A conversation with Chris Johns, Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Magazine

Chris Johns in office

Once a field photographer, Chris Johns now works out of his office at the headquarters of the National Geographic Society in Washington, DC. (photo by David Alan Harvey)

Not in conversation with us, of course. It’s a conversation with veteran NGM photographer David Alan Harvey, who has known Chris for decades as a colleague and a friend.

david alan harvey color 235x300

David Alan Harvey

When we discovered, several days ago, that David had scheduled this interview, we encouraged him to make the most of his opportunity, especially since there’s so much at stake:

Please know,” we wrote to David, “that you are, in many ways, representing a whole lot of photographers, writers, editors, researchers, cartographers, designers, and many others who will never be given the chance to interview Chris on the record — but whose livelihoods rely on what happens to the Magazine.”

We also encouraged David to pursue an important issue that a gentleman named Sidney Atkins had posted at David’s website. Sidney wanted Chris to address greenwashing in the pages of National Geographic, and the impact of corporate advertising on the Magazine’s (and the Society’s) credibility.

Sidney also wondered about editorial self-censorship: “[W]hat I am really curious about is how as editor [Chris Johns] balances the pressures that I know must be on him to “go easy” on certain topics, or avoid certain topics….“ Another reader seconded Sidney’s motion: “I share your view completely,” wrote Gerhard. “Your write-up is excellent and to the the point.”

But as you’ll see when you read the “interview” – and we encourage you to read the whole thing — David decided to… well, to take the conversation in a very different direction. Instead of addressing Sidney’s and Gerhard’s questions, or talking about the earthquake rattling the world of professional photojournalists — and all the related challenges for National Geographic — the guys spent most of their time chatting about drive and passion and hunger and spark and being in the zone. Also, much talk about voice. And hunger.

Chris Johns yellow rectangle

Chris Johns, Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic magazine

The “interview” goes on for more than 3,100 words. Notably absent are words such as internet, web, digital, team, society, innovation, growth, sustainability, social, community, future, or hope.

Reading the transcript, you’ll find almost nothing that will be new or illuminating to photographers or NGM staffers. There’s nothing to suggest that we’re living, right now, in what might be called “the decisive [journalistic] moment.” Instead, two guys share their feelings and stroke each other. They say things that could have been said in 1990 — and probably were.

Like an old, faded photograph, this “interview” seems anachronistic, frozen in time.

For two photographers who take great professional pride in capturing moments, they seem blissfully unaware of — or consciously uninterested in — the moment we’re all living through right now.

And what poor timing: This week, “the tribe” of NGM photographers has gathered at NGS headquarters for their annual photo seminar and professional meetings. What a wonderful opportunity David had to invite Chris to begin a real conversation with our community about the future. About a Plan for the road ahead. About the next chapter in The National Geographic Story.

Instead, Chris and David — two tribal elders — sat down to chat, exchanged many words, yet shed very little light. Lots of voice… but no vision.

It depresses us to say so, David, but: You missed the shot.

An excerpt from the “interview”:

Chris Johns: … Well people say ” I want your job”…well so what? No I want people who are hungry and are walking the walk. I mean just putting it out there and they really believe in what they do. They care deeply about what they do. And they want to be better. Yet, they’ve got their voice and what they want to do is not be like everybody else, they want to take the voice they have, the experiences of their life, their soul, your life’s experiences, and refine it, and amplify it, and bring it to another level to share. To share what they see, to share what they feel. It’s just this sensational honor. David, you’ve got it. Hunger.

David Alan Harvey: And you do too.

CJ: Absolutely. Yes, hunger.

DAH: All of us. Deep.

CJ:  I don’t know why.

DAH:  I don’t know why either. I don’t know if we’ve explained anything to anybody but its [sic] true. That hunger is the thing.

CJ:  It’s the same thing. It’s this drive. You know, when I became editor of the magazine, the drive didn’t go away, it was channeled in a slightly…

DAH: In a slightly different direction.

CJ:  I still work 60 or 70 hours a week.

DAH:  Well I didn’t think you took this job to take a vacation. 

Okay, so you’ve got two books that we can talk about and twenty some magazine articles, and at sixty years old your [sic] thinking its [sic] time to get your act together. Now that is so weird. Nelson Mandela wrote your forward [sic]. Amazing.

CJ: I’ve got to do better.   

DAH: Yeah, I know the feeling.  

CJ: I can’t be slipshod here.

DAH: No but yet at the same time, you value time with your family. I’ve seen you with your family. You value time with your friends. I’ve seen that as well. You have Elizabeth, who you met in Africa and Nichole, Louise, Tim who are just the nicest young people.

CJ:  My family is number one.

DAH: So you’re not just a maniac. But it’s a work ethic thing. It’s a work ethic, it’s a passion.

CJ: It’s a deep thing where you know, you talk to a great writer, you talk to a great photographer, and you can’t help yourself. You have to work. You have to take pictures. You have to create. These are things that you are… these are almost obsessions.

DAH: Wait a minute. Say that again,  you can’t help yourself?

CJ: You can’t help yourself.

DAH: That’s it. You just can’t help yourself.

CJ: Sure.

DAH: So this whole interview comes down to that?

CJ: Absolutely.

{ end of “interview” }
_____

Be sure to check out David Alan Harvey’s upcoming story about the place he now calls home — the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Chris Johns has scheduled this story — with photographs and text by David — for publication later this year in National Geographic.

  • tom hyde

    Alan, if others don’t grab the lance and tilt in the direction you wish, then they have missed the shot?

    I don’t know you, or your situation but I find your comments a bit unfair and, like much of this  website, not unlike a sharpened stiletto poised to slip between the ribs of those you face smiling. My impression is that this effort is more of a vendetta than straightforward attempt to provide meaningful input in the future of an organization that fired you? I could be wrong but perhaps you will find my first impression helpful. That’s the problem isn’t it, once you leave it’s just going to look like sour grapes no matter what, huh? Regardless, and I don’t mean to be unkind, but I don’t care.

    Look, Burn Magazine is a photographer’s magazine, all about the photographic process, by and essentially for photographers and those interested in photography. To my knowledge it’s all volunteer and money that comes in goes right back out in the form of direct grants to photographers, substantial ones.

    Everyone has a right to their opinion. Personally, I quite liked the conversation, and note, it was called a “conversation,” not interrogation, or inquisition, thereby implying a friendly chat. And I do think the insight that the best photography comes from a true need and hunger to tell stories, to be curious of the world around you in something more than just an esoteric way, is perhaps the best insight any aspiring photographer can get.

    So come on man, don’t go grasping at every little straw you think you can poke through the barn door and bring the rest of us down with you. Honestly, it seems a bit desperate. Perhaps time to move on?

    With all sincerity, I do wish you the best.

    Tom Hyde

    • http://societymatters.org Alan Mairson

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks very much for your note — and for stopping by. Also, thanks for using (what I assume is) your real name. Lots of people hide behind anonymous handles; I’m grateful that you haven’t.

      You bring up some great points. Here are some reactions:

      – Please know that you’re not the first person to suggest this site is sour grapes. However, as I’ve pointed out before, the critique you see here at Society Matters is one I shared for years inside NGS prior to my dismissal in 2008. I’ve been highlighting these same issues and the editorial transformation of the Magazine for almost as long as Society membership has been in a nosedive. So this is not a vendetta; it’s a way of continuing that conversation, of highlighting the challenges NGS faces, and to encourage senior management to move in a new direction. 

      – Yes, Burn is a photographer’s magazine — but National Geographic is a lot more than that. Photographers might disagree, of course; at NGM, the text was often considered to be just the gray border for the images. … But when pictures become commodities (they have) — and when I can see David Alan Harvey’s photos online for free (I can) — then the old game is over. The new game is asking your followers to chip in 99 cents to cover your travel expenses to Rio. Every NGM photographer is scrambling to figure out what they’re going to do next to survive. So while David might want to talk to Chris about hunger and passion — and while he also wants his Outer Banks pictures and text to stay on the Magazine’s publication schedule for later this year — the people who still work at National Geographic would love to hear about what’s going to stop the ship from sinking. David and Chris are up in the ship’s wheelhouse, of course — and as David’s photo of Chris indicates, it’s a lovely view. But down in the engine room there’s a huge hole in the ship’s hull, and the water is pouring in. Burn readers may not especially care about who will drown next below deck, but I do.    

      – I’m glad you enjoyed David’s conversation with Chris. It was pure Burn. But I’ll remind you that a few other people at Burn (i.e. Sidney Atkins) brought up other questions, which I encouraged David to pursue. He didn’t. Which is why I think he missed the shot.

      – I wish David all the best with Burn. It’s a wonderful reflection of who he is, and the community he wants to create. Me — I’m not poking straws through the barn door. Rather, the barn is on fire (metaphor overload!); I’m pulling the alarm — and running to find a hose… and some help. 

      – Finally, I’d echo what you wrote: There is a “true need and hunger to tell stories, to be curious of the world around you in something more than an esoteric way.” In all my years as a journalist, the story of the National Geographic Society — its past, present, and future — is perhaps the most interesting one I’ve ever covered. It has everything a storyteller could want: a great plot (to date) … an amazing backstory…. big themes… a cast of compelling characters… a huge audience… a single location (one block in downtown DC)… and so much more. 

      Most of all, though, the National Geographic story itself has the potential to engage people not as passive viewers — but as participant observers. That idea — that first-person, I’m-not-watching-the story-I-am-part-of-the-story approach — is what made National Geographic magazine narratives so popular. I also believe it’s the secret to its revival: We need to give NGS members the sense that they’re not watching history, but living it.

      Society Matters is my small attempt to engage people in that way. I believe the Society’s story is simply our society’s story, writ small. Change the small story — change what’s happening on one city block in Washington — and you have a shot at nudging the big one in a new direction. If John Fahey, Chairman and CEO of National Geographic, saw the Society that way, then I think NGS has a future that’s not only sustainable; it’d be a Society that you’d be proud to join.  

      Thanks again for stopping by. And see you over at Burn… or, maybe, even here! :-)

      all the best,
      Alan

  • Eva

    Mr. Mairson,

    in on of your tweets you write this:

    “But I’ll give you this: Burn readers certainly love all the “hunger” talk. They’re definitely your tribe.”

    As a Burn reader, and as one agreeing with the hunger talk, I’ll aslo explain why I do so: because it is something that doesn’t count only for photography, but for all matters of life in general. I know that I reach the goals that I’m really hungry about, that I work towards, that I have passion for, that I must do, that I really want.. not only with words, but with actions.

    Those who learn this basic hunger talk, make it their own, will succeed in what they do, will find a way to emerge, even if photojournalism is dead (it is not), there will always be opportunities, but you gotta go for them, not wait for them.

    I’m in no tribe. But if I had to choose one, it would be certainly one who actually DOES something, as Tom Hyde above points out, somebody who day by day works towards the longlife and not the death of photojournalism. Someone like Mr. Harvey. Not complaining, but working.

    Best regards,
    Eva

    • http://societymatters.org Alan Mairson

      Hi Eva,

      Thanks for your note. And you make a great point about Burn: It’s about a lot more than just photography; it’s about “all matters of life in general.”

      Spend some time at Burn, and you see what matters to people there. The pictures reflect a certain set of values — what you might call a worldview.

      I’d say precisely the same thing about National Geographic. But as I’ve looked at the history of NGS, those values, that worldview has changed — and not for the better. People are heading for the Society’s exits in droves, and it’s not just the internet that’s pulling them away. There’s a push, too, and it’s eroding National Geographic’s foundation.

      As I just wrote to Tom Hyde, I admire what David has built at Burn. He’s taken his passion for photography, and gathered a community of like-minded souls around him. People at Burn are thoughtful, engaged, and enjoy what David shares and teaches them. He’s thinking about the next generation of photojournalists — and, believe it or not, so am I.

      But here’s the problem that, by now, must be familiar to you: the opportunities to get paid for what David has long done are dwindling. The publishing world is imploding, and the people who run it are scrambling to find a sustainable business model to stay afloat. Ask David. The budgets for stories are a fraction of what they used to be; the field time on assignments has been drastically reduced; photographers are getting squeezed by publishers on their contracts and photo rights; and so on & so forth….

      Burn is David’s creation. If David walked away, I assume Burn would disappear in a puff of smoke. When I say Burn is personality driven, I mean it in a good way. But National Geographic? Exactly the opposite. Its past and future rely on no single individual. If John Fahey walked away, Tim Kelly would take his place. At NGS, people are fungilble; at Burn, they’re not. Big difference.

      So, when I say “tribe,” I didn’t mean it in a disparaging way. Tribe is just another word for “society” — and, as you know, I think society matters.

      Thanks again for stopping by — and I hope you’ll come back again.

      all the best,
      Alan

      • Eva

        Alan,

        thank you for your reply.

        I do not know enough about NatGeo Magazine to be able to really enter into the question.

        What I do know though is that David wrote on Burn that he would interview Mr. Johns. Not that Mr. Johns would answer any questions we might have, but that HE would have a conversation. Some of us equally asked some questions, one of them being Sidney Atkins. Fair questions at that. But the conclusion you then had, and that was waslty posted all over the net, was that Mr. Johns did not answer ‘certain’ questions.
        In my eyes you drew conclusions on wrong premises, without gathering too much information, firing of a gratuitous shot. When you wrote to David that he should ask those questions originally posted by Mr. Atkins, the interview was already done, not transcribed yet, but the conversation already had taken place.

        So, simply, to me to say he missed the shot is not correct, not on the premises you wrote.

        It is true that the old opportunities are dwindling, not only in photojournalism, it’s a much broader problem. But other opportunities arise, different doors open, and for those who have that hunger, that passion and that will to work, and the talent to excel, the opportunities will be there. I’m not saying it is easy. If you look at the latest post up at Burn ( http://www.burnmagazine.org/dialogue/2012/01/young-blood/ ) you will see that there indeed is an answer, not THE answer, but one answer.. which leads right back to the content of the conversation between David and Chris Johns.

        Best,
        Eva

        • http://societymatters.org Alan Mairson

          Hey Eva,

          Now you have me really confused! During my exchange with David, he said the interview was still to come; now you tell me the interview was complete when I posted my questions.

          Either way, you got me thinking… earlier this evening I looked at the Burn post you suggested — the one featuring Kitra Cahana and Cory Richards at the National Geographic lunch. I’m sure they’re both very talented, and I never meant to suggest all paid photo assignments had disappeared. But Kitra and Cory are increasingly the exception, not the rule; there are far fewer editorial pages to fill, and less money to pay for their production.

          Pointing to Kitra and Cory as an example of “an answer” to what ails photojournalism is like pointing at Mitt Romney, and telling the 99 percent: See? Opportunity still exists! Doors open, for those who have that hunger, that passion and that will to work and the talent to excel, the opportunities will be there. True in Mitt’s case, perhaps, and in Kitra’s and Cory’s cases, too. But it’s not helpful when trying to grasp the bigger picture.

          Come to think of it, the Romney analogy is a useful one. You (and others at Burn) see these two young people breathing the air on photojournalism’s Mt. Olympus, and hobnobbing with photojournalism’s gods, and you wonder how you too can get there. You see their work and wonder how they got The Eye, The Vision, and so forth. Many have the dream, but few are Chosen.

          National Geographic is still clinging to the same ideas. We are the authority. We are the tastemakers. We know what Beauty is. Keep your eyes on our stage because that’s where the action is. In fact, Chris says as much in his conversation with David: “A lot of what you do at National Geographic is you’re an arbiter or taste. And of course … I don’t want to be elitist, unapproachable, inaccessible, but I want this to be an experience of high taste.” Yes, he does. But being a tastemaker is a position of power National Geographic enjoyed only as long as they could shoot and publish photographs — and the rest of us couldn’t.

          Now we can.

          And FWIW: National Geographic’s ability to be “an arbiter of taste” is eroding… and fast: the National Geographic Channel, which is seen on televisions around the world, is majority owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Look at what’s on the Channel — stuff like this and this and this — and ask yourself how long the name “National Geographic” will be associated with “high taste.” (If you’re going to tell me the Channel is a separate entity from the Magazine, then I’d recommend you pick up an iPad, because everything NatGeo produces — the good, the bad, and the ugly — is rapidly converging on a single device. It’s one media world now.)

          Burn is built on the same idea: David is a creative genius who can see more clearly, with more power, more passion than your average mortal. He’s an artist; the rest of us just aspire to greatness. … Yes, I think professional photographers like David have visual and technical skills that I don’t. But when you look at the photographic work that’s now being produced — and that all of us can now see on the web — I’m not convinced that elitist approach is quite as credible.

          Why do David and Chris get along so swimmingly — other than their professional and personal relationship? Because National Geographic and Burn both want to be seen as authorities when it comes to photojournalism. They both have a stake in making sure we believe that they know more than we do. And so, they pose and preen for the microphone:

          Chris Johns: David, you’ve got it. Hunger.
          David Alan Harvey: And you do too.

          Be honest, Eva: Doesn’t this make you cringe… just a little?

          (For an antidote to this silliness, I highly recommend this “last interview” with photojournalist Tim Hetherington. “The photographic community is not thinking hard enough about who we’re making the work for,” said Tim. “Sometimes professional aesthetics don’t help.”)

          Finally, please know that I do believe in the power of photojournalism. And I’m sure National Geographic will continue to find people like Kitra and Cory to showcase as Young Bloods. But I don’t derive much hope or pleasure in breathing the air on Mt Olympus; those gods only have as much power as you decide to give them.

          Yet I do get excited — and feel much more alive — when I see photojournalists doing things like this. The 99 percent really do have something to say, and now they have a microphone and publishing platform to say it. Aspiring photographers no longer have to wait for the seal of approval of David Alan Harvey or Chris Johns. That’s progress.

          Full disclosure: I won’t vote for Mitt Romney. I’m much more of an Obama guy. :-)

          Thanks again for reading… and writing… and thinking.

          Keep in touch….

          all the best,
          Alan

        • http://societymatters.org Alan Mairson

          Hey Eva,

          Now you have me really confused! During my exchange with David, he said the interview was still to come; now you tell me the interview was complete when I posted my questions.

          Either way, you got me thinking… earlier this evening I looked at the Burn post you suggested — the one featuring Kitra Cahana and Cory Richards at the National Geographic lunch. I’m sure they’re both very talented, and I never meant to suggest all paid photo assignments had disappeared. But Kitra and Cory are increasingly the exception, not the rule; there are far fewer editorial pages to fill, and less money to pay for their production.

          Pointing to Kitra and Cory as an example of “an answer” to what ails photojournalism is like pointing at Mitt Romney, and telling the 99 percent: See? Opportunity still exists! Doors open, for those who have that hunger, that passion and that will to work and the talent to excel, the opportunities will be there. True in Mitt’s case, perhaps, and in Kitra’s and Cory’s cases, too. But it’s not helpful when trying to grasp the bigger picture.

          Come to think of it, the Romney analogy is a useful one. You (and others at Burn) see these two young people breathing the air on photojournalism’s Mt. Olympus, and hobnobbing with photojournalism’s gods, and you wonder how you too can get there. You see their work and wonder how they got The Eye, The Vision, and so forth. Many have the dream, but few are Chosen.

          National Geographic is still clinging to the same ideas. We are the authority. We are the tastemakers. We know what Beauty is. Keep your eyes on our stage because that’s where the action is. In fact, Chris says as much in his conversation with David: “A lot of what you do at National Geographic is you’re an arbiter or taste. And of course … I don’t want to be elitist, unapproachable, inaccessible, but I want this to be an experience of high taste.” Yes, he does. But being a tastemaker is a position of power National Geographic enjoyed only as long as they could shoot and publish photographs — and the rest of us couldn’t.

          Now we can.

          And FWIW: National Geographic’s ability to be “an arbiter of taste” is eroding… and fast: the National Geographic Channel, which is seen on televisions around the world, is majority owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Look at what’s on the Channel — stuff like this and this and this — and ask yourself how long the name “National Geographic” will be associated with “high taste.” (If you’re going to tell me the Channel is a separate entity from the Magazine, then I’d recommend you pick up an iPad, because everything NatGeo produces — the good, the bad, and the ugly — is rapidly converging on a single device. It’s one media world now.)

          Burn is built on the same idea: David is a creative genius who can see more clearly, with more power, more passion than your average mortal. He’s an artist; the rest of us just aspire to greatness. … Yes, I think professional photographers like David have visual and technical skills that I don’t. But when you look at the photographic work that’s now being produced — and that all of us can now see on the web — I’m not convinced that elitist approach is quite as credible.

          Why do David and Chris get along so swimmingly — other than their professional and personal relationship? Because National Geographic and Burn both want to be seen as authorities when it comes to photojournalism. They both have a stake in making sure we believe that they know more than we do. And so, they pose and preen for the microphone:

          Chris Johns: David, you’ve got it. Hunger.
          David Alan Harvey: And you do too.

          Be honest, Eva: Doesn’t this make you cringe… just a little?

          (For an antidote to this silliness, I highly recommend this “last interview” with photojournalist Tim Hetherington. “The photographic community is not thinking hard enough about who we’re making the work for,” said Tim. “Sometimes professional aesthetics don’t help.”)

          Finally, please know that I do believe in the power of photojournalism. And I’m sure National Geographic will continue to find people like Kitra and Cory to showcase as Young Bloods. But I don’t derive much hope or pleasure in breathing the air on Mt Olympus; those gods only have as much power as you decide to give them.

          Yet I do get excited — and feel much more alive — when I see photojournalists doing things like this. The 99 percent really do have something to say, and now they have a microphone and publishing platform to say it. Aspiring photographers no longer have to wait for the seal of approval of David Alan Harvey or Chris Johns. That’s progress.

          Full disclosure: I won’t vote for Mitt Romney. I’m much more of an Obama guy. :-)

          Thanks again for reading… and writing… and thinking.

          Keep in touch….

          all the best,
          Alan

          • Eva

            Alan,

            you might want to get back and do some deeper research of dates and time stamps as to what was posted when and by whom. You are a journalist, correct, so this research and getting facts straight should come BEFORE posting conclusions.. or not?

            As to your question if the extracted quotes above made me cringe, even just a litte, I have to say no, not at all. In fact, this is THE lesson to me, coming from this conversation. And it is a comforting lesson to me, it confirms my own believes of what life is all about.

            Quite frankly, what makes me cringe, a lot, reading your forth and back with Tom Hyde, is your grabbing an image off the net and defending your doing so, especially in light of what you seem to care about so much, work ethic? You complain the diminishing income out of ones work, yet have no problem in not paying or asking for permission that of others? That sounds quite weird to me.

            You also write:

            “The 99 percent really do have something to say, and now they have a
            microphone and publishing platform to say it. Aspiring photographers no
            longer have to wait for the seal of approval of David Alan Harvey or
            Chris Johns. That’s progress. ”

            So I understand even less your hang-up with NatGeo, or David as the editor/publisher of Burn. Where’s the problem then? Everybody’s got a voice, everybody, given s/he has net access, can put up their work, right? Right. But to get the work OUT THERE, get paid for it, making a living of it (not talking about getting rich), getting the recognition, you still do need to have that talent, that hunger, that perseverance in doing hard hard work, no way around that. If you then choose to tie yourself to NatGeo, Magnum, NOOR, VII or whatever other agency, that’s another question.

            I quite frankly do not understand your thinking track. You wish for NatGeo to be something special, yes? Yet if there’s not feautured the work of special people, of those who excel in what they do, that 1%, what makes it different from all we can find all over the net? Most of it is out there, to grab…

            Concerning NatGeo politics, I am in no position to say something, I lack the knowledge, although I think it’s the same as with all business where big money’s coming from advertisers is involved.. one more reason of respect for me towards David, who runs Burn without ads, without sponsors to bow to.. sure, it is only one venue, it will not solve the ‘photojournalism’s dead’ problem, but it is ONE answer, ONE opportunity, ONE tangible real thing that is done, day after day.. done out of passion, hunger and a great deal of energy and work, not for oneself, but for others.

            Best,
            Eva

          • Eva

            Alan,

            you might want to get back and do some deeper research of dates and time stamps as to what was posted when and by whom. You are a journalist, correct, so this research and getting facts straight should come BEFORE posting conclusions.. or not?

            As to your question if the extracted quotes above made me cringe, even just a litte, I have to say no, not at all. In fact, this is THE lesson to me, coming from this conversation. And it is a comforting lesson to me, it confirms my own believes of what life is all about.

            Quite frankly, what makes me cringe, a lot, reading your forth and back with Tom Hyde, is your grabbing an image off the net and defending your doing so, especially in light of what you seem to care about so much, work ethic? You complain the diminishing income out of ones work, yet have no problem in not paying or asking for permission that of others? That sounds quite weird to me.

            You also write:

            “The 99 percent really do have something to say, and now they have a
            microphone and publishing platform to say it. Aspiring photographers no
            longer have to wait for the seal of approval of David Alan Harvey or
            Chris Johns. That’s progress. ”

            So I understand even less your hang-up with NatGeo, or David as the editor/publisher of Burn. Where’s the problem then? Everybody’s got a voice, everybody, given s/he has net access, can put up their work, right? Right. But to get the work OUT THERE, get paid for it, making a living of it (not talking about getting rich), getting the recognition, you still do need to have that talent, that hunger, that perseverance in doing hard hard work, no way around that. If you then choose to tie yourself to NatGeo, Magnum, NOOR, VII or whatever other agency, that’s another question.

            I quite frankly do not understand your thinking track. You wish for NatGeo to be something special, yes? Yet if there’s not feautured the work of special people, of those who excel in what they do, that 1%, what makes it different from all we can find all over the net? Most of it is out there, to grab…

            Concerning NatGeo politics, I am in no position to say something, I lack the knowledge, although I think it’s the same as with all business where big money’s coming from advertisers is involved.. one more reason of respect for me towards David, who runs Burn without ads, without sponsors to bow to.. sure, it is only one venue, it will not solve the ‘photojournalism’s dead’ problem, but it is ONE answer, ONE opportunity, ONE tangible real thing that is done, day after day.. done out of passion, hunger and a great deal of energy and work, not for oneself, but for others.

            Best,
            Eva

          • http://societymatters.org Alan Mairson

            Hi Eva,

            Thanks for your note.

            Here’s the timeline you requested:
            http://societymatters.org/timeline-per-evas-request/

            Re: the creative output of the 1% — in the old days, you waited for your copy of NGM. 

            Today, you go here:
            http://www.magnumphotos.com/
            …or here: 
            http://www.kitracahana.com/
            or here:
            http://www.davidalanharvey.com/

            The pictures are everywhere. For free. 

            Given that, how does National Geographic survive? That’s my concern. That’s my interest. That’s why I wish David would have asked different questions. 

            But, to be fair, David’s concerns are not mine, so he asked different questions — which seem to have been quite popular with readers of Burn. So, hat tip to David!

            Thanks again for your interest… and keep in touch.

            best,Alan

          • Eva

            Alan,

            first, the timeline: as far as I know the interview was made right after David put up the picture of Chris Johns in the NatGeo hall. Right before or right after.. David posts these shots right from the iPhone, on the go, sometimes there are glitches, as we could experience when he did so with the riobook. Text might be added later or edited, depending.

            Anyway, that there was an interview coming, regular Burn readers knew it even before, the possibility had be announced in another dialogue post earlier on.

            David did indeed answer a few questions, Harry’s, that was directed at him, not at Chris Johns, my own one, which was a hypotetical one (I wrote: if I WAS to ask.. knowing that the interview would be between David and Chris, Burn readers had not yet been told if Chris would jump in.. in fact, we knew it would be a first and a rare thing to even get THAT interview).. David did not answer Sidney’s fair questions, of course not, these were directed at Chris Johns..

            So my question to you: why is this whole post tagged under ‘censorship’? Where do you see censorship?

            The question was clearly not directed at David, was written when he was in a meeting (I’m assuming right during their conversation) and not hanging on the net reading what we had to say.. so why ‘shooting’ at him for not having answered or not directed those questions to Mr. Johns. That is what I do not understand.

            As for the 1% creative output, well, I do not go where you go, I go here: http://www.burnmagazine.org/essays/2011/10/buy-burn-02-in-print/

            Or here: http://www.fotomuseum.ch/PREVIEW-REVIEW.preview-review.0.html

            Or here: http://vimeo.com/34709676

            I don’t go for pixels, ultimately I go for the real thing. The links you posted direct me, as teasers, right there.

            The old days are gone.. long live the old days.. or invent new ones.. what counts, obviously to me, is quality over quantity.. it ain’t easy, and that’s a good thing.

            Best,
            Eva

          • http://societymatters.org Alan Mairson

            Hi Eva,

            If you’re right that David conducted the interview immediately after he posted the image of Chris Johns in the front lobby @ NGS, then why did David later tell me that the interview had not taken place yet? Your timeline doesn’t make sense, but don’t worry — we can let this one go. If there was a misunderstanding on anyone’s part, it certainly wasn’t intentional.

            Why “censorship” as a tag? Because of Sidney’s question about “the pressures that… must be on [Chris Johns to] to ‘go easy’ on certain topics, or avoid certain topics.” That’s a great insight & a critical question, and it’s something I cover here a lot, especially when it comes to China. If you’re interested, see Adventures in Global Media

            Thanks for sharing those links. I’ll check them out….

            best,
            A

          • Eva

            Plus, I do believe that David kept in mind for whom he was making the interview, the audience of Burn, Burn being ‘an evolving journal for emerging photographers’, the audience being photographers who are interested in getting out their work, not in solving the politics of NatGeo. Probably the questions asked would have been different, if the audience was a differnt one, if the reasons for the interview was a different one. So, again, your saying ‘missing the shot’ is based on wrong premises, imo.

  • http://www.hydeimages.com/ tom hyde

    BTW, just a question of etiquette. Do you think it’s okay to copy a photo from someone else’s website, in this case Harvey’s, and then upload it to your  own, even with a photo credit. I know this is common practice in the blog world but, without even addressing any legal copyright issues, I can’t imagine ever doing it myself. An embedded link is something else, it’s the actual copy and paste in the case of the photo above that doesn’t seem right. Or perhaps David gave you permission to download the photo and then upload it to your own website?

    • http://societymatters.org Alan Mairson

      Hi Tom - 

      It’s a fair question, and I think about it a lot. But as you say, it’s common in the blog world. And I’m not “monetizing” this site with ads or anything. It’s a labor of love.

      If David asked me to take down the photo, I probably would. Or, more likely, I’d use it to create something new — a photo illustration or a collage of some kind… with a credit of some sort for David. I might “take a picture” [screen grab] of his picture on the Burn site — but I’d reframe it a bit, perhaps give it a tilt, and maybe play with the “lighting” a bit in Photoshop. I’d creatively appropriate in a visual way what others have created or produced or built or given birth to, all filtered through a lens of my own. Which, of course, is what photographers do all the time.

      Thanks for asking… and for stopping by. 

      best,
      Alan

      • http://www.hydeimages.com/ tom hyde

        Can’t say I agree with those ethics, the rationalization, the hypothetical remedy or your straw man interpretation of photography and the photographic process. But you do write well.

        Still, theft is theft Alan. Is it not? Isn’t that what we’re talking about? “Everybody does it” is certainly rationalization enough for many people but as you say, “you think about it a lot.” Why is that, do you think?

        As a photographer who at times has been frustrated with the misappropriation of my work for the benefit of others without appropriate remuneration, especially around the time the mortgage is due, I hope you will reconsider your policy going forward. I think that’s only fair given your obvious concern with the ethics of others.

        To put it another way, “My parents taught me a simple truth: Your life is a reflection of your priorities.”

        • http://societymatters.org Alan Mairson

          Well, “theft” is a bit severe in this instance, I think. And my hypothetical remedy isn’t outlandish at all: Years ago, National Geographic was sued by a photographer (or perhaps a group of them) who objected to NGS publishing back issues of the Magazine on a set of CD-ROMs. The photographer(s) demanded additional payment for their work. But, as I recall, National Geographic said it was a new work — that what they published were pictures of the pages, 2-page spreads that captured the layouts (photos, text, typography, design, etc.) which NGS had created and owned. The case went to court, and was appealed several times. Eventually, a high court ruled in favor of NGS. Pictures of pictures — plus some text and a callout or two — was a brand new thing. … Seems like my montage would be something similar — a layout of my own.

          That said, I appreciate your concern, and will think about ways I might be able to address it in the future.

          I am curious, though: What’s the straw man in my interpretation of photography and the photographic process? Photographers walk through the world and appropriate everything in it and call it their own. Steve McCurry walked through an Afghan refugee camp… snapped a picture of the now-iconic Afghan Girl… never got a model release… and then sold that photograph over and over again. Fair? …. And if my doing framegrabs of David’s website is wrong, then why was German photographer Michael Wolf awarded an honorable mention in the World Press Photo Contest for standing in front of his computer screen with a tripod to shoot pictures of stuff he saw on Google Street View?

          What is photography if not making a recording in light of creations — and Creation — that were produced by someone else?

  • http://societymatters.org Alan Mairson

    Hi David,

    Thanks for your very gracious note. 

    I’d love to talk with you about Burn… Society Matters… where I’m coming from… my “mission”… and any misunderstandings that have unintentionally crept into this posting-and-comment chain. As I mentioned to you on Facebook, I’d even bring some beer to your doorstep in OBX. I’m down there every summer with family & friends. It’s a wonderful place — even though I know us tourists must drive you locals crazy. :-)  

    Why don’t you send me an email & let me know a good day & time to give you a call? 
    alan [at] societymatters [dot] org

    Or: Just use the Contact form on the tab at the top of this page.

    Don’t forget to include your phone number.

    Looking forward to it…

    all the best,
    Alan

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