Helen Levitt, 1913-2009
Speaking in Omaha

Camel Nose

Eliot Elisofon, Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

I think, or hope rather, that it was the editor and creator of AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHER Sean Callahan who said, sometime in the early 80's in response to the news that LIFE was going to start printing again,

...for heaven's sake, just put a stake through the heart already and kill the thing for good...

Or, something like that.

Now, AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHER was a great magazine. One of those magazines that was a major treat to receive each month. A magazine that would be read cover to cover, more than once. Where photography was talked about in an intelligent way, but where the conversation could still go snarky when the occasion called for it.

(Please don't confuse it with AMERICAN PHOTO, which wasn't/isn't any of those thing, and is currently looking for a buyer.)

Perhaps it wasn't Sean who actually wrote those words, regardless he was the editor and that statement was in the magazine back then. Which is significant, because Sean once worked at LIFE. He even did a book with Margaraet Bourke-White around 1972.

Not knowing much about much, I couldn't understand why anyone wouldn't want LIFE to be around. In fact, it wasn't more than five or six years later that I would be a (kinda big) contributor to that magazine.

I was even briefly happy to see the magazine rise up again in the form of a weekly newspaper insert. Yes, after seeing the result, you're right, that is a very embarrassing admission.

So today we get the news of a new incarnation, LIFE 4.0 or so. Not only can you see LIFE's take on World War II, you can get their salute to the bikini! As if that wasn't awesome enough, you can also get mega-photo-agency Getty's worldwide coverage pumped through the LIFE filter straight to your home!

This was in the works for a long time. We got the first official threat...err statement a few months back, but the rumors of some kind of merger have been coming and going through the photo departments of various TIME/LIFE magazines for a good seven or eight years now.

The fear was that the corporate entities would sign a deal which would make Getty the sole supplier of photographic content for all of the TIME/WARNER/CNN/AOL (not exactly sure what to call it) magazines.

I'm guessing, and this is just my opinion, that the LIFE deal is just the tip of the iceberg, or the nose of the camel (consult someone from the old country for a full explanation).

Now that the business interests of Getty and The Corporation formerly known as Time/Life are aligned, it doesn't make any sense to pay someone who isn't helping to feed the content pipeline to make pictures for you.

It doesn't make sense that is, if you're a Suit.

On the other hand, if you were looking to do something not only truly great, but if you wanted to survive, you'd see this as a huge mistake.

I never understood why a magazine, that prided itself on producing original content, would use Getty's work.

I mean, you realize that all of that work is readily available to viewers on Getty's site and on a million different websites as well. You do realize that, right? All of that "content" is also going to be used by all of the other publications that you're trying to compete with.

Do you realizes this?

The Suits will tell you, well, if you're an editor they'll command you, that it doesn't make financial sense to spend all of that money on those nutty photographer types, and we're not going to do it anymore. We've got all your photo needs right here, covered with one simple monthly payment.

They'll keep telling you that, even as your readers tell you that imagines like this...

Allan Grant, Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

...that we've all seen a million times before, are not enough to get them to visit your site.

If you want to survive (you Suits), and maybe that's not your goal, maybe you just want to get through to the next round of bonuses. I don't know, but if you want to last even another five years, you need to do two things (at the very least).

1) Listen to your editors. Some of them have a real passion for this stuff. They know what they need to do.

2) Pump tens of millions of dollars into producing great original work for your publications and their websites. Better yet, get really serious and spend as much on editorial content as you do on martinis and hookers.

The only thing that will save these publications, in my opinion, is great content, both in words and pictures.

Otherwise, just do the right thing, put a stake through the heart and call it good

Another exercise in branding isn't going to help a thing.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Kenneth Jarecke

In all honesty, I wasn't trying to be sarcastic with the two images above. I really like both of them.


The problem with the premise is that you actually care and you think that the Suits actually give a shit. News flash... They don't! To them, just as when T/L merged with Warner and then AOL, it's about monetizing a brand and to position content you already own into something that "might be" down the road. Think ameoba, tentacles and all. You can afford to lose an appendage now and again because you'll grow or "acquire" another one along the journey figure out how to monetize that. If not, you'll cast off the limb as not a money making entity, but you'll retain the rights to the name brand for repurposing later if necessary.

The clearest example is Hollywood. Movies today are shit, except for say a few mistakes that happen along the way now. Things that fly under the radar so far that they get released without Suits interference. But the bigger picture is they've moved into other domains of entertainment, video games, home rentals, etc. Productions are seen as "franchises" (God, I hate that term) every aspect of the "Amoeba" gets considered and is expected to earn something toward the franchise. Apparently, Life is one brand that TWAOL thinks it can still be monetized. They don't care about what it once meant to people or will mean in the future. It's brand is burned into the psyche of America for a long time to come no matter what they do to diminish it. Chances are people will look at the new Life (whatever form of delivery) once maybe twice and never follow it again. It's just going to be another also ran in an endless amount of choices, evolutionary dead ends, but with the name recognition others don't have. People won't truly realize that until they look at it once or twice. And that is all they want, one or two views from people. Here today, gone tomorrow. "But hey, we at least got people to stop long enough to look at us..." mentality.

With so many outlet for media (photography/video, etc.) it's doubtful that there ever will be another entity like Life again. People don't care enough at all levels and attention spans are two fleeting because something is coming along simultaneously or right after that might hold an individual's attention for a few moments. This however, doesn't mean people can't be doing good work in the meantime. They're probably tons of individuals capable, it's just going to be a lot hardy to find a suitable outlet if you yourself have some standards as to where you'll allow your work to be shown. You won't be able to align your quality with a quality outlet. Again, think Hollywood. Tons of actors, tons of movies/tv shows (mostly pretty crappy), but you got to eat right? Take Gene Hackman, great actor, done tons of great films in his past, can't now find a script to save his life, but he's got to work so he does whatever and hangs it out there. So, get used to the notion that you'll probably have to do whatever is necessary to get paid. The optimist sees lots of opportunities in a new paradigm and pessimist thinks it's all over now. The answer is probably between those two points somewhere, but just as you've suggested new thinking by "everyone" is going to be necessary to survive.

Brian Snyder

here is another bloggers take on the Getty/Life entity:

The comments to this entry are closed.