The James Natchwey Internship: Follow Up | Harrington & Smith

After the very heated discussion occurred on my blog last weekend, I have decided to use  my blog for the first time to host an internet discussion forum on this topic and perhaps others in the future.

I have invited colleagues from the field to comment on the issues brought up during the discussion and will be posting their replies here. At the end of the week, I will be adding my own personal thoughts but I wanted to let other industry leaders speak their piece first in an attempt to turn this dialogue into an educational discussion.

Today’s postings come from John Harrington and Brian Smith. I have cut and pasted their exact words here. Please be considerate when replying to these emails and avoid using personal attacks or defamatory language. Cursing is for bars and football games and shouldn’t be used here. I’d ask you all to act in an adult, rational manner when constructing your arguments. If you misrepresent yourself, I will delete your post. Otherewise, I’d like to keep this an open discussion among peers.

Without further ado…

From Brian Smith, Pulitzer Prize winning celebrity photographer based in Miami, Florida:

“Like a lot of photographers, I owe a lot to the jump-start that summer internships provided when I was starting out. All of my internships were for publications and I got paid every time. Though I certainly didn’t get rich at ten bucks a photo on my first internship for UPI, landing a photo in LIFE magazine just as I starting photojournalism classes at the University of Missouri was priceless.

Interning for a publication and a photographer are very different scenarios. The newspapers and wire-services I interned for put me to work immediately on my first day with a “hey kid go out and shoot this.”

As an independent photographer there’s an expectation that when I’m given an assignment it will be shot by me, so I couldn’t tell a client, “thanks for the assignment. I’ll get an intern right on it.“

Every spring, I get 20-50 requests for internships, but based on the inquiries that I receive I don’t know what I’d do with an intern. Most inquiries are along the lines of “I love your work and I’d really love to hang out and watch how you light.” No offense, but I’m not certain how this benefits me and I’m not certain why I or anyone else would pay and intern just to teach them all the stuff they should have learned in photo school.

On the other hand if I ever got a letter begging to scan my archives or sweep my floors, I might just listen. And if sweeping floors sounds demeaning, I’ve been a photographer for thirty years and I still sweep the floors…

Brian Smith
Miami Celebrity Photographer

From John Harrington, author of Best Business Practices for Photographers and photographer based in Washington, D.C.:

“On The James Nachtwey Internship Issue: John Harrington

As someone who has, for a decade now, been running an internship program, and also as the author of Best Business Practices for Photographers, perhaps I can add to this discourse.  However, I thought I’d bounce a few ideas off of my friend and colleague, Vincent Laforet, who was the person who brought this blog post to my attention, and so, throughout, I’ll intersperse Vince’s comments as well.

Vince’s first reaction when he shared this with me was “This is like Ghandi being ripped to shreds on the internet. Nachtwey is the guy who has the most polished image in the world. The most even-handed, fair, and caring. He’s the guy who has the pressed white shirt in the middle of South Africa, back in the day. There’s not a single bad thing I could ever say about the man. To see him ripped to shreds like this is unprecedented.” I had the same gut reaction. Jim, if nothing else, deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to this issue, rather than the scurrilous attacks ad nauseam.

Vincent went on “I think it speaks to a changing tide. With this economy, there’s a huge push-back on people working for free. Other than the fact that he photographs a lot of the underprivileged people in the world, so there’s a bit of irony in that, but this is not the first time that a free internship has been announced, in fact, paid internships are even a rarity.” In point of fact, back in August, with absolutely no fanfare or critical commentary, Jim’s studio made a similar solicitation here (

Next, I thought it worthwhile to turn to another friend and colleague, David Burnett. Burnett is the co-founder of Contact Press Images, and a legendary photographer in his own right. Burnett shared, “For some people, you’d be nuts not to do it, if you can afford it. It’s called investing in yourself, and not just assuming you’ll do your eight hours and be cool. That’s when you get the job at 7-11 just to pay for this. New York expects a lot from you – it demands that you do what’s required, and I think you have to pony up. Again, you have to pay your dues – whatever it takes to do that, and if you don’t, you don’t have a right to complain.

In his comments on the original post, David noted about the benefits of filing contact sheets for Gamma, years ago. He expanded on that point in our conversation, saying “Even if you’re filing contact sheets – if they’re Gilles Caron or Raymond Depardon, you have to be a complete idiot not to get something out of it.”

The challenge, of course, is remaining in compliance with labor laws. As one commenter on the original thread cited federal labor laws regarding the legal issues about this, it’s worth re-citing here:

The standard for making this determination is whether the “educational or training programs are designed to provide students with professional experience in furtherance of the education and the training is academically oriented for the benefit of the students.” See U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, Opinion Letter, FLSA2004-5NA (May 17, 2004).

Further, the following six criteria must be met:

* The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school;

* The training is for the benefit of the trainees or students;

* The trainees or students do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation;

* The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantages from the activities of the trainees or students and, on occasion, its operations may actually be impeded;

* The trainees or students are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and

* The employer and the trainees or students understand that the trainees or students are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

It’s not possible for an individual to “waive” their rights to be protected under these laws, save for the above criteria. If Jim were to bring someone on that doesn’t arguably meet all six tests above, not only could that person file a complaint if they  got upset mid-way through the internship, but the Department of Labor could extend their investigation beyond that complaint into unfair labor practices back years, to past interns who were not paid, and substantial fines could result.

Back in February, the Wall Street Journal wrote regarding concerns on this issue in – Exploiting Student Interns (2/17/09) ( and here’s the Department of Labor article that addresses this (

I think there is a limited set of scenarios where an internship should be unpaid – and at the top of that list is when a student, taking a course for credit, is not allowed to accept payment for the internship. I can tell you that in the 70+ interns I have had in the last decade, we have had a few that have fit that criteria. So too, we have had two or three interns who have – a couple of days a week while on summer break come in to observe our operations and to also lend a hand to the full-time paid interns, however, these part-time unpaid interns were living at home and working other summer jobs. Further, they brought none of the skills that Jim’s studio was looking for, other than an interest in learning. That said, once we learned that doing that might well be placing us in violation of labor laws, we made certain that the program continued, in a paid capacity, except for those that fell into the educational institution limitations.

When we asked Vince about whether or not he pays his interns, he responded “yeah, I pay everyone who works for me, unless, maybe, its a one day personal project or something. If I do something with friends and colleagues, then we’re all working for free.”  As someone who has had more than one discussion about the best way to handle interns, assistants, and office staff with Vince, I know that this is his approach, and is consistent with our approach.

Chris Morris notes in the comments of the original post  “My start in the industry started with an unpaid internship at the Miami Herald in the early 80’s. Without this internship, I would not be where I am today in the industry.” I agree that many many photographers got their start doing unpaid internships, however, now is a different time than the 80’s, and Vince commented “One has to ask oneself how the decline of Time and the struggles of VII (in terms of sales) has contributed to Nachtwey having to ask interns to work for free. As an editorial photographer these days it has been even more difficult to work.” And I agree. I honestly don’t think that Jim has a Ferrari parked outside his studio, nor even the latest computers to do work on. His work, as rightly commended by TED, is work that changes the world, not his fortunes. What does it say that one of the most prolific photographers of this time – overwhelmed with projects that potentially could change the world – cannot afford the staff necessary to effect that change fully?  As Vince remarks, “If this can happen to Nachtwey, then photographers around the world beware – those days are apparently over.

Burnett goes on, suggesting, rightly,  “paying your dues is a part of the deal, and how you choose to do it is  your option – I’m not saying you have to do an unpaid internship. So often, I wonder what would have happened if I had run off with Gene Smith and Minimata for awhile. “

As someone who has met Jim on several occasions, and also his studio manager Jessica once, I can honestly say that their approach is akin to the hippocratic oath’s first tenet “first, do no harm.”  Is their solicitation fair? To the ill-informed, the answer likely is “no.” However, to attribute “exploitation” to the request for applicants misses the mark, as candidates are free to apply, or not. Will some apply that believe what they lost in income they will make up for in experience? You bet.  Will some hold beliefs about this opportunity that will turn out to be less than expected? Perhaps. Does this idea of working for free to get your start (or ahead) further the notion that clients attempt to foist upon the beginner as “we’ll give you photo credit – it’ll be great exposure for you…” ? Yes, it does.

Is soliciting for free labor a “best business practice”? No, if for no other reason than because, given the description and the labor laws, there is a conflict.  However, as some commenters have done, to equate even the most downtrodden of college students in the US with the downtrodden that Jim’s work brings to light is absurd – there can be no reasonable comparison.

David Alan Harvey commented on his Burn magazine site –  “i am quite sure Jim had no clue the ad was placed…i am sure his well paid studio manager and regular paid staff placed the ad seeking additional help for a show or something that was coming up…” and I would concur with Harvey on this.

One argument in favor of unpaid internships that echoes across the industry is “this is commonplace for all sorts of photographers…“, and while I agree that that is the case, does it make it right? Many commenters suggested that they would learn more interning there than in several years of college, so why not do it for free, as it would be less than the college degree. More than likely, they are correct in their assertion that they will learn more than they would in college.  Consistently, interns that have passed through my office have said as much, although they were paid. If the posting were “come learn from the experts and experience hands-on projects in James Nachtwey’s studio – $1,000 for a three-month workshop” there would be more than a few applicants.

Doing simply math, a three-month intern would likely work 60 days, and let’s figure it at 8 hours. That’s 480 hours, or $3,840 for the three months at $8 an hour. That’s about the same as the Momenta Workshop (Jamie, of Jamie’s list is a co-founder of Momenta Workshops) is charging for a two-week workshop in India. Which opportunity will you learn more in?  I can guarantee you’ll learn a great deal during both.  What if the deal was “come intern for free for three months, and in exchange, during that time, you’ll get two weeks of face-to-face interactions and experiences and guidance from James himself.”  Is the quid-pro quo of computer work and heavy-lifting for one-on-one time with Jim a fair trade?

What if I, at my current stage in my career as a photographer, decided to make an investment in my next career goal, and instead of buying a pair of new D3s and G5 tower- capital investments I have been planning for six months to make, and I set that money aside to pay my mortgage and other bills here in DC as well as covering a small NYC apartment, to set the stage for my future growth? Why do some companies allow some of their employees to take a paid sabbatical for 3 or 6 months and do a volunteer project? Heck, a smart wordsmith could craft a proposal to cover their expenses to take this internship “…preparing and producing world-changing visuals that, when exhibited, will increase public awareness of ….” – you get the point.

Vince, last year about this time, had one potential solution to this. On his blog post here ( he writes he will be “applying all of the profits from these print sales for the next 30 days to a student internship/scholarship” from the sale of 88 prints. Not a bad idea.

David concluded his thoughts in our conversation on this topic, saying “I don’t know how you tell some kid who spent $50k on an education what they ought to do – we’re all in different places and make different deals.  I don’t know what the answer is. There’s no one answer, clearly. There’s a lot of really good work done now, and not being published. It’s getting published on websites, and no one’s getting paid for it. That’s a tough one. What do you do? Bag it, and get another job? How do you get to a point where you’re not going to be at the absolute bottom of the money barrel 24/7? It’s a very tough balance between investing (paying) yourself, and giving something away that’s really of value that should be paid for.”

Ideally, Jim would do one corporate job for $4k, and set aside that revenue to cover the costs of a 3-month intern as listed above. Ideally, the intern that is offered the internship (paid, or unpaid) will take those skills and use them to make a difference in the world with their own images. Ideally, photo editors wouldn’t take advantage of upstart photographers and demand all rights for a pittance in pay, because it’s just plain wrong. Sadly, we don’t live in an ideal world, and there is no clear-cut answer to this question.”

John Harrington’s blog can be seen at:

John’s book can be bought at:

Look for more commentary tomorrow from other industry leaders… Thank you for your great discourse and I look forward to your comments!

– Jamie Rose, Administrator of Jamie’s List & Director of Momenta Workshops

29 thoughts on “The James Natchwey Internship: Follow Up | Harrington & Smith

  1. Jaime:

    thanks for the addition…and the moving forward of this discussion….

    i really was dismayed to see the level of both language and mentality swim into the discussion with such adrenaline and myopia. However, that all that vitriol and defamation has at least spawned a richer and more essential conversation is (as i tried to point out) still one of the benefits of collective argument/problem solving. As long as we can keep this ship steered clearly and cleanly, we can hope to reach richer veins of resolution…both pro and contra the ‘unpaid intern’ idea…

    in truth, i really wonder if all the enmity is born from general frustration/anger at the idea of an unpaid intern or is born of something else: the ease with which it is to castigate someone on the web. I wonder if many of the commentators would have been so malicious had I advertised for an unpaid intern to help me print my work or help me organize my current project?…I doubt it, and therein lay the other discouraging aspect: those who have achieved success, of course, have an obligation (as i wrote) to help; however, they often are also the ones who are villified the most violently and that is a shame, to the profession and to their humanity.

    I’ve helped so many without asking for renumeration and i’ve also never asked someone to help me without some kind of payment (in our family, that might be an invitation to our home for dinner, or my time to help them with a project), so it’s a difficult call, especially when there is, all too often, a propensity to exploit or allow “ca plus change” mentality to abide, but there are critical and very real (photographic, experiential and spiritual) reasons why time spent with a mentor can have long-lasting an rewarding benefits, long past the idea of a salary. With that in mind, we must balance real educational and experiential worth for the intern with real value they provide and making sure that is respected and given.

    In other words, what we MUST value (what i suggested in my long, incoherent first comment) is that each of us has the obligation to help, teach and foster one another, regardless of name or stature. We also must respect one another, regardless of name or stature.

    What else do we have, if not our deep and committed relationship to one another, as professionals and as human beings.

    Thanks for bring this to the fore.


  2. I paste here my comment from Lightstalkers but the main part can be understand here too.
    I will be dissonant of other comments here after Ron post. For me, people that needs knowledge beforehand to do a job deserves a payment. I was teached that we have dignity thru this interchange. Is not only money. There are respect involved in this interchange too. The worker have to take the responsability to fill the needs of the employer. And don’t forget that to get the knowledge the applicant had to invert resources before, excepts he_she born with the know how. Nobody, less anonymous and deliberately aggressive participants (i really hope here in lightstalkers we can have another kind of discussion), can judge the actions of both parts and for all the cases. As I said before, this is a two part thing. If all the people would think like me nobody would be present to be the assistent in this conditions and the professional would have to pay to get an assistent. But this is not the case. So, there are people that find this appropiate. In my humble opinion all this is an ethical doubt that only each one can reply.

  3. Thanks for turning this flurry of activity into an educational and civilized discussion forum. Some people just feel that the anonymity of the internet allows them to spread hate.

    In any case, that’s not what I wanted to comment about.

    In the summer of 2002, I worked as an intern for NBC in New York. My undergraduate program required an internship for class credit in order to graduate, and I was honored to be selected for the NBC/Designworks program. It was unpaid – although they did reimburse for travel. (I lived in NJ at the time and spent quite a bit of money just getting to and from the office three days a week.)

    For a college student just starting to get a feel for what they want to do, the program was perfect. While I didn’t do as much graphic design as originally told I would be doing, I learned an immense amount about the production side of the news business. And because of my main duty of monitoring the AP photo feed for the photo researchers, I fell in love with photojournalism. I’d say just that turning point alone was worth the experience of being there as an unpaid intern.

    There are different level internships for different level people. At this point in life as a graduate student and professional, I cannot afford nor would want to take an unpaid internship. I’ve paid those dues. But for that college kid who is still learning the world (and perhaps already lives there), it could be a fantastic opportunity. And if that unpaid internship can offer up college credit, even better! That’s one additional ‘class’ their buddies won’t have. In this world, any sort of bonus to a resume, whether it’s paid or not, can really distinguish someone from the pack.

    I’m interested to hear other professionals’ opinions on this matter. I may share these discussions with my classmates to get their opinions as well. Food for thought.

  4. After taking time to read every comment from the last post, there is a very valid discussion to be had. Unfortunately for some their freedom of speech has taken this a bit off context.

    If you take away the name attached, would you do THIS internship for no pay? That is the question. Most would not, simply for the fact that the posting was more towards a professional with talents to share, rather than a student seeking to learn. Post production is serious business and this is clearly set up for a very qualified applicant. Furthermore, if the only way to succeed in life is by spending several years learning the craft of good post production, only to give it away then there is a larger problem with our industry.

    Nachtwey as a person should not be vilified. If you like his work, great. If not, great. Same for how you feel about him personally. Neither of these aspects should have never been brought into play. Everyone made this turn into a ‘Nachtwey thing’, when it should have been more about responsibilities being asked for without pay.

    In my opinion, unpaid internships should be banished. They are clearly just a way of weeding out the haves from the have-nots, especially in large cities. No photographer with over 30 years of experience would give away his craft, so why is it expected in return?

    In the end you get what pay for. If you buy a crappy lens you will probably get less than stellar images. However, if you invest in a good lens you will not only cherish it, but the results will be amazing. The lesson = photographers need to learn to invest in good results.

  5. I featured Nachtwey’s offer in my CommonCents column last October:

    “Famed freelance war photographer James Nachtwey is looking for a an intern to perform tasks that are “…vital to the running of very busy and small studio.” However, even though the Washington Post manages to pay its interns more than 44k per year, Nachtwey has opted to not pay his interns even minimum wage — or anything at all. Nachtwey was on assignment when this column was written and was not available to comment.”

    I never did get a comment from him.

    There is no question about the value of such an internship. I would have loved to do something like that when I was coming up in the business. This is about an industry eating its young.

    Many no-pay internships, including Nachtwey’s, require high-level skills. The studio is going to get real value from such qualified people. I have worked for a number of places where interns were simply lower-level staffers. They did real work. I have heard hiring managers who, when faced with an inadequate budget, said that they’ll simply hire, “a few more interns.” That just isn’t right.

    Interns may learn from their experience, but there is no serious argument that they don’t displace regular employees.

    Unpaid internships are exploitative and morally wrong.

    Mark Loundy
    Twitter: @MarkLoundy

  6. It’s important to remember that unpaid internships are perfectly acceptable under Federal Law so long as no financial gain is made off of your labor.

    If financial gain is made off your labor and you are not being paid anything, then you are being exploited, no matter how the market is, according to the US Federal Government. Labor laws and the legal system both change under Democratic control of the US government, so what was normal under 8 years of Bush will not necessarily be normal under the Obama administration.

    I once did an unpaid internship, and I learned a lot from it, but no financial gain was really made off my labor.

    Under Federal regulations, an internship is defined differently than a job. Work in which the employer’s motive is purely for noncommercial educational or training purposes can legally constitute as an unpaid internship. Skilled labor that produces financial gain for the employer cannot legally be unpaid under US Federal law. Bush was lax on this but now we have a black president.

    School work or school assignments are prime examples of educational work. The assignments require you to do work and to learn, but the teacher does not make any financial gain off of the fruits of your labor. In this manner educational work with its intrinsic value does not equate to skilled labor with its market value.

    If you really want to be able to get a media job these days you’d be much smarter to intern somewhere that you will learn something about web design and video production skills. Skills centering around still print photography are becoming increasingly archaic and antiquated compared to more modern skills required for the mass medium. Newspapers have gone the way of cassette tapes.

    If you’re going to take it up the ass financially for an unpaid internship, don’t waste your time on places that can’t provide you with competitive skills relevant to today’s market.

    Clearly unpaid internships are not all created equal, and some are more beneficial than others, but I know way too many young people that have given it their all only to be burned or raped at the hands of their unpaid internslaveship masters. I won’t name any names here but I’m sure we’ve all heard stories.

  7. By accepting these unpaid internships, you cheapen our craft and further encourage these businesses to continue offering these unpaid internships.

    The main problem I have with professional jobs thinly veiled as unpaid internships is this:

    In the US, quite arguably the world’s wealthiest nation, about only 10-15 percent of the population can afford these unpaid internships. Odds are that the 10-15% of you who can actually afford these unpaid internships do not represent the absolute most-talented or qualified for these internships, yet you get these internships because you can afford it.

    By offering these unpaid internships, these companies willfully prevent the majority of talented people from being able to partake in the internship process, because more than 85% of people just can’t afford to do them.

    In addition to blatantly and shamelessly promoting plutocracy in our society, these businesses are only harming themselves by eliminating the majority of otherwise qualified, talented individuals who could possibly do better work for them.


    It’s not about talent in this system, it’s about privilege. May God have mercy on your soul if you don’t realize that.

    • P. Money: The university and art and design program I teach at is very diverse. I think it the 5th or so most diverse in the U.S.
      Race is really not in the picture at all for internships. I have African American students whose fathers are highly paid professionals. I have white (and asian, and middle eastern students) who do not have much money and whose parents are poor or new citizens.
      All students take advantage of a university wide internship center which helps all equally. At the same time, some students just find internships on their own (like I did!). This personal drive to get an internship depends on individual passion and energy. Connections help (students whose parents have connections to the creative industry the most) but, ultimately it is the work in the portfolio and the passion of the student and the interest they have in getting an internship that matter.

      • Dude what world do you live in? the world of journalism and our other myths ie art music culture in general whites dominate,its a known fact . one black per office 2 east asians and a latino does not make for cultural diversity .perhaps P money doesnt realize that whites are demographically dominant in the usa and europe ,so he should not expect to see leverage on its cultural playing ground. Certainly there are more “minorities than in the 1950’s at universities but seriously look around you at the media world and tell me there is real diversity.Also you can have a mixed bag of nuts but if salt is the dominant flavor then theyre gonna all taste the same in other words,universities just by there process of
        selection and there astronomical fee’s insure that all that attend will hold up the beliefs of the status quio and a inherent belief in a ruling class system is necessary.Therefore yes dream hungry immigrants and the spawns of highly paid proffesionals are attending and may even land there diversity agenda positions.No race is probably most likely not in the picture for internships most of us cant afford to be so foolish as to work for free,so it automatically filters out the working class the minorities ,only rich kids can afford to intern and even then its still exploitation.i think non paying internships should be banned

  8. Internships are great. What was advertised was a shortlist for a full time professional. Even if you find someone fresh out of school who could meet all those requirements, if they are actually using all of them, they are an employee adding value to the company and should be paid.

  9. P.Money:
    I am white, I am a photographer, I am (thankfully) employed, I am (by your definition ) over-represented.
    I think that it is absolutley pathetic that we can’t have a discussion about anything these days without someone bringing race into the discussion. You need to get that chip off your shoulder.

    • I think your absolutely out of pocket to try to dictate what
      people are allowed to consider an important aspect of any discourse in the united states of america,if you wish to not have people ever discuss race when it comes to business and labor in the usa then you should do what the media and cultural world does ,which is not make it an open discourse.lets take it one step further and ask that no blacks ,asians or hispanics apply for the position.Yes i know your kind ,it has not ever been and will never be possible for anyone in this country to have this type of discussion in a country built by slave blood,sweat and tears as well as women ,white men , asian and hispanic without bringing up race. It is probable that the day that happens is when you have erased people of colour entirely from america,so when someone brings up the topic of race next realize that it is not a personal affront against your race but a contribution to the multi-hued discourse called america.

  10. What do you think of this idea: the intern will have to pay for the privilege to serve at the pleasure of the photographer?

    Well, guess what? The above describes a skilled unpaid intern. Time = money, no?

    Unless the intern is a student, unskilled and receiving course credit, unpaid internships should be illegal. Sounds like they already are.

  11. As stated in my resume, I minored in Entrepreneurship.

    I took classes in Economics, Marketing, Advertising, Business Management, Personal Finance, and Business Professional Speaking. I also CLEPed out of Business Law the exam for which I only studied 2 and a half days for.

    Here’s a little Entrepreneurship 101 for you:
    There are at least three types of currency, money is not the only one.

    There is Money, Time, and Mobility.

    To have mobility you must have time and money generally. To have free Time, you must have money generally. So there exists an order of currency, money time and mobility in that order.

    When you sacrifice for an unpaid internship requiring skilled-labor, you are not just sacrificing money or time and money, you are sacrificing all three. Time, Money, and Mobility.

    It’s one thing to ask somebody for one or two of these, but all three is a very large sacrifice for anybody to ask you to make.

    Think about it.

  12. This internship isn’t even the worst of them. Ask the people at Milk (rental studio in NYC) what you have to do to get a job in the equipment room. You work for free! They call you an intern but really you’re a gopher and a janitor. You clean, you organize, you do anything and everything they ask FOR NOTHING.

    I did one day and felt like a chump (and I had a year of assisting experience). They tell you it ‘could’ lead to a paid position, but you have to work there for a while.

    At least at Natchwey’s studio you probably really world learn a lot.

    I just brought this up because our industry is currently thriving on people not being paid or just being underpaid. I couldn’t hack it so I got a job in a camera store.

  13. I have no horse in this race, but having read the original post, many of the comments, and this follow-up post, I think the guest interviewees have missed the primary point, which has been mentioned in comments above.

    I think the crux of the argument is a discussion about the definition of “internship.” If internship means taking somebody who is raw and essentially untrained, but with motivation, some talent, and great interest, and exposing him/her to the workings of the business and providing great education, while getting low-cost labor, often menial, out of said person, I think most would agree that this fair and reasonable and the “traditional” definition of intern.

    However, what is being proposed is far different. The “intern” here sounds more like a moderate to highly trained professional, whose work will be integral to the functioning of the studio, and whose work obviously has value. This is not internship – this is trading celebrity for free valuable labor and its frankly wrong. You will inevitably get a candidate who has other considerable resources and doesn’t need to get paid, rather than somebody who can’t afford it but may be more talented and motivated. As somebody said, it’s affirmative action for the wealthy. If that’s what you want, then fine. But don’t pretend its anything else. This intern is going to be doing serious post-production work on photographic product, not sweeping up and getting coffee. Perhaps the guest commenters didn’t know that, but I’m curious as to whether that factored into their considerations.

    • if you need someone to clean and get coffee get a maid and pay him or her if you need someone to assist you as a photographer hire(pay) an assistant .unpaid internships for experienced artist is a sadistic game.Why pay to go to college to work for someone else when all there going to do is teach you there technique,and gaining “connections” to the right people is growing to be more and more a fools banquet.the market is so wide open right now that there is no need for anyone to intern if they have the skills learned from a college education.Start your own business and stop working for exploitative old the world gets older its young talent that will be exploited more and more and unpaid internships is one of the most blatant mainfestations of the ugly side of commercial art and media.This is prominant in fashion and why it is a sinking ship,in a wierd way unpaid interning is like outsourcing,it takes jobs away from our economy.This is definateley a boomer phenominon.

  14. I don’t believe the constituents of the package make any difference to the issue. The actual issue. Which is two people coming to an agreement with mutual consent. As long as there is mutual consent and each party keeps their promises what business is it of ours to tell either of them what they should or should not accept?

  15. I tell my university graphic design students who are interested in an internship the following:

    – In an ideal internship, you will be paid for the work you do (even minimum wage!).

    – In an ideal internship you will get college credit and the employer will pay the tuition for the internship/co-op credit.

    – In a less ideal internship, you will be paid but will have to pay the tuition or, do the internship for no credit (which, can be OK because, you can learn and not get credit at an internship which can still go on your resume.

    – If the internship is unpaid, which should be avoided at all costs, but you really want to do it (usually because your aunt works there and you can live with your sister in the “city” for free) then get them to pay the $600 (or whatever) for the internship credits.

    – Never, ever, ever work entirely for free for any company, designer, photographer, etc. If they pay you nothing and won’t even pay for the credits (making it a true internship) – they are NOT a role model that you would want to work for or hope to be like. It is exploitation.

    I did two internships as a student. One paid about 4x minimum wage at the time and was at a design/photo studio. I did everything from identity design, publication design, to printing images. The second was overseas at a designer known for his photography. Normally, the state pays internships (at the time) so, I was the odd American student who they actually paid. It was minimum wage (for that country). Really, minimum wage. But it fed me and put a roof over my head. I had to pay airfare and other travel with my own money. I came home that summer basically broke. But it was well worth it. I did design work. I learned a lot. It was a new culture and a new city. It is on my resume even to this day and, I got paid.

  16. Without touching on the specifics of the case, I think I can say that the negative reaction is fueled by a pervasive spirit of the times, and motivated by daily news stories in and out of the photography business.

    In hard times, the wealthy exploit more aggressively, many feeling entitled to lie and cheat their way out of even trifling expenses. One who is struggling to survive learns a fundamental distrust of the “successful” whether it is justified in all cases or not. Whether it is the chairman (I almost typed “chainman”) of Goldman purporting to do God’s work, or just a deadbeat client, this is a pervasive mood.

    The economic necessity favors offspring of privilege for unpaid internships. This form of selection precludes a merit-based access to educational opportunities in the form of internships — at a time when they are most needed.

    Many who are withstanding $50k+ loans for their educations feel that they are being exploited that much more for the fruits of their investment.

    Well publicized cases, such as Annie Liebovitz, have led some to feel that top photographers have abundant wealth and little concern for paying their way. I’m not saying this is true of Annie or anyone else in particular, just that there has been a common sentiment, right or wrong, to this effect.

  17. As an adult student who is looking for paid/unpaid internships this summer, John Harrington’s reaction is extremely close to mine about the topic.

    Ultimately, the largest point of confusion I have is that the James Nachtwey studio seems to be looking for someone who is pursuing a degree in photography, when their actual hiring goal is someone who is interested in pre-press and printing. There are a number of students who have vocational degrees in exactly this, and I feel the studio might be missing their chance to hire someone who wants to actually learn what they would be doing.

  18. why does james nachtwey offer unpaid internships? because he can.
    why do aspiring togs accept unpaid internships? because they have to.

    at least, most will have to if they want to get any real experience of the sharp end of the photography business.

    at the beginning of this year, i took on a studio and hired a part time assistant. i pay minimum wage. they are thrilled to have the work and would happily kiss my feet at the end of each day in gratitude but we skip that bit.

    there is no question that they are doing it mostly for the experience; they get to see how a real studio works and i get someone who can run errands, buy props, carry gear, set up lights etc etc.

    it has been claimed by some that interns aren’t worth paying, that the cost of training them outweighs any benefit they might bring. from my experience, this is bollocks. the person i hired had almost no photographic experience yet from day one there was always something useful they could do. and anything they are doing means freeing me up to more important stuff.

    i dont do pj anymore, having migrated into the commercial sector but even then there’s no way i make as much money as james nachtwey. i dont judge him for offering unpaid positions, nor do i judge anyone who would agree to take one. a huge number of market forces have conspired to bring about their ‘popularity’, mostly lamentable.

    but the truth is that ‘market forces’ is a misnomer. no one is ‘forced’ into this arrangement, least of all j.nachtwey. at the end of the day its about choices. i could have offered an unpaid internship and had dozens of applicants. i just chose to do otherwise.

  19. As an interesting follow-up to this discussion….

    Rob Haggart at just posted this link to a NYTimes article about Irving Penn:

    The section which credits Alexey Brodovitch, then the art director of Harper’s Bazaar, with launching Penn’s career jumps out:

    “Brodovitch, impressed with Penn’s eye for graphics, hired Penn as an unpaid assistant.”

  20. There seems to be two very seperate issues here: (excluding the divergance into a racial argument, and I’m a mongrel so I won’t get into that one)

    Some people seem to be concerned about all the money that they spent on their education and are now upset that they will be expected to work for free. If the expensive education hasn’t provided you with the job that you hoped for perhaps you should question why you went to university. In Victorian times it was common for artists to be paid to take students, who then had access to the galleries and salons because they were know as “a onetime student of…….” Personally if i was given the money to study in an institution or be Nachtwey’s student/slave for a few years i know which I would be doing.

    if internships were actually correctly managed into something like an apprenticeship, where they started with mundane tasks and led into a skilled photographer that would probably end up joining the ‘artist’ on assignment, even if it were being paid for by the student, it would not be exploitive.

    A couple of years learning from Nachtwey, that would be an education, and would probably open the doors that the present qualifications can’t.

    That being said, in the present system no intern should replace a paid employee (or where one should be) An intern should be in a learning and not just a working environment, and I really think that well known studios or photographers should be able to pay …something.

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