Recently, many companies have attempted to gain world class photography through “spec work”. This is reprehensible conduct by many companies that should know better. As an organization focused on protecting the interests of commercial photographs and the visual art community, ASMP has always taken a stand against this practice.
Let us be clear: there is no place in the visual art market for spec work.
What Is Spec Work?
Spec work is short for speculative work, and it is work that a creative does for a client with the hope of eventually being paid, with no guarantees. But it is not only commercial work that falls into this category. There are other common forms of unpaid work, such as contests and internships. There may be reasons for engaging in these types of unpaid work – for example, an artist may enter into a contest to gain exposure, and a student may agree to an unpaid internship for the educational experience. Of course, there are disadvantages inherent in those forms of unpaid work that must be considered. The risks associated with spec work, though, warrant particular attention.
In the photography world, spec work may look something like this: a client asks a photographer to provide images for a project to see if the client likes the photographer’s work. At that point, the client has probably already asked several other photographers to do the same. If the client likes your work, you’re hired for the job. If the client doesn’t like your work, you don’t get hired, and you don’t get paid for the work you did. Spec work is a big gamble and ultimately results in a loss for the photographer and the client. Here’s why…
Why Is Spec Work Unacceptable?
- It is a waste of the photographer’s time and resources.
Spec work forces photographers to devote time, money, energy, and resources to a project that they may not even get paid for. Much is required of the photographer for potentially nothing in return. It provides a way for clients to take advantage of creatives and their work product. There is far more security in the relationship with a client who engages a photographer at the outset. Photographers who refuse to do spec work make the statement that they take pride in their work and are worth the investment. They also message to clients that this practice is unacceptable.
- It negatively affects the reputation of the client.
Spec work not only does a disservice for creatives, it also fails to serve the best interests of the client. How? By asking photographers to provide spec work, the client perpetuates the idea that the photographer is just one of a million, instead of one in a million. A client who requests spec work cycles through countless photographers for any given project. In doing so, the client misses out on the opportunity to build a long-lasting relationship with a photographer.
- It turns creativity into a commodity.
This issue isn’t just about money. The problem goes beyond the idea that spec work is free labor. It’s about the message that sends. Spec work prioritizes the final work product, with no regard paid to the creative process. This, in turn, makes photography just another element in the commercial market. A client that treats visual imagery as a commodity deprives itself of the nuances of the creative process. That’s the biggest loss of all.
ASMP believes that spec work is disadvantageous for all creatives, including photographers, and their clients because it devalues visual media as an art form and does not benefit the working relationship of either party. ASMP will continue to stand by all creators in acknowledging the value of visual media and advocating for the rights of not just its members, but all photographers and creatives alike.
Post Featured Image: Bruno Masseo