Time And Emo­tion

ProPhoto - - PROFILE - In­ter­vIew by bruce usher

Per­haps best known for his tire­less ef­forts – with the ACMP in the 1990s – in help­ing to change the copy­right rules for Aus­tralian pho­tog­ra­phers, Chris Shain con­tin­ues to run a suc­cess­ful com­mer­cial photography busi­ness, but says the dig­i­tal era has pro­duced many new and dif­fer­ent chal­lenges. He talks to Bruce Usher about mak­ing time-lapse videos, his deep love of mu­sic, and work­ing with the late, great David Moore.

“Idon’t re­ally un­der­stand Pho­to­shop! I couldn’t re­touch a photo to save my­self,” says Syd­ney pho­tog­ra­pher Chris Shain be­tween mouth­fuls of Greek salad. But if I was to ask him about cre­at­ing a 15-sec­ond video clip from 60,000 still frames har­vested from a two-year time-lapse photography project, we’d be at his favourite Bal­main cafe for at least an­other two cof­fees.

Chris also men­tions a job that he’s been quot­ing re­cently, but thinks he may not want to do. His con­tact is an in­ex­pe­ri­enced cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions per­son and he’s been say­ing to Chris, “Come and shoot some pic­tures. Let’s do dif­fer­ent back­grounds with 30 dif­fer­ent peo­ple. How much an hour are you?”

Chris com­ments, “You just know it’s go­ing to be a bit more com­pli­cated than that”. But per­haps not as com­pli­cated as the Ty­lor ver­sus Sevin 2014 court case that Chris was called to as an ex­pert wit­ness and which brings us to the sub­ject of copy­right. Copy­right pro­tec­tion is prob­a­bly the sub­ject that many Aus­tralian pho­tog­ra­phers most as­so­ciate with Chris Shain – and it was a big part of his life for a while – but there’s a lot more to him than that.

The Early Years

Chris Shain’s fa­ther was a ra­dio physi­cist with the CSIRO. He was a world pioneer in radar and bounc­ing ra­dio sig­nals, but also a keen ama­teur pho­tog­ra­pher. Chris still has many of his neg­a­tives.

“He died very young,” Chris says, by way of say­ing there was no great pho­to­graphic in­flu­ence from this source. Chris went to Barker Col­lege on Syd­ney’s North Shore where, he re­calls, there wasn’t a cam­era club. Be­sides, Chris re­calls that he wasn’t re­ally in­ter­ested in the vis­ual arts at that time. He was a mu­sic and maths per­son, en­joy­ing them both. But he does re­mem­ber, at around 17 or 18, bor­row­ing a tele­photo lens from some­where and pho­tograph­ing friends surf­ing at Avalon Beach. Af­ter high school, Chris ob­tained an en­gi­neer­ing cadet­ship with a sci­en­tific and med­i­cal equip­ment man­u­fac­turer. He did ev­ery­thing from work­ing in the tool shop to re­search and de­vel­op­ment and de­sign­ing de­fib­ril­la­tors, and ended up spend­ing seven years there. It was ac­tu­ally dur­ing the last year that he be­came in­ter­ested in photography – par­tic­u­larly the me­chan­ics of the cam­eras – and set up a photography stu­dio.

Chris started shoot­ing cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions videos pretty early on, us­ing a reel-to-reel tape ma­chine and a mas­sive cam­era. Now it hap­pens on­line in­stantly, but back then video was rev­o­lu­tion­ary. He also be­gan pho­tograph­ing some of the equip­ment that the com­pany was man­u­fac­tur­ing. His first “real com­mer­cial” pho­to­graphic job came in the late 1970s. He re­calls us­ing the com­pany’s sales man­ager as the tal­ent with a dum­mied-up tra­cheotomy us­ing a hose coming from a hu­mid­i­fier.

De­spite this promis­ing start, a re­dun­dancy pack­age ar­rived via the re­ces­sion and Chris bought all the photography equip­ment for next to noth­ing. He just started shoot­ing pic­tures… and hasn’t stopped since.

Af­ter shoot­ing an an­nual report for steel sup­plier Wil­liam Adams, he be­came in­ter­ested in do­ing more industrial photography and en­rolled in a cou­ple of

part-time cour­ses at the newly-opened Aus­tralian Cen­tre for Photography. One course was with Phil Quirk – who was then a young hot­shot up from Mel­bourne – and he sub­se­quently met An­thony Brow­ell and Gra­ham McCarter, and be­gan work­ing with this group of highly suc­cess­ful Syd­ney-based com­mer­cial pho­tog­ra­phers. Some­time in 1978 he re­ceived a tele­phone call from Mark Lang, an­other of this group, who told him, “David Moore is look­ing for an as­sis­tant to­mor­row; he’s caught out, are you avail­able?”

That for­tu­itous call was the com­mence­ment of a long re­la­tion­ship. The 25-year-old Chris worked with David for the day and they got on well.

“I sort of hung around with him for ten years af­ter that and, be­tween my own as­sign­ments, we be­came friends. I even shot one of his daugh­ters’ wed­ding.”

The Moore Years

“He had great pas­sion,” Chris says of David Moore. “He was ob­sessed with im­agery, but also with other artis­tic forms. I learnt a huge amount from him.”

One of the early jobs they did was to photograph the then chair­man of Am­pol, Sir Tris­tan An­tico.

“He was a bit of work, I can tell you. I re­mem­ber go­ing into his of­fice with David and An­tico had a desk made from rock boul­der, four me­ters across, that had been cut down. He was also very fussy, with min­ions all around him. The com­mu­ni­ca­tions guy was trem­bling in his boots just talk­ing to him.

“David was asked to do the job be­cause An­tico didn’t like the pic­tures that had al­ready been taken for the com­pany’s an­nual report. It was in­ter­est­ing to see how David walked in and just took con­trol. He put a jacket and tie on to look con­ser­va­tive and, in a nice kind of way, David was say­ing, ‘Look I can make you look like a dick­head or I can make you look good. You choose. If you want to co-op­er­ate I can make some nice pic­tures of you’.

“The way he han­dled th­ese sit­u­a­tions was very ed­u­ca­tional – it wasn’t just the body lan­guage or the ver­bal lan­guage, but this air of pro­fes­sion­al­ism. So there was a lit­tle bit of re­spect both ways, which ob­vi­ously worked.”

Chris says he learnt a lot about the in­ter­ac­tion with clients from David, who he de­scribes as “…an amaz­ing net­worker. You should have seen him work­ing the room at AGNSW open­ings”.

He also learned a lot about the busi­ness of photography in gen­eral.

“David was re­ally ex­cited about pho­tograph­ing the con­struc­tion of the Glebe Is­land Bridge – now called The AN­ZAC Bridge – but it was his own project. He wasn’t com­mis­sioned, but he had to get ac­cess so he went to Baul­der­stone, the builder, and said, ‘I’m go­ing to shoot this thing, can you give me ac­cess? I want to come in when­ever I like, be­cause I want to doc­u­ment the con­struc­tion of this his­toric bridge’.

They let him do it, so David pro­duced all th­ese pic­tures com­pletely un­fet­tered, no com­mer­cial ar­range­ment. In the end, though, he sold the books and Baul­der­stone bought a lot of the prints, but it was all on his terms. That was a big les­son for me about do­ing pho­to­graphic projects on your own terms. He was com­mer­cially very savvy.”

Chris says David Moore was pas­sion­ate about quite a few things and he lob­bied hard to get the tax sit­u­a­tion changed in re­gard to artists do­nat­ing their works to gal­leries.

“He thought that if he wanted to do­nate his archive to the State Li­brary, for in­stance, or the AGNSW, he should get some sort of tax de­duc­tion, be­cause the col­lec­tion had a sig­nif­i­cant value. I’m not sure how that all turned out. David was in­censed – from a copy­right per­spec­tive – that Max Du­pain didn’t own the copy­right to many of his ear­lier pic­tures be­cause he was ac­tu­ally em­ployed by a client, Har­land & Hyde. Max didn’t want to deal with the busi­ness side of things, so H&H did his book­work – all the back­end stuff – and he ac­tu­ally be­came an employee.”

An­other of the ear­lier jobs on which Chris as­sisted David Moore was for Chan­nel Seven’s an­nual report when they lit up the mas­sive in­te­rior of the At­lab film-pro­cess­ing lab­o­ra­tory at Ep­ping with just three com­pact Lowel Tota lights.

The big­gest prob­lem pho­tog­ra­phers have with copy­right is them­selves, be­cause it’s very dif­fi­cult to make a stand.

Chris says that, the week be­fore, he had been as­sist­ing an ad­ver­tis­ing pho­tog­ra­pher to photograph a fridge in a stu­dio, and that, “…we lit­er­ally had a truck full of gear”.

Chris ar­rived at David’s stu­dio at six o’clock in the morn­ing for his next job and re­calls, “All he had was a bag with two Nikon bod­ies and four prime lenses and an­other lit­tle box – like a Glo­bite suit­case – with the three To­tas in it. That was it!

“I said to David, ‘Do you want a hand with the gear?’ and he said, ‘No thanks, it’s all in the car’. I looked in the back of the car and said, ‘ Yeah! You’re sure?’ David said, “You don’t need much. It’s not about re­light­ing, es­pe­cially when shoot­ing ar­chi­tec­tural in­te­ri­ors. Base prin­ci­pal is to start with noth­ing, and see what’s there. Rather than say­ing, I’m go­ing to light this like this’.”

The Copy­right Years

I ask Chris whether, with all the work he has done on copy­right for pho­tog­ra­phers over the years, does he look back with some frus­tra­tion?

“Yes,” is his im­me­di­ate an­swer. But he con­tin­ues, “One of the most frus­trat­ing things is that the pho­tog­ra­phers often blame the client. They’ll say, for ex­am­ple, aren’t th­ese me­dia pro­pri­etors a bunch of bas­tards? In some ways they are, but they’re also smarter, bet­ter or­gan­ised and have bet­ter lawyers. They asked them­selves; how are we go­ing to con­trol this con­tent? We’ll just write con­tracts… and the pho­tog­ra­phers were silly enough to sign them. The big­gest prob­lem pho­tog­ra­phers have with copy­right is them­selves, be­cause it’s very dif­fi­cult to make a stand. When there are thou­sands of guys out there want­ing to do it for noth­ing, or stu­dents who say, ‘I’ll work for a hun­dred bucks’.

“David Moore would have peo­ple telling him that those clas­sic 1950 pic­tures of cars on the Syd­ney Har­bour Bridge… well, ev­ery­one shot one of those! Maybe they did, but David could ac­tu­ally find his… and he owned the copy­right. Down the track, images that may seem in­nocu­ous now, could well have some value to you.

“My fam­ily – to their fi­nan­cial detri­ment – has al­ways been in­ter­ested in ser­vice so it’s in my DNA. Some peo­ple go so far and then draw the line. Some­times my wife tells me, ‘ You aren’t go­ing to save the world!’ Prob­a­bly not, but you have to have a crack at it! One of the things about photography is that it’s an ex­pe­ri­ence. So we are in a priv­i­leged po­si­tion to see it and ex­pe­ri­ence it and, de­pend­ing on how good your skills are, to in­ter­pret and make some­thing ef­fec­tive. That’s where copy­right is im­por­tant. I think we should be able to con­trol our own work. We cre­ated it, so why shouldn’t we own it?”

Mak­ing Mu­sic

“Mu­sic is a bal­ance to photography for me, an­other art form,” states Chris, who found out that he was a nat­u­ral at school. The Year Nine stu­dent had no singing lessons, but sang so­los and duets with a taller, blond-haired stu­dent by the name of Peter Gar­rett. In an­other life Chris would like to have been a pro­fes­sional singer.

“I’ve dab­bled in all sorts of mu­sic. I’m a tenor… a valu­able and ex­change­able com­mod­ity. I’ve sung all sorts of things around the world. One of the most stress­ful things I’ve ever done is sing a Ne­gro spir­i­tual at Michael Hutchence’s funeral – it was Deep River, a tenor solo with a choir. Oh, my God! St An­drew’s Cathe­dral was packed with the rock-’n-roll world’s lu­mi­nar­ies and here is me get­ting up to sing in front of all th­ese peo­ple and then walk­ing out to the world’s me­dia with hun­dreds of flashes go­ing off. It was pretty amaz­ing. I’m go­ing on a tour with the St James choir who are all pro­fes­sional mu­si­cians, but I sing with them part-time.

The tour is to Eng­land and in­cludes singing in West­min­ster Abbey for a week, then the Winch­ester and Ex­eter Cathe­drals, then to Rome, Paris, Vi­enna and fi­nally back to West­min­ster Abbey for AN­ZAC Day.”

Chris Shain ar­rived home from London to a mas­sive pile of pa­per­work and more time-lapse photography con­tracts.

But the first photography to be tack­led is the AIPP’s Sec­ond World War Vet­er­ans por­trait project which, when com­pleted, will be to be pre­sented to the Aus­tralian War Memo­rial. Hun­dreds of pho­tog­ra­phers around the coun­try are in­volved, and there are still around ten thou­sand WWII vet­er­ans alive. Chris pho­tographed ten of them at a Wol­lon­gong Nurs­ing home and then an­other 15 at the Figtree Bowl­ing Club which the lo­cal RSL or­gan­ised.

ProPhoto caught up with Chris again a few months af­ter he re­turned from his Euro­pean singing tour. He ar­rived at this in­ter­view di­rectly from set­ting up a time-lapse cam­era on a long-term con­struc­tion site.

“There’s a lot to do in th­ese set-ups – de­cid­ing where the cam­era is to go and how to at­tach it. You have to imag­ine what the fin­ished shot is go­ing to look like. You’re set­ting some­thing up now for the fin­ished shot which is a long way down the track.”

Dig­i­tal cap­ture has made time-lapse photography much more fea­si­ble. His set­ups can in­volve up to ten Nikon D3300 D-SLRs in spe­cialised hous­ings each with a 3G mo­dem which sends the im­age files wire­lessly to a server.

“Right now, they’re still coming in and, at some point, you have to gather up all th­ese still frames… and there may be as many as 60,000 of them. Even get­ting the files off the server, pro­cess­ing them and turn­ing them into a mo­tion file is very time-con­sum­ing and com­puter-hun­gry. Then you have to edit and, at 24 frames per sec­ond, end­ing up with 15 to 20 min­utes of mo­tion which is ac­tu­ally com­pletely lu­di­crous, you re­ally only need 30 sec­onds. Th­ese clients are big cor­po­ra­tions or gov­ern­ment de­part­ments and the fin­ished videos are mostly used for mar­ket­ing. Some con­tracts for time-lapse videos can be worth $100,000 or even $150,000.”

Ty­lor v. Sevin

The case of Ty­lor v. Sevin was de­cided on 26 Fe­bru­ary 2014 in the Fed­eral Cir­cuit Court of Aus­tralia, and it’s be­come an im­por­tant prece­dent in the pursuit of copy­right in­fringe­ments, es­pe­cially in the dig­i­tal era, be­cause the dis­pute ac­tu­ally pro­gressed to le­gal pro­ceed­ings. Vin­cent Ty­lor is an Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher who runs an on­line stock photo agency in Hawaii, and dis­cov­ered one of his images was be­ing used il­le­gally by a Mel­bournebased on­line travel agency. All at­tempts to ob­tain com­pen­sa­tion failed so Ty­lor elected to take le­gal ac­tion in Aus­tralia. With his ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence of copy­right is­sues re­lat­ing to photography in Aus­tralia, Chris Shain was called as the ex­pert wit­ness. A pub­lic judg­ment was handed down in favour of Ty­lor and award­ing both dam­ages – which in­cluded the orig­i­nal li­cense fee for the im­age – and costs. The to­tal amounted to over $24,000.

“Pho­tog­ra­phers need to be rec­om­pensed for hav­ing their work abused,” com­ments Chris, “and the magic of this is that here is a well-doc­u­mented court case which starts to cre­ate some re­al­ity in terms of the money in­volved. Here some­one has clearly ripped off the pic­tures and they have to pay. It went to court and the judge came down heav­ily on them. I know sev­eral lawyers who have used this case as a bit of a beat­ing stick to say, ‘Look, if you want to keep pur­su­ing this, there is now case in law that makes it very clear that you have done the wrong thing and this is what it’s go­ing to cost you. A le­gal prece­dent has been set’. The prob­lem pre­vi­ously was that there had never been any prece­dents.

“The com­mer­cial re­al­ity of be­ing a pho­tog­ra­pher is get­ting harder. You have to be more busi­ness-like, and clients have big­ger ex­pec­ta­tions now… for less money.

The com­mer­cial re­al­ity of be­ing a pho­tog­ra­pher is get­ting harder. You have to be more busi­ness-like, and clients have big­ger ex­pec­ta­tions now… for less money.”

And there are bucket loads of peo­ple out there who aren’t mak­ing a liv­ing at all.”

Chris Shain be­lieves there is now a dis­con­nect hap­pen­ing be­tween hav­ing a pas­sion for im­age-mak­ing and mak­ing a liv­ing from com­mer­cial photography.

“A pro­fes­sional is not just some­body who owns a cam­era. It’s not about the cam­era, it’s what you bring to the ta­ble and how you might make that work. I think the pho­tog­ra­pher is an ob­server and the emo­tional re­sponse to a photo is very im­por­tant. It’s a bit of a way of life for me rather than I get up and turn into a pho­tog­ra­pher at nine o’clock. I’m al­ways think­ing about pic­tures and the things I’d like to doc­u­ment. A project here or there. Plenty of it doesn’t come to fruition, but it’s a life­style. The time when all the pho­tog­ra­phers say no to con­tracts or change them, would make my day. Mind you, I also un­der­stand the re­al­i­ties of work­ing with some clients, and what they want and de­mand.

“We’re ter­ri­bly for­tu­nate as pho­tog­ra­phers. Peo­ple think kids are born with eyes, there­fore they can see. Often we’re not! And pho­tog­ra­phers and artists in gen­eral, this is what you do. You see things and you in­ter­pret what you see… and lots of peo­ple don’t get that. This is, I think, the gift that pho­tog­ra­phers have.”

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