre of corn used to produce 20 bushels, now it produces 200, but the water and energy consumption have skyrocketed and the diseases, bugs and weeds rampage if massive spraying doesn’t keep them down. The average American eats 200 pounds of meat a year. This would not be possible without cheap corn feed. Cows are engineered to eat grass. A corn diet produces harmful E. Coli. Besides, on the feedlot they stand ankle deep in their own manure. The hides are coated with manure. Four hundred animals an hour are slaughtered in the slaughterhouse. No wonder some of the E. Coli gets into the meat. “Food, Inc.” relates that in 2008, enough meat was recalled to feed one hamburger to everyone in the U.S. Strangely enough, the Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is the former chief lobbyist for the beef industry. The Head of the FDA is the former Executive Vice President of the National Food Producing Association. So it goes. “Food, Inc.” gets really scary when the film zeroes in on the story of a 2 ½ year old boy who ate a hamburger and then died in 12 days. The culprit hamburger matched a meat recall.

Cows Get Religion But Do People?

On the flip side of it, if you take corn-fed cattle off of the feed lot and feed them grass for five days, they shed 80 percent of the E. Coli in their guts. As the organic farmer interviewed in “Food, Inc.” said, “It is a systemic problem. The typical approach is not to fix the system or look at what might be wrong with the system, but to come up with high-tech fixes that allow the system to go on.” Why is it that you can get a double cheeseburger at McDonalds for 99 cents and you can’t get a head of broccoli for 99 cents? It is no accident that our food system is skewed to the bad calories. They are cheaper because they are subsidized.

“Food, Inc.” concludes that we can vote to change the system three times a day. We can buy from companies that treat workers, animals and the environment with respect. Buy foods grown locally. Shop at local farmer’s markets. Plant a garden. Cook a meal with your family and eat together. Ask your school board to provide healthy school lunches. Tell Congress to enforce safety standards and re-introduce Kevin’s Law. Kevin was the little boy who died from E. Coli poisoning. You can change the world with every bite. “Food, Inc.” is a very well-documented, ambitious, comprehensive and positive film by the end. There are solutions. This is true of food, but is it true of photography? What do you think?

“Food, Inc.” And Stock Photography: The Big Squeeze

In photography, the stock industry has all but imploded due to mismanagement by the largest players. Nonetheless, now textbook companies and many other publishers across the board are only dealing with stock agencies. The individual freelance photographer is becoming less and less welcome to share images. Imagery availability has exploded and those who supply images consistently on a full-time basis are passed over. It is starting to look a lot like chicken farming. The pricing structure has turned upside-down. Where will it end?

Various photographers have written about this. A blog post by Eric Brading on Quazen discusses the “Death of Stock Photography” and why. Moab, Utah landscape photographer Tom Till wrote a blog post called, “HDR Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love Tone Mapping.” Even the New York Times chimes in with, “For Photographers, The Image of a Shrinking Path.” Darwin Wiggett asks if this is, “The End of Stock Photography?” and the answer comes in the title of a post on AU Interactive, “It’s the End of Stock Photography as We Know It, and I Feel Fine,” but MicrostockGroup.com answers that the end is nigh in, “Topic: End of Stock Photography.” And to dig the final shovel full, the Photoshelter Blog has an article titled, “Stock Photography Is Like the Gold Rush and That Didn’t End Well.” So there you have a smattering of current bloggers and experts to safely guide you to what some of them consider the upcoming dead end, and some consider a change to which they have innovative solutions much like “Food, Inc.” Maybe we will just have to find a new source for food in both industries now that the big guy has stamped out the little guys. What do you think? Are we at the end of stock photography, or in some kind of transition or what?

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8 comments

  1. Steve Sieren says:

    I wish I knew, I’m constantly hearing about photographers that relied on stock income that have went bankrupt.

  2. Hi Steve, thank you for the comment. Traditional farmers are going bankrupt too. Farmers and Ranchers who don’t incorporate the corporate systems of industrial agriculture with the accompanying pesticides, increased water waste, use of hormones and other chemicals, have a difficult time, unless they go completely organic, which has a significant cost to begin. May not be completely parallel to what has happened and is happening in photography, but it has an unfortunate resemblance. Isn’t that right? Any thoughts, ideas, anyone?

  3. Steve Sieren says:

    I’ve been asked for images by Getty twice and only offered 20 cents on the dollar so I completely ignored them twice. A professional photographer would have to laugh at that deal. It’s a joke! Obviously they must get a lot of takers on that horrible deal or they wouldn’t be doing it. Any professional that takes that deal is just devaluing the craft for everyone else and increasing the speed of the process. When I say process I mean the faster a photographer makes less and less money from any form of stock. If the three big names are doing this that’s a huge percentage of the market and micro stock is just like buying cheap processed fast food from the dolar menu at McDonalds.

  4. Hi Steve, excellent point. One of the main problems is that the market is glutted with amateur photographers, whose photographs are getting better and better because of technology and who are willing to sell their photographs for next to nothing. Dad always thought there ought to be a union for photographers. That might have solved the problem a few decades ago, but today there would be too many who would cross picket lines and take whatever was offered for their images.

  5. When I was 18, I worked briefly in a candy factory. It was years before I would touch a bar of candy.

    Sharon

  6. Hi Sharon, thank you. Wow, that’s scary. After visiting Italy, I began to wonder why American chocolate tasted so artificial and inferior to European chocolate. Maybe you have answered my question without having to imagine the details.

  7. Mark says:

    Good review on the film David. I saw it a few months ago and recommend it to everyone I know when that topic comes up. It is quite disgusting the amount of control corporations have over our food supply.

    Fortunately, big stock corporations do not have the ability to trademark creativity like Monsanto does to soy beans.

  8. Hi Mark, thank you for reading. That is a good point about photography. Stock corporations will never be able to trademark the creative process. It is even a strange legal system that allows food conglomerates to patent seeds and living plants and animals, just because they have altered their genetics.

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