Thistle hurt!

Isn’t Facebook wonderful? One minute you’re merrily promoting your fashion/corporate hospitality/events/recruitment/Nigerian food business, building up follows and likes, the next it looks like Jack Nicholson a-la “Here’s Johnny!” has been at your page with an axe.

Exactly this scenario befell Eagle & Thistle, who apparently run a fashion/corporate hospitality/events/recruitment/Nigerian food business (clearly wishing not to be pigeonholed into one sector).

All was going well until they sent a letter out to some (a?) photographer asking if they would be interested in working for free. What an opportunity! Of course the opportunity was too good to miss. The opportunity, that is, to expose Eagle & Thistle as gouging scroungers who thought photographers would love to work for a commercial business for nothing.

Here’s the letter they apparently sent:

“I am contacting you regarding two small shoots that we have coming up at Eagle and Thistle for images we require for our up and coming website. (Please see our facebook page for more info on the company

We need four images to represent each area of the company; Fashion, Food, The Eye and Recruitment.

We are hoping to do one of the shoots on Monday the 4th July in a studio for three images; one for fashion, one for food and one for the eye.

The second is for the recruitment section which will be held in an office/meeting room. If you are happy with moving location on the same day we can do that or if not Tuesday or Wednesday would be great. 

We would also like retouching done within two-three days if that would be suitable for you. 

Unfortunately this job would be unpaid but it would provide great experience and images for your portfolio to work with a huge up and coming company. 

More details of the shoot such as moodboards and briefs will be available should be you interested in working with us. 

Thanks so much for your time and if you are available please get back to me” 

Before you could say “let’s do some really bad PR today” photographers had exchanged the tempting offer across a number of social networking sites, and the Likes and comments on E&T’s Facebook page went into overdrive.

Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t as a result of photographers stumbling over each other to get the unpaid commission. The red mist had descended and E&T’s PR went a bit spoggley. Not only were they getting vitriolic comments from angry photographers (yours truly included), but they didn’t realise what was going wrong for several hours. According to a E&T statement, they were made aware of the situation on their FB page via a phone call. Since Facebook is currently their only real marketing tool at the moment, you’d think they would have been monitoring it a little more closely.

Once they spotted the mess they were in they were quick to apologise, closely followed by disengaging from all their Likers and deleting comments that didn’t quite fit the E&T image. Then removing the apology, because with all the comments gone it no longer made sense. Nice way to do PR.

As for the shoot which should have happened today, presumably the results will soon appear on this holding page, replacing the photos which E&T are already using, for which you might hope they’ve paid or got permission.

In the meantime, enjoy the embedded video, which I think really sets the quality benchmark for this “huge up and coming company” who apparently are helping fashion label Bunmi Koko (no sniggering) with forthcoming events. Good luck, BK, but keep an eye on your Facebook page…

As a bonus treat for you all, I’m including some of the choicest comments from the Facebook page as well as the apology, because I know E&T would be mortified to think they’d permanently deleted them all. Just click to view:


Following the publication of the above blog article, I was contacted by Anthony, general manager for Eagle & Thistle to discuss the background of the original request for free images, and the resulting backlash through Facebook and other forums.

Having spoken to Anthony it seems clear that the original request was made more as a result of inexperience than out of malice, and I’ve explained to Anthony why so many photographers (myself included) were so angered by yet another request for free imagery.

According to Anthony, some comments made directly to him were extremely aggressive and included racist comments and death threats. I would like to assure Anthony that such comments would not be condoned by myself nor by the vast majority of professional photographers, in fact I hope not by anyone, photographer or not. Race isn’t what this blog article is about and racism has no place in our industry.

I have advised Anthony that if such threats have been made that these should be notified to the police. If anyone attempts to make threats via the comments section of this blog they will be blocked.

Furthermore, Anthony would like to make the following statement on behalf of Eagle & Thistle:

“Eagle & Thistle is a startup business finding its feet and learning as we go.

Last week we sent an email to a photographer asking if he would be able to undertake a photo shoot for our website, but with no resources at our disposal we couldn’t offer payment. And though the content of the email wasn’t meant for wider consumption, it never-the-less became public and resulted in a backlash against us.

We realise now that this request was naive and ill-considered, that photographers also have to make a living, and that quality photography is what helps businesses to establish and grow their reputations.

In light of this we wish to make it clear that from now on we will endeavor to work ethically with all our suppliers, in the same way we hope our clients would work with us.

We apologise for having thought that photographers should offer services for free, and hope that in future we can build good working relationships with all our suppliers, including creative professionals.”

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  • Chris Barton July 4, 2011   Reply →

    thanks for publicising this Tim. As you suggested, I think after this behaviour by Eagle & Thistle, you have to wonder if they have permission to use the images they are showing on their website.

    Just trying one image (girl in blue dress) in Google Search by Image shows that this image is from the H&M 2007 Collection. Did they give a company promoting a rival fashion label permission to use the image?


    • Glass Eye July 4, 2011   Reply →

      Chris, I couldn’t possibly comment. Except to say that the “blue dress” fashion shot turns up on about 15 sites when run through Tineye. I doubt H&M would care much now, but the original photographer might be interested.

  • Ki Price July 4, 2011   Reply →

    Thank you Tim a great blog, I saw this and also commented on the FB page.

  • Michael Wilkinson July 4, 2011   Reply →

    Excellent report.
    This company is not the only one operating like this.
    I recently had a “best of” company ask me to not only pay to join them but to do their photo-shoot for each new member free in the hope I would pick up some work.
    Offer declined.

    • Glass Eye July 4, 2011   Reply →

      Michael, the idea of working for kudos, exposure or a warm inner glow certainly has gained traction. By saying “it’s only a photo” any number of companies and organisations think they can reduce the value of photography to £0, and those that do value it are understandably disinclined to pay extra to make up the difference.

      I hope articles like this will help publicise the issues, convince businesses and government organisations that the negative PR such an attitude can attract isn’t worth it, and maybe start to get the industry back on track with everyone doing the decent thing and trading fairly with each other again.

      Yours is the first instance I’ve heard of being asked to pay the client in order to take free pictures. Good luck to them. Perhaps you should write a blog about them 😉

  • Callum Winton July 5, 2011   Reply →

    They claim newbie ignorance, but surely if you ask any business for a service then you expect to pay?

    There’s green feet and there’s stupidity – assuming they’re telling the truth in their apology.

    Perhaps its a barometer for the perception of photographers nowadays that new companies follow the likes of the BBC and RedBull is hoovering up full sell/resell content for free?

    Harlon Ellison puts it best 🙂


    • Glass Eye July 5, 2011   Reply →

      It has become something of a widely-held belief that the creative supplier can somehow earn a living from exposure alone. That someone else will see your work and snaffle you up for the highly paid gig. This actually rarely/never happens. Sometimes it’s just cynical tactics to get work supplied cheap or free, but as it’s become more widespread, I suspect some people consider it normal without thinking about the consequences.

      Harlon’s clip is one of those great training aids that maybe all businesses should watch at least once. The irony that he doesn’t get paid per view isn’t lost on me.

  • PeterD July 5, 2011   Reply →

    Here’s something else that I found on the web a while back. Should be mandatory core syllabus content for all photography courses in my view.

    • Glass Eye July 5, 2011   Reply →

      Aha! Yes, seen this one a few times. Should be taught at graphic design, media and PR college courses too!

  • Nigel Andrews July 5, 2011   Reply →

    Hi Tim,

    I thought the best damning comment (can’t remember who wrote it) but ended with something like this:

    In the 17th century they called it slavery.

    • Glass Eye July 6, 2011   Reply →

      Hi Nigel,

      I recall that comment, but I don’t think I have it in a screen grab.

      I have to say that I do balk at comparisons with slavery. Photographers don’t get chased down, captured, manacled and sent on long ship journeys to work under terrible conditions on plantations. It’s fair to say no one was being forced to work for free for Eagle & Thistle, but that their appeal for free photo shoots was misguided and naive, and reinforces the perception that photography is cheap to do, involves little skill, and has little to no commercial value to businesses.

      Where photographers do opt to work for very low fees or even for free, the best we can say is that they do not know they are enslaved, and that perhaps they are slaves to their own ignorance. Perhaps the biggest single group to come under this category would be micro-payment stock photographers because they are enslaved to the idea that one day they will break free from their peers and be the “chosen one” to make the big time with big money.

      Even they do not qualify for the noble name of slave, because a true slave would fight for the freedom of his or her fellow slaves, not try to break free from them to leave them behind.

      All this is a very long and deep answer to what was quite a short comment, but thanks for the prompt anyway. It certainly woke my brain up this morning.

      • PeterD July 6, 2011   Reply →

        Comparison to slavery is inaccurate, however I would say that what E&T were proposing is falling very close to breaches of employment law. We have national minimum wage legislation in the UK for a reason, primarily to preserve a basic standard of living and to prevent exploitation/abuse. Bizzarly however, many companies seem to think these days that they can exempt themselves from these necessary requirements by employing sub contractors instead. While, due to the letter of the law, that understanding is correct, this is not an issue that has been missed by parliament, and there have infact been certain amounts of discussion as to whether this practice should be allowed to continue:

        • Glass Eye July 6, 2011   Reply →

          It’ll be interesting to see where government thinks it can crack down on exploitation of sub-contractors. How would you define a sub-contractor? Someone who supplies micro-payment stock images for which they get little or no return?

  • Callum Winton July 6, 2011   Reply →

    Interesting about the exploitation angle.

    Problem is when they disguise it as a competition and therefore it becomes a legit excersise in free content gathering (even if they sell images on for a profit and you don’t get a penny).


    • Glass Eye July 6, 2011   Reply →

      Callum, when it comes to rights-grabbing competitions it’s worth reporting any you see to who have a section dedicated to countering such tactics.

      • Callum Winton July 6, 2011   Reply →

        Awesome – never saw that before (how did I miss it?)

        I see the BBC and Redbull are on it already, but I’ll keep it bookmarked for the future.

        Thanks for sharing


  • Ken of London July 11, 2011   Reply →

    Damn! See what happens when you spend 2 days in bed with some crazy stomach virus!

    The Harlon Ellison video was pure gold.

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