Beware the Contests You Enter

This post isn’t on anything new. If you are already familiar with so called “image grab contests” and they piss you off, feel free to skip everything I write below. Or read it if you feel like being infuriated today.

If you don’t know about image grab contests and why photographers hate them, read on.

Today, a user in a Facebook Group I am a part of called “Outdoor Women – New England” posted the following link to a photo contest by the Green Mountain Club, a Vermont based non-profit conservation group.

On the contest website it says:

By entering the contest, entrants grant GMC a royalty-free, non-exclusive license to display, distribute, and reproduce the entries, in whole or in part, for any GMC purpose, including, but not limited to, GMC publications, merchandise, and website. Any photograph reproduced in GMC publications will include a photographer credit. GMC will not be required to pay any additional consideration or seek any additional approval in connection with such uses.

Photographers hate these type of contests, because its essentially a legal way for contest organizers to sneakily get a bunch of photographs to use however they want without paying a single cent for any of them. If you have ever taken a stab at being a professional photographer and trying to earn a living off of your work, you have probably figured out that its really challenging to sell what other people are willing to give away for free. Organizations like the Green Mountain Club absolutely 100% depend on photography to do what they do. Without photographs, they can’t effectively advertise their programs, appeal to donors, or make guidebooks, interpretive displays, or decorate their buildings and lodges. Access to photography isn’t a human right, like the right to clean water and air. So if photographs are so important to the work this non-profit does, shouldn’t they be willing to pay for them?

The answer is YES they should, but too often, non-profits play the “we are poor” card. It’s bull.

When I said something, the woman who posted the contest tried to use the same excuse I’ve heard many of times before, by strangers in emails asking to use my photographs for free or “for exposure” – as have literally tens of thousands of other photographers. I’m calling her and the GMC out.

“I’ve literally heard that same excuse dozens if not hundreds of times and heard at least as many photographers complain about these contests. I’ve also worked for dozens of environmental and outdoor non-profits, and worked as a professional photographer, so I am very familiar with both the budgetary constraints and limitations of non-profit work, particularly in the environmental conservation field, as well as how hard it can be to survive off of photography alone.

By paying nothing for photos, contests like this and the organizations that back them make it harder and harder for professional photographers to earn a living. Contests like this devalue the work of professionals, the same people who are vital to helping conservation groups gain support for their work by capturing compelling images and video of places and species needing protection. Stealing photos, which a contest like this essentially does, is saying that those photos have no value. $0. If that is true, try not using photos on a website, in brochures, for campaigns, on interpretive displays, etc and see how well that goes. Photographs are vital for the work that GMC and other organizations do. If you relied solely on printed words, word-of-mouth, and NPR, you wouldn’t get half of the donations or attention you do. Why should photographers not be able to pay their bills or feed their families because your organization is too cheap to pay them?

It’s one thing to use the winning images in this way because the photographers of those images get some form of compensation, but just using any of the entries however you like without any further compensation is wrong. I like to believe that organizations like the GMC and other trail and land use groups have people behind them with strong ethics and a moral compass, but trying to justify image grab contests like these because “we are poor” really makes me question that assumption. Contests like this are exploitation. As a photographer and outdoors woman with a strong belief in both social and environmental justice, I strongly urge the organizers of this contest to revise the the language of this contest so that only winning images can be used and reproduced without further compensation. It would show that the GMC not only cares about the land, but the people that use it and it values the partnership between the non-profit and all who make the work that non-profit does possible.”

Please, if you are not an a-hole, boycott these contests. Even if you are not a professional photographer, and don’t care if you make money from your images, and you generally support the organization running the contest, boycott them. Call out the contest organizers for being cheap. Demand they change the language of their contests so that entrants retain the rights to their photograph, including the right to fair compensation. It’s possible for organizations to sponsor photo contests and drum up publicity for their work in ways that are equitable and respect the hard work and talent of the photographers who enter. Stand with photographers.

Help Protect NH Loons

Loon with Sunfish : Prints Available

A Common Loon (Gavia immer) with a sunfish it caught while hunting on a pond in southern New Hampshire. This adult was catching fish to feed its chick.

This week, New Hampshire State Bill 89 may make it’s way to the New Hampshire state senate. SB-89 is a bill that proposes banning the use and sale of toxic lead fishing tackle weighing one ounce or less, and it’s passage will help protect common loons from lead poisoning.

Lead poisoning is the leading known cause of death for loons in the state of New Hampshire. Loons typically consume toxic lead in one of two ways: they either ingest the weights thinking they are pebbles, which they consume to aid in digestion, or they get lead into their system when eating fish that have lead fishing gear attached to them or in their stomachs. Poisoned loons then die a painful, suffering death. Because loons are slow to mature, have small clutch sizes, and expend a huge amount of energy in raising and caring for their chicks, these unnatural deaths have caused decreases in the loon population and continue to threaten the survival of these beautiful birds.

I cannot think of a single reason not to vote in support of SB-89 and these increased restrictions; there are a number of viable alternatives to lead that can be used for small sinkers and jigs, and their continued use is irresponsible.

More info about loons, lead poisoning, and SB-89, including what you can do to help, can be found here:

Common Loon : Prints Available

A Common Loon (Gavia immer) in its handsome black and white breeding plumage swims on the calm surface of a pond in southern New Hampshire.

The Loon Preservation Committee is a great organization that advocates for the protection of these beautiful birds in New Hampshire. I was able to connect with them last summer and they were helpful in providing me with some information about loons in NH. Unfortunately, I was unable to spend as much time working with them as I wanted, but hope to continue a project to document and advocate for loon conservation in the northeast with their help. For more info, visit

Growing Up : Prints Available

A baby Common Loon (Gavia immer) begs its parent for some food. This youngster is growing up and white and dark gray feathers are starting to replace its mousey gray-brown down.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Nuclear Power Plant

I live in a beautiful restored farmhouse in Chesterfield, New Hampshire, just six miles or so (as the crow flies) from an aging nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vermont. Vermont Yankee, nestled on the banks of the Connecticut River, opened its doors to power production in 1972, and its 40 year contract is set to expire next month. The nuclear reactor has been the subject of much debate; everyone seems to worry about the plant’s future. Many want to see it shut down, citing various environmental and health concerns and also controversial court decisions that some say pit the state against the federal government. Others worry about what will happen if the plant closes, fearing the loss of jobs and increased taxes that will result, as well as other economic and social impacts.

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, VT has inspired much debate over its 40 years of operation. Many think the plant should be shut down, but some locals worry that the impacts of shutting the plant down would be worse than its continued operation.

This weekend, I teamed up with photographers from the Vermont Center for Photography to learn a little bit more about Vernon and the people that live there. We spanned the small rural Vermont town, photographing and interviewing local farmers, business owners, town officials, and activists. Our goal was to tell the story of Vernon, not just Vermont Yankee. As we learned, there is more to the town than one nuclear power plant.

We found ourselves so inspired by what we heard, that a couple of the other photographers and I ended up working round-the-clock to piece together a multi-media presentation of our work, and more importantly, their stories. Just 27 hours after we began shooting, we presented a very rough version of at an open forum to discuss Vermont Yankee led by photojournalist Michael Forster Rothbart at the Vermont Center for Photography yesterday. Now, after roughly 36 hours of shooting, audio and photo editing, and compiling the final presentation, our piece is nearly complete; I am just waiting on final approval from my colleagues to show it to the world. Once all are happy with the final edit, which I completed at roughly 12:30AM last night, I will share the link to the video on my blog and website.

Stay tuned!

The Keystone XL Battle is not over

I originally wrote this on November 11, 2011, but didn’t publish it immediately because I instead submitted it as an op-ed piece to the Washington Post. The guidelines of many big newspapers, such as the Post and New York Times, require that submissions are completely unpublished, in any form, including personal blogs. Such big papers also can take up to two weeks to accept or reject submitted writing, and in that time this piece became a little dated, and I never got around to self publishing it after it was rejected. However, I did put a lot of time into writing this, and with all the new controversies surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline, I’ve decided to post it to my blog in its original form. Was I the only one who saw the “delay” as a cop out at the time? Bill McKibben, perhaps you need my phone number…

United States President Barack Obama today announced that he will delay the decision of whether or not to approve the 1700 mile Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would bring dirty, toxic tar sands from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas. Tar sands are terribly inefficient fuel sources; huge quantities of water are needed to heat and separate oil from the other materials in tar sands. In order to make the tar sands viscous enough to be pumped from the earth and through the pipeline, toxic chemicals must be added to the crude material. The process is so wasteful that it takes roughly two tons of tar sands to produce a single barrel of oil, and the process of mining and refining tar sands releases two to four times the amount of greenhouse gases as the production of conventional oil (which isn’t all that great either). Tar sands are dirty, toxic, and inefficient and promoting them is an awfully terrible idea.

So when Obama’s administration announced that the decision as to whether or not to approve the pipeline was going to be pushed off until early 2013, after the 2012 election, I found it hard to feel as victorious as Bill McKibben and other Tar Sands Action advocates. Sure, I’m glad the proposal wasn’t approved, and I’m darn proud to be one of the 12,000 demonstrators who protested outside the White House this past Sunday, but there is a lot of language surrounding the decision to postpone the decision that worries me.

For one, there is a lot of talk about alternative routes. Nebraskans adamantly oppose the tar sands, concerned that the chemicals will ruin their farmland and further threaten the already endangered Sand Hill crane. They showed up in droves to the November 6th protest, wearing “corn fingers” that touted “Stop TransCanada Pipeline” and “No Oil in Our Soil.” Clearly, they made an impression.

Alternative routes don’t sound like a good idea to me. While I applaud the President for realizing the risk of cutting through Nebraska’s sand hills with a giant pipeline full of dirty, crude oil, I’m positive that putting a tar sands pipeline anywhere is a bad idea. The only acceptable alternative is to stop the pipeline altogether, something the President seems afraid to do.

Obama, put your big boy pants on. While campaigning in 2007 and 2008, you said “Let’s be the generation that frees itself from the tyranny of oil.” You said that the government should invest in clean energy and green jobs. So when faced with the decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that really doesn’t have anything positive going for it, why the hold up?

The pipeline will not create green jobs. In fact, it will destroy as many jobs as it creates, and it will destroy our environment along with it. In a November 5 article, the Washington Post revealed that pipeline proponents grossly overestimated the number of jobs the pipeline would create, and a report by the Cornell University Global Labor Institute suggested that the number of jobs lost from potential pipeline disasters, increased health care costs, and increased cost of gasoline due to diverting tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast will negate any employment gain from the pipeline’s temporary jobs.

And what of the oil? Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer feels that the Keystone XL pipeline is vital for the U.S. economy and Canadian economy. “If Keystone XL dies,” he wrote in an emailed message, “Americans will … continue to import 10 million barrels of oil from repressive nations, without the benefit of thousands of jobs and long-term energy security.” Well, Mr. Girling, a little bird told me that U.S. Republicans refuse to vote for legislation that would guarantee that the oil from the pipeline would not be sold overseas, and those jobs you speak of don’t exist. So where does that leave your argument?

Unfortunately, it seems that Canadian parliament supports the Keystone XL pipeline. “We remain hopeful the project will be decided on its merits and eventually approved,” said a spokesman for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “Our government will continue to promote Canada, and the oil sands, as a stable, secure, and ethical source of energy for the world.” Mr. Harper, are you out of your mind?

Tar sands oil is toxic and inefficient. Creation of the Keystone XL pipeline would create some jobs, but temporary ones, and would kill at least as many. It would endanger the health and lifestyles of millions of Americans and Canadians, many of which will lose their homes and farmland when TransCanada uses eminent domain to seize property for construction of the pipeline. Further development of the tar sands will continue to pollute our air and water, and will contribute catastrophically to a rapidly changing global climate.

I like you Obama. You’re charming, you’ve managed to stay pretty scandal free, and you’re a heck of a lot better than the alternative. But you seem cowardly right now. Bill McKibben says I should praise you for your most recent move, but I’m finding it hard to want to pat you on the back for this one.

I wanted you to be my President because you launched your 2008 bid for the White House on an ethical foundation that spoke of compassion for our country, our planet, and its people. I wanted you to take office because I thought you would make the lives of Americans better, because I felt you had good judgement, good morals, and wanted the best for us.

Where is that President now?

What happens, Obama, if you don’t get reelected in 2012? By pushing off your decision about Keystone XL, you are gambling with more than just your Presidency. You are gambling with our health. You are gambling with our trust. You are gambling with the future of our planet, the planet you will leave your little girls. Why take that risk?

By pushing off your decision, Mr. President, you are leaving an open door, and that door is a closet with skeletons and ghouls and goblins inside. You are betting that those of us who have supported you won’t start to worry about your commitment to the environment and public health, and that we will continue to support you in the 2012 elections. You are betting that proponents of the pipeline will bank on you signing off on the disaster in 2013, and will vote for you over conservative candidates who openly support Keystone XL. You are betting that you will win in 2012 and even get the chance to make that decision.

Maybe you’d rather lose the election in 2012 and allow a Republican to make that decision because you are too scared to take a definitive stand yourself.

HOPE. I elected you because I had hope for the future and your presidency. I still do.

While you are still in a position of power, make the right decision, Mr. President. Do what is the best for your country, for your people. Trust that making the right decision will lead to your reelection in 2012, and will ensure the prosperity of the people and country you swore to serve.

Kari Post
New Hampshire

Why we need the Occupy Movement

When I first heard that a bunch of ordinary people had begun camping outside of Wall Street in opposition to the disparity of wealth and power in our country, I was impressed. I’m easily one of the 99% that the occupiers represent, and their presence at Zuccotti Park has brought worldwide attention to a growing problem in our society. Since the Wall Streets protesters first took up residence near Wall Street on September 17th, the occupation has spread globally; hundreds of thousands of people have flooded occupations on every continent (except Antarctica, which lacks a permanent sustainable human population).

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to visit Occupy D.C. McPherson Square (Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, has two occupation movements, one in McPherson Square and one at Liberty Plaza) and spend a few hours there prior to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline protest at the White House. Upon approaching the park, my heart filled with pride and excitement as I saw the small tent city plopped in the middle of our urban capital, just blocks from the White House. Yet, as I walked down the concrete pathway leading through the square, I began to feel like I didn’t belong, as if this occupation didn’t actually represent me.

I tried not to be too quick to pass judgement, and stayed awhile, observing the people at McPherson. It was clear that for some, occupying had become their full time occupation, while others were obviously visitors from elsewhere, and a bunch fell in between, indistinct as to what their connection (or lack of) with the McPherson Square movement was. In residence were unkempt vagabond types, granola crunchy hippie types, working class folk, artists, caretakers who could cook, clean, and provide basic medical care, families with small children, blacks and whites, young and old, and others you would expect to see representing the 99%. I saw not a single suit or tie.

McPherson Square had a kitchen that provided three meals a day to occupiers and a medical tent off limits to the media. There was a tent with cold weather clothes and spare blankets for people needing to stay warm on cold nights and a media tent where folks could stay up to date (and keep the rest of the world up to date) on the occupy movement. Also, a small library of eclectic books and an overflowing waste center complete with recycling but no compost.

The Occupy scene at McPherson Square in Washington DC, complete with posters, tents, and members of the 99%.

None of this was the problem (except maybe, the lack of compost). I hadn’t expected to see white collar suit and tie business men on the streets playing chess with the homeless. The problem, for me, was what this occupation meant, what it and the people who brought it to life, who were it, stood for. The problem for me were the signs.

There was an area of grass where dozens of signs, written on scrap cardboard, fresh poster paper, and pieces of fabric, were placed for all to see. Signs also surrounded the statue in the center of the square and decorated tents and lawn space throughout the occupation. Among these were messages like “Keep your filthy hands off my American dream” and the ever popular “This is what democracy looks like” mixed with quotes from various famous people, recommendations to provide medicare for all and cancel all debt, a variety of interesting definitions of the 99%, and a sign promoting the legalization of marijuana. As much as I wanted to back the occupation, I honestly couldn’t support half of the messages its members had scribbled down.

While I can't say I agree with all of the sentiments expressed on these signs at Occupy Washington DC, I have to admit, some of the slogans were awfully clever.

At one point, the gentleman who passed out snacks from the kitchen came around with a pack of cigarettes, feeding the nicotine addition of McPherson’s vagrant protesters while puffing on one of his own. As someone who thinks smoking is one of the most unattractive and disgusting of habits (and has personally been affected by how deadly a habit it is), I was appalled. (It is sadly ironic that so many who advocate for public healthcare and the environment are addicted to sucking clouds of noxious carcinogens directly into their bodies from pollutants produced by greedy corporate persons who, without a doubt, value profit over the lives of human beings.)

My initial reaction was one of feeling disenchanted, almost as if I had been played the fool. Here I had been, a supporter of the people’s movement, avidly following news of Wall Street and elsewhere, even updating my Facebook status to read “Occupations are occupying my heart. I love the 99%!”, and I was not even sure I agreed with these people, or even that I actually had very much in common with them. I felt silly, hurt, and even a little betrayed, as if I had placed my trust in those brave enough to sleep on the streets for me, and they were somehow letting me down by being less than perfect.

Fear not, though. A few days of reflection (and much needed rest) have opened my eyes to the beauty of the Occupy Movement, and a thing of beauty it truly is. At Occupations, different views and beliefs are represented, often honestly and openly. Individuals can represent their individual beliefs, regardless of their age, gender, class, culture, or lifestyle. I don’t agree with all the messages that individuals at the Occupy Movements have come up with. Frankly, I don’t have sympathy for those who won’t work, or who have landed themselves deep in debt because they’ve lived for years frivolously beyond their means, and I think anyone trying to endorse the legalization of marijuana when there are so many other problems with our world has got their priorities seriously mixed up…

But many have taken to the streets and are making their voices heard. Including people who are in debt solely due to college loans and now find themselves overqualified and underpaid for the jobs that are available in our current economic crisis, unable to pay back their loans faster than the interest that accumulates on them. Including people who have never had debt up until recently, when job cuts left them unable to feed their families, pay their rent, or get medical care. Including people whose taxes have been used to bail out greedy corporations and banks, throwing our own country further into debt. I am one of those people, and, if you live in the United States, you are too.

A crowd gathers for a discussion about corporate big business agriculture vs local sustainable family farms at an assembly in McPherson Square at Occupy Washington DC. The conversation was facilitated by a Pennsylvania area farmer who has donated fresh produce and straw to DC's movement to help feed protesters and keep them warm on cold autumn nights.

Perhaps the Occupy Movement lacks a clear voice, but it does send a message. Occupations are a visible, living, breathing reminder that all is not right with the world. They are a sign that the corruption that permeates our society has not gone unnoticed, and that the disadvantaged refuse to keep laying down, mute and blissfully ignorant while the 1% unfairly and immorally touts its power and wealth. The Occupy Movement provides opportunities for discussion and a means to educate the greater public about what is wrong and what is right with our country. The fact that we can Occupy speaks to being American, and living in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” That is something to be proud of (and thankful for). The fact that so many unsettled people have caused such a huge scene and nothing has yet changed (and perhaps nothing will for quite some time) speaks to absurd power of the 1%. And if that doesn’t scare you, re-read what I just wrote; it should.

So, despite the fact that the message of Occupy Wall Street is still poorly defined and largely unclear, the Occupy Movements have initiated a dialogue, a conversation, about our current state of being. The Occupy Movement has created public awareness about the inequities of our current system, a system failing to guarantee to all the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as it supposedly should.

Need proof? There is a growing movement of 1 percenters who support and stand with the 99%. That is a bold statement to make, and one we likely would never have seen prior to a movement like Occupy Wall Street.

The occupation of occupations is education. I don’t care whether they realize that or not.

I don’t need to agree with all of the viewpoints expressed at Wall Street or in D.C. to be one of the 99% represented by the Occupy Movement. Or to benefit from it either. Thanks to some courageous souls who were so fed up with the injustices of our system that they set up tents near Wall Street in protest, a mass movement of social consciousness has occurred, and people have started talking. The public is becoming an informed public.

Most importantly, a conversation has begun in which the 99% are no longer silent.