Monday, November 29, 2010

The Zanzibar Photos

After I read the Torontoist post, I sent two emails to the writer asking that the post be removed. As a result, the Torontoist edited the post so that only one image remained. The post did not match my understanding of what the article was to address, and I objected to the sensationalist and salacious nature of the article. In reading the article, I was also a surprised to see that my comments from a few casual email messages to the writer found their way into the article. I did not expect these comments to be used.


When the Torontoist approached me about the use of these photos, I agreed. I agreed because a small number of these photographs had been on my Flickr account for months and received only positive comments and praise. The photographs have been called beautiful, tasteful, artistic, inspired, wonderful, and transcendent. I continue to receive similar comments from photographers and photo editors, both male and female. Friends, family, and other people who know me have also given me their support because they know that my interest is photography and they know that I am not the person many commenters have suggested I am.


A few of the other photos that were used had never been posted to Flickr because I felt that they were not as good, but the writer asked to see these images and I made them available to him. I was surprised to see that all of the images were used, and presented in a sensational manner on the site. At most, I expected that perhaps one or two would have been used. In my email conversation with the writer, he gave me some background information about the Zanzibar, and I expected that the post would be about more than just my photographs. It is my fault for not asking enough questions and I regret not requesting to see the draft of the article before it was published.


Posting these images to Flickr in the first place was not an easy decision, but I truly believed that the roof of a building in downtown Toronto is not private. These people were in public, in full view of anyone who has a window facing that direction. I also strongly felt that the images were artistic and definitely not voyeuristic. Once the images were posted on Flickr and the positive feedback came in, I suppose I became complacent, and felt that anyone who wanted to see the photos probably already had. In this era where people search for themselves on Google, I expected that the Zanzibar already knew that the photos existed. At the time, the photos were publicly viewable by anyone and had been viewed many times. (These photographs are no longer available on Flickr).


I expected that any discussion of the photos once highlighted on the Torontoist would focus on photography. I realized too late that the reaction to these images within the photography community would be far different to the reaction of the general public. That seems obvious now, but at the time, I really didn't anticipate that anyone would even care about the photos and that there might only be limited discussion of the merits of each photograph. I did not foresee this media frenzy. I would never have agreed to the Torontoist request if I had known this.


I have been stunned and deeply embarrassed by the response and bewildered by the press interest. I have not replied to several interview requests, hoping that this would help to slow the story. I have earned no money from any of these photographs. I have no intention of holding a photo exhibit, as I have been encouraged to do. I have apologized to Ryerson's President for the negative publicity, and I would like to apologize to anyone who was offended in any way by the photographs.

1 comment:

  1. Brian:
    I sympathize with you over the storm this has caused. Your photos are great, and I sincerely hope your relationship with your employer is not damaged in any way by the tempest in a teapot that has come up.

    Something confuses me though in your portrayal of the Torontoist article as "sensationlist" and "salacious." The article, at least the one up now, seems nothing of the sort. Have they changed it somehow, other than by removing the photos?

    It also seems perhaps naive to not realize that emails you send to a journalist can be used in the writing of the story. For reporters It's generally good practice to be clear about this with a subject, but unless it was discussed that the emails were "off the record" there is really no ethical problem in using them.

    As someone who works in media, I always regret when a subject is upset, disappointed or feels harmed in some way by his or her portrayal. It's a hazard of the trade, and I suppose a bit of a harsh lesson. But in the highly sensationalised, rapid-fire online media world, things can easy blow up in people's faces. The way things turned out here was unfortunate, but I can't honestly say anyone was at fault: not you, not Torontoist, and certainly not the women on the rooftop!

    I hope things simmer down, and you continue to take your amazing photos and share them with the world.

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