Dear Mr. Ford,
I recently received an email from your eponymous brand requesting the use of an image I took. It was lovely to receive the email and it would be my pleasure to help; I’ve been a fan of yours for some time both in regards to your designs at Gucci, YSL and your eponymous brand and also of you cinematic work and in particular your directorial debut of A Single Man.
Firstly, I confirm the image requested was taken by me for an editorial fashion shoot, but I’m afraid to inform you that I am not the rights holder. My contract at the time means my then employer owns the copyright. As such I have connected your point of contact at Tom Ford with my former employer so that they may reach an agreement. It is also worth noting there is a model release that should be considered. While I am not a decision maker in this process, I would like to take this opportunity to query your request. I would very much like to support you and I am glad, as per the email, my support would mean so much to you. However I am confused as to the manner of this support. Your release makes no mention of rate, yet the estimated worth of your Tom Ford brand is $6.1bn and your own net worth is $500m; by comparison I am a freelance photographer who, due to COVID, has struggled to find photography work for over 12 months.
Looking at your first book as an indicator, which is on its 23rd edition 17 years after first publication in 2004 and available from £50; to confirm, are you asking for an image for a hardcover and illustrated book with an expected publication life expectancy of 20 years for credit only? Your first book includes work by photographers for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration including Richard Avedon, Steven Meisel, Helmut Newton and Herb Ritts and I would love nothing more than to be featured alongside similarly notable photographers in your follow up. I understand some contributors have agreed to offer their work for free, which means my image and maybe by extension myself as a photographer fall into the category deemed not worthy to pay a licence for. However more importantly asking for free work because others have done so raises alarm bells; it is impossible to quantify this statement (Who? Why? What was the image? Is there an existing relationship?) and the last time a brand expressed a similar statement to me they then went on to commit over £30k infringement damages.
It has been indicated that the project is on a ‘tight deadline’. While there could be any number of reasons behind this, please excuse me if I am unimpressed as to how this should reasonably concern me. While I am comfortable under pressure, a lesson learned from my military career which included multiple tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, from experience I have found being put under time pressure by an external party never benefits me, solely them.
Simply put; if work is good enough to be included, then I suggest it has value. A genuine offer of support would include substance and if you are genuine in you request of support, then I request you to be respectful of those solicited. Do you consider a multi billion dollar brand requesting work for free, using time pressure for a reply to be respectful?
I acknowledge there is an element of risk with an open letter. When advertising dollars are hard to come by it would be easy to be denied work for questioning or criticising you. I would like to believe that you have thick skin and have better things to do with your time than be petty and vindictive, but I’m also aware how fragile and anxious human nature can be and how often a reaction bears little proportionality to the cause that triggered it.
As I am not the rights holder, I have no stake in this matter. I am too long in the tooth to believe I will benefit from any exposure and should my image be included, I will have to pay for my own copy of Tom Ford 002 which has a pre- order price of £95. You are not the first and I doubt you will be the last to request my work for free (others include historical golf clubs, British luxury brands and academia) but please excuse me if I find the request to be distasteful. You can do better.