Photography: Vanessa Dualib
Food photography is usually a difficult niche for a photographer. Getting the lighting right is only part of the challenge. You also need to know how to pose the food, prevent it from drying out under lights and make it look appealing and appetizing. Many specialist photographers work with professional food designers whose job is to prepare the plate while the photographer sets up the shoot. Sometimes though, it can pay for a photographer just to pull out her camera, open the fridge and play with her food.
Vanessa Dualib, an artist from Sao Paolo, Brazil, has three loves: photography, food and humor. She now combines all of those passions in a series of images that turn vegetables into animals, and the serious business of eating into the not-quite-serious business of funny food photography.
The photographs themselves are made up of food items carefully arranged into a humorous composition: baby carrots ice skate on a slice of pumpkin; fruit becomes a pair of amorous lovebirds; a sweet potato is transformed into the little-known dinosaur Potatosaurus Dulcis which became extinct during the “Plantzoic Period”.
The series began in 2008 when an illness confined Vanessa to her house, restricting her ability to photograph. Instead of shooting what she saw on the streets and in the parks, she began posing and shooting what she could find in her kitchen.
“It all started as a joke to keep me from getting too bored in my house,” she explains. “I love photography and not being able to photograph anything was driving me crazy…. Putting together the three things I love the most in my life was the way I found to express my artistic ideas while basically just trying to have fun and surprise people.”
Why I Turned Down Getty
It’s all fun stuff but it has developed a serious side. After Vanessa uploaded the images to Flickr, they began to attract the attention and comments of other photographers. That was rewarding enough but Getty had just started building its Flickr collection and was on the lookout for creative images to add to its inventory. The stock agency approached Vanessa and offered to license 26 images, including eighteen of her food photos – about 60 percent of her collection at the time.
Surprisingly, Vanessa turned Getty down, agreeing to license only four of her food photographs.
“I declined because of the two-year contract to manage all the rights that they impose,” she told us. “I actually ended up with some other plans for this project and I want to make sure I will have all the liberty to do as I please once I finally make up my mind.”
Photography: Vanessa Dualib
The four images she did supply have managed to sell “a few” licenses in the four months that they’ve been available through the agency, so it’s possible that had Vanessa agreed to offer more works, she would have made more money. But her decision does raise the question of whether Getty’s license requirements are too strict for non-professional photographers, like Vanessa, who are more interested in developing their photography than profiting from it.
It Takes Two Years to Test an Image
According to the Artists Relations team at Getty, the two-year exclusivity requirement is actually shorter than the three-year commitment usually demanded from the agency’s photographers. It’s also necessary as clients can take several months to approve an image chosen by a buyer at a design or advertising firm and presented in a pitch for a campaign, Getty argues: allowing photographers to remove their images at will might mean that an image approved by a client is no longer available. Relevance matters too. The image has to match market demand, something that can’t be assessed in less than two years.
“Leaving an image up for anything less than two years does not allow for the photographer to learn about the image’s relevance to customers,” Getty told us. “Most Flickr artists who participate understand that our investment requires at least this much time to see a return.”
For photographers who have created the images specifically as a long-term investment that will bring returns through stock sales, that commitment is a necessary part of doing business. While it’s possible for photographers to create their own stock sites — and some do — independent photographers will always struggle against the marketing power of a company like Getty whose subscription model, in particular, helps to lock buyers in. Many Flickr photographers too will find an offer of representation by Getty both flattering and potentially remunerative enough to be willing to close up their images for a couple of years, especially if they don’t have any other plans for them anyway. In practice, says Getty, the exclusivity agreement is not an issue that Flickr contributors raise very often.
One of the things that Vanessa wanted to do, however, was to bring her series of food photos together in book form. Friends had asked her to create a Blurb book and while Blurb sales can be relatively low, the results, she says, have been surprising.
“The response and interest to it once the book was ready was bigger than I actually expected,” she said. “I’m sure it could be doing better, since the books there can be quite expensive (even with a very low profit margin). But still it was an amazing surprise!”
Marketing for the book is currently limited to a mention on her Flickr page and website. Two international magazines have also been in touch and produced articles about Vanessa’s work, which should help to increase sales too. Whether the profits from the book outweigh the value of the sales the images would have brought on Getty is debatable but it is a debate that other photography enthusiasts with unique images and interest from large stock agencies will have to consider. Vanessa herself has no regrets.
“I actually still have a lot of ideas to explore on my Playing with Food series, and also different techniques I want to explore. We will see where this will end up.”
Getty has asked to point out that “we do allow contributors to create/publish and sell their own books, including Blurb books, as they are considered self promotion… [B]ooks of the individual’s work, limited edition signed and/or numbered prints sold as fine art and photo sharing is all fine from our point of view.” We’re happy to do so.