How I became an award winning
photographer....but didn't know
Now that's a nice surprise! Googling myself (yes) earlier this week I hit the website of the Florida Magazine Association. And bumped into a list with the names of winners of their annual contest. And guess what, I won a Charlie Award 2009! It was awarded for the 'Best Single, Original Color Photo - Consumer 50,000 plus.' And the Charlie Award is their highest award. How about that?
But hey, what's this? The award was handed out a few weeks ago, during a fancy gala diner in Orlando, Florida. Strange that nobody bothered to tell me. And come to think of it, I never entered this whole competition. To be honest, I didn't even know it existed.
Here's the story. It's kind of funny, and probably kind of typical for the headaches that freelancers have to cope with these days.
Last year I was approached by a Florida based magazine. They were interested in a feature on one of my sailing trips to Antarctica. So we agreed. Before closing the deal I insisted on a written contract, assigning the magazine only 'the right and permission to use the images and editorial from the book Cold - Sailing to Antarctica for their October 2008 issue.' We signed it.
Frankly I don't bother with contracts usually. In most European countries I feel okay making deals over the phone and I hardly ever get in to trouble (France would be the exception, but that's another story). Anyway, having done business with the US before I figured this would be a good time to be more strict, so I told them I wanted to have my copyrights in black and white. Besides that, the rate we agreed on was far from great, but hey, there would be some promotion of my Antarctica book involved as well, so let's give it a shot!
I sent them my images and txt and asked them to send me a PDF of the feature so I could check it on any possible misstakes or omissions. That turned out to be a problem. It was impossible, they told me. It'd be against their 'publishing protocol'.
So I insisted: 'Protocol or not - I just want to check if everything is ok, especially since part of our deal is about the way you publish the feature. Checking after printing is not the best way!'
Then I got a funny reply from the creative director, with the text of the feature. She wrote:
'Thisj, Text to check facts. Please note we are shipping editorial tonight..'
I understand Thijs is not the most common name in the US, but Thisj, what kind of name is that? And it was not just in the mail, but in the txt for the magazine they called me Thisj as well, twice so actually. And one of the two important weblinks in the article was incorrect. I was happy I insisted to check.
So they published and it looked okay, but of course I never sold one single copy of the book as a direct result. Then came payment. Well, it didn't, to be more precise. 'Our protocol is 30 days after newsstand date', the creative director had written me earlier (they seem to have a lot of protocols out there). But at the end of December they still hadn't paid. So I insisted in a mail: 'To be honest, I don't have a lot of patience with things like this, especially if clients that don't pay are completely silent about the reason why. I simply expect people to keep their word, that's all.'
That didn't really impress them. I got a blabla reply about cash flow and the economy and very aware of and every effort to and we would appreciate your patience.
So I waited another week and then told them: 'I am not the type of person that will simply accept bills not being paid and people not keeping their promises. I happen to be a lawyer too, but besides (and even more important) I believe in trusting people and doing what you say - simple as that. And there is not much room in my world for people doing the opposite. You can trust that I'll take any legal measure possible to get what I am entitled to, and that will not only further damage our relationship, it will simply cost you (a lot) more money too. Let's hope you won't let it come that far and realise that being honest works much better in life'.
Yes, I get angry in situations like this. And for the last 10 years no single client came away with not paying what he bought. Except for this one French magazine. But that's another story.
A few weeks later: still no money. So I contacted a befriended lawyer. And just as she was about to put her teeth in, there was the money. Plus a mail. The comptroller told me 'how much they appreciated my understanding'.(grrr).
So I decided I was never going to deal with this magazine again.
And then I (they?) won the Charlie Award. That put things in a totally new perspective. A CHARLIE AWARD! I mean, what more could a man wish? What else is there left to achieve? A freaking CHAR-LIE AWARD!
I'm not so sure what to do next. I think it's not okay that people use my work to win prizes. If the magazine itself would have won a prize, I guess I wouldn't have a problem with my images being in that specific edition. But this is different; apparently they sent in one single image my image. This is not a publication winning a prize, this is an image winning a prize. I think it's even stranger they don't tell me so. I'm pretty sure this is a breach of the contract I have with the magazine. And that I'm gonna have to deal with those guys again.
But why not wait a few more days? Lean back and enjoy this unexpected highlight in my career. I am now an, as they call it over there, award-winning photographer. I won a Charlie Award. And nobody told me..