UPDATED: Hall of Shame: POPS UK & The Clerkenwell Brothers

My Oreo Eclipse image at left. POPS reproduction at right.

My Oreo Eclipse image at left. POPS reproduction at right.

It is one thing for my photographs to inspire other photographers to attempt their own miniatures work in the same genre. It is quite another when a commercial brand employs a creative agency to go out on the Internet, find images, and then closely replicate the composition of those photographs but with their own commercial products included.

At this point in my career I shouldn’t be surprised to find people and companies of all kind stealing from me and otherwise exploiting my work. This behavior is rampant and constant. But it somehow doesn’t ever feel less violating. Occasionally I’m truly astonished at how blatant and shameless certain infringements can be. That was definitely true in the case of an amateur photographer in Italy named Tony Polinni who several years back closely replicated a bunch of my photographs and then had the audacity to sell them for syndication, including to Daily Mail UK, representing them as wholly his idea. The creepiest part of that situation was in the accompanying interview about his “work” all his answers were things I had posted on my website.

copycat 1.jpg
My 2011 registered copyrights at left. Shameless 2013 infringements by Tony Polinni to the right.

My 2011 registered copyrights at left. Shameless 2013 infringements by Tony Polinni to the right.

The Daily Mail took down the story with a quickness and apologized profusely. I had to remind them that they had previously published – years before – some of the very images this guy was replicating. Polinni at first tried to claim that he was innocent and that my work merely “inspired” his. But when I secured counsel in Italy, who sent him a cease and desist, he quickly backed down and decided he was better off exploring other avenues in photography.

In a more recent case of astonishment, the marketing geniuses at POPS, a boozy popsicle company in the UK, seemed to think this was a good idea to engage a photo agency to go out on the Internet to find images for “inspiration” for a social media campaign. By inspiration I mean find the work of others and closely replicate it, closely matching the composition.

They never approached me to ask for permission to license my work or to hire me to shoot images for them. Nor did they give me (or other photographers whose copyrighted they also presumably infringed) credit or try to make a case that what they were doing was an homage. They ignored the fact that it has taken me decades to hone my craft and thousands of hours of labor to establish my studio and my own brand. They selfishly thought that they could just use my compositions as a source to shamelessly copy.

My Coffee Crew. Their same four figures arranged on coffee.

My Coffee Crew. Their same four figures arranged on coffee.

What’s much more astonishing is that the agency that POPS employed to undertake these infringements – which apparently was The Clerkenwell Brothers – went along with it. They evidently thought it would be a good idea to closely replicate the work of others and then bill their clients for this service. Besides this act being unethical, not to mention illegal, it was also creatively lazy to a startling degree. They seem to work for a number of well known retail brands in the UK – including grocers TESCO and Whole Foods. I honestly wonder if those companies would invite the kind of liability this recklessness might bring upon their companies if this agency chose to do the same in their campaigns for them. Despite standard clauses in their contracts that indemnify them from liability, they probably still could be held responsible for the actions of their contractors.

My Cupcakes Airport image at left. POPS reproduction at right. Couldn’t they at least reverse the direction of the plane so as to not be so obvious?

My Cupcakes Airport image at left. POPS reproduction at right. Couldn’t they at least reverse the direction of the plane so as to not be so obvious?

Someone who apparently works for the Clerkenwell Brothers had been following my studio’s Instagram page until recently when we blocked them. How foolish I was to think they were following my work because they found it fun and interesting when they were apparently just there to enrich themselves with the product of my labor. The Clerkenwell Brothers were copied on my recent e-mail exchange with the POPS UK marketing department but to date they haven’t had the courage to reach out to me with comment. In the meantime, the team at POPS seems to think that an insincere apology and a “we didn’t know this crossed the line” ought to be enough to assuage my anger over this violation and the amount of my time this situation has wasted.

My studio submitted DMCA takedown requests to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter in response to these infringements. And when POPS got word that some of the posts were coming down they quickly pulled the remainder. While removing infringements when caught is a good start, it still seems a bit inadequate to me in the way of taking responsibility. It’s like getting pulled over and saying “Well officer, as soon as I saw your lights I stopped speeding and pulled over. So everything is OK now, right?.” Well, no. In that scenario you still broke the law and might have to pay a fine. But all too often I hear from infringers who seem to expect that taking down an infringement and saying sorry should be enough. I maintain that not infringing in the first place – and generating with your own ideas - is far better than exploiting someone else’s. Copyright is a strict liability offense. You either did it or you didn’t. It generally does not matter to the court whether or not you meant it or if you stopped infringing when caught. In the meantime, yes folks, finding someone’s work on the Internet and closely copying it is indeed copyright infringement.

UPDATE: In follow-up conversations with POPS and the commercial photography agency that handled the social media campaign in question, The Clerkenwell Brothers, we were able to come to an understanding to settle this matter amicably. In several exchanges with Nick Horowitz at the Clerkenwell Brothers, he apologized for the trouble this situation caused for me and explained that this behavior was not indicative of his company’s values or the way they usually do business. With the infringements swiftly removed and the company contrite and pivoting to a different tack for promoting POPS’ products, I was satisfied that they had taken sufficient responsibility and decided it was best to move on from this matter and to consider it resolved.

The Sorrows and Triumphs of Shooting Commercial Work

A café scene produced as part of a sequence for an insurance company. © 2019 Christopher Boffoli

A café scene produced as part of a sequence for an insurance company. © 2019 Christopher Boffoli

Mixing objects of different scales has been a favorite advertising technique for ages. I’m not quite sure where Jonathan Swift got the idea – used to great effect in his famous social satire “Gulliver’s Travels” in 1726 –but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he first saw it on a billboard somewhere.


As I’ve written about previously, my work with miniatures and food was influenced by television commercials I saw growing up; the Pillsbury Doughboy, Jolly Green Giant, Ty-D Bol man in that little boat inside the toilet, and the Ralston Purina miniature chuckwagon that would get chased by the family dog.  Mixing objects of various scales was a popular theme in TV and movies of the 70’s and 80’s. And it continues to be a reliable (and extremely effective) technique for attracting attention in advertising today with ad agencies around the world. 

It’s fortunate that I work in this wheelhouse. Without exception, commercial commissions for advertising agencies have been the most demanding but also stimulating parts of my work, not to mention the most lucrative.  Though they also can be one of the most frustrating as well. Agencies will often contact me to let me know that they will be pitching concepts – based on my work – to their clients. However, as I’m only one of a range of ideas, when the client chooses something else on a capricious whim I generally don’t back from the agency. So I’m always careful to not get too excited about the project too soon. Very occasionally they’ll thank me for my time in helping to put together whatever pitch materials or quote they’ve requested. More often they evaporate like sugar in hot tea.  It is important to not take it personally. Though I always do appreciate the professionalism of those account executives or producers that may be the courtesy of closing the loop.

Sometimes I’m thanked and tell they “went in another direction” only to see the campaign come out several months later and it is pretty much along the lines of what we discussed. Ad agencies may have decided that my quote was too high and went off and hired someone cheaper. Or they might have had an existing relationship with a creative studio or photographer who for practical reasons it would be easier to work with. Maybe they went with someone who was available sooner than I was or who was in their own time zone.  A lot of the reasons have nothing to do with me.

Reshooting a lone snowboarder element for my animators for a large commercial shoot in 2018. © Christopher Boffoli

Reshooting a lone snowboarder element for my animators for a large commercial shoot in 2018. © Christopher Boffoli

I can recall at least one creative agency that seemed ready to hire me to do product packaging for a winery. They wanted tiny little people on a refreshed identity, which included product packaging and labels for twelve skus of wine. They accepted my quote but then pivoted to a holding pattern due to some unexplained delay and then went dark.  Cut to two months later when they came back to me with hat in hand to say that they hired a photographer to shoot it for cheaper (than my already very reasonable quote) only to panic when the work that photographer returned was an embarrassing mess. They said they could not present it to their clients and wondered if I would re-quote and then scramble to pick up the pieces. I told them to go pound sand.

It should be no surprise to any creative doing commercial work of any kind that there is always someone out there who is willing to undercut your rate and produce something cheaper.  This has happened to me enough to know that it is never fun.

But before I come off as too cynical here, there absolutely are some heroes out there too.  I’m thinking of the very accomplished and well-respected graphic designer in NYC who once told a company that she would walk from the project when she got wind of their plan to ice me and to hire a much cheaper photographer overseas who was ready to knock off my work.  I ended up doing the work. And the designer has won my respect and loyalty.

Storyboards taped up in preparation for a product packaging shoot. © Christopher Boffoli

Storyboards taped up in preparation for a product packaging shoot. © Christopher Boffoli

There also are creative directors, producers and agencies who seek out and value quality and who come to me as they regard me as something of a pioneer in my genre and who understand the real value I bring to collaborating with them on their projects. For all of the negative interactions I’ve had with less than scrupulous agencies and undercutting competitors, the superlative experiences I’ve had working with some of the best agencies in the industry have more than made up for the unseemly experiences I’ve had. I’m really proud of the work that has come out of some of those collaborations. I consider it a privilege to have work with and learned from those brilliant creatives.

See New Big Appetites work at Arden Gallery Boston

Arden Gallery at 129 Newbury Street in Boston’s Back Bay will be exhibiting new work from the Big Appetites series through the month of July, including new images that will be exhibiting for the first time. Pictured above is an animated version of Lifesavers Lay Out which is included in the show as a large scale, fine art acrylic-dibond mount, edition 2 of 3. Please contact the gallery directly for more information on pricing and availability.

Hall of Shame: Miss Patina Ltd.

miss patina1024px.jpg

Miss Patina Ltd, a UK clothier, is but the latest infringer in the never-ending saga of commercial entities that think they can exploit the work of independent visual artists with impunity. I was disheartened to recently find a number of my copyrighted images posted on a “blog” on the commercial Miss Patina website (on the same page with links to buy their products, of course).

Companies like Miss Patina seem to think they’re clever by making it as though they are just entertaining their customers with fun, interesting images. In reality, what companies like this are really doing is downloading and republishing copyrighted photographs from the internet and using them as free content to provide traffic and engagement for their customers.

I have spent decades honing my craft as a photographer. Creating images requires a great deal of time, work and expensive equipment. And images are my livelihood. So it is always violating when complete strangers think they can just help themselves to my work, exploiting its value and depriving me of licensing income while they sell products. This is not in the least bit flattering to me. It is a simple matter of entitlement and theft. My images routinely license commercially for four figure sums. But if companies like Miss Patina can just take them and use them for free then it removes the incentive for companies who are willing to pay me to properly license my work.

Not once did anyone from this British clothing merchant reach out to my studio to seek permission to use my work in this manner. So what they did is infringe my copyrights in the service of their own company and brand. If that’s not dispicable enough, when my studio contacted them (multiple times) to ask them to pay for this unauthorized use ex post facto, they ignored us. This suggests to me that they feel entitled to exploit the intellectual property of others. Of course, we reported this willful copyright infringement to Miss Patina’s ISP which removed the images from their servers. Since they have expressed no interest in taking responsibility, my legal team is currently evaluating legal angles, potentially going after their interests in the US where statutory damages would apply.

Miss Patina apparently was founded by Holly Wang, recipient of a “Chinese Business Leader” award by Sino Pro & PWC. She also has given lectures on the fashion industry. I wonder some of her lectures include tips on how to profit from the theft of intellectual property of others. I’m curious how she would feel if someone shoplifted her merchandise and then refused to pay for it – or even apologize – when given the opportunity.

Most companies that my studio catches using my copyrighted work without permission at least have the courtesy and professionalism to apologize for their theft and (usually) to blame some hapless, twenty-something intern who didn’t know anything about how copyright works. But Miss Patina ranks among the worst of the worst, to not only steal and profit from the theft but to rudely ignore communication in a feeble attempt to avoid responsibility. It is my hope that Miss Patina Ltd. will learn that avoiding responsibility for bad behavior has consequences. In the meantime, I hope anyone out there who might be considering a purchase from this copyright infringer might be interested to know the detriment they are perpetrating on independent visual artists who are trying to make a living from their work. If you have time you might let them know your thoughts on the matter.

Miss Patina p31024px.jpg

The benefits of avoiding tricks (most of the time) and creating it all in the camera

Cake Dogsledding (2019) © Christopher Boffoli/ Big Appetites Studio

Cake Dogsledding (2019) © Christopher Boffoli/ Big Appetites Studio

I’ve been intrigued over the years to read stories about all of the weird, surprising materials and ‘tricks of the trade' employed by food stylists in the course of their shoots for food brands. I expect that by now almost everyone has heard of how stylists use things like white glue to stand in for milk in bowls of cereal, or use shoe polish to make grill marks on burgers, etc. While I’m all for using ingenuity to overcome the many technical challenges of food photography, when I began Big Appetites many years ago I made a commitment to only use real food as much as possible. 

My choice of food as a primary subject had to do with a few factors.  First, food offers a tremendous variety so I thought I’d never run out of things to shoot. Food often has really gorgeous texture, color and geometry. It can be a rich subject matter for art as it is deceptively complicated despite how accessible it is cross-culturally. And lastly, if I was going to use Big Appetites to make a statement about North America’s dysfunctional relationship with food (a critique that potentially would include iconic, processed foods) then it would be important to maintain a certain degree of integrity in food sourcing and methods.

As I’ve repeated in a lot of interviews over the years, trying to rely on fresh food can present challenges as there is a disparity between how we think food ought to look – or how we expect it to look – and how it actually appears when photographed up close with high quality macro lenses.  I began this series in the winter of 2002 in New York City and carried it forward after moving across the country to Seattle.  So my rules on freshness meant that I had to always work around whatever foods were in season. For instance, if strawberries were appearing in my work  – and they looked good – then the odds were that I was shooting them in the summer when they are available to me with an acceptable aesthetic.

Strawberry Seed Poachers (2011) © Christopher Boffoli/ Big Appetites Studio

Strawberry Seed Poachers (2011) © Christopher Boffoli/ Big Appetites Studio

My photographs do not rely on extensive digital manipulation either. I do as much as I can practically. Of course, the Big Appetites series is shot digitally. However, I just feel as though there is a quality to practical photography that makes a discernible difference over digital manipulation, in the same way that the original Star Wars trilogy benefited from the use of practical models whereas the later films didn’t. There is value in the innovation that comes from meeting the challenge of rendering things in the real world.

Of course, images are adjusted in post-production for color balance, contrast and with edits to framing. Digital dirt, dust, crumbs, flaws and imperfections on the food will be painted out. And sometimes limbs on the models will be adjusted to suit some action.  However, most of what you see in Big Appetites is the real plastic models and real food on the set. 

That’s not to say I haven’t made exceptions on occasion when technical challenges mix with tight editorial deadlines have left me little choice but to capitulate to fakery. Once such instance was the cover that I shot for the Travel Issue of Lucky Peach magazine back in 2013.

Lucky Peach Issue 7. Spring 2013. “Cereal Rower”

Lucky Peach Issue 7. Spring 2013. “Cereal Rower”

The art director, Walter Green, approached me with a very clearly articulated concept about a character rowing in a bowl of cereal. I cannot recall if we specifically discussed the type of cereal he wanted to see. Lucky Charms may or may not have been requested. So that was definitely in the mix. We also sourced a bunch of other colorful cereals to try, including an out of production Finding Nemo cereal, some of which made it into the final image.

When I did some initial tests I found that though the marshmallows held up well and rendered their color beautifully, the working time with milk was going to be short as the the oat cereal didn’t have enough of a sugar coating and rapidly absorbed milk.

An early cereal and milk test for the Lucky Peach cover.

An early cereal and milk test for the Lucky Peach cover.

I had heard that commercial food stylists preferred white glue because it milk looked blue on film. I didn’t find this to be the case, though the milk did look flat. So we brought in some white glue (a lot of it) and the results were immediately more pleasing. The glue looked pure white and the cereal stood higher and didn’t absorb much moisture. So even though it went against my longstanding tradition of using only food, the short timeframe and the fact that the glue served the image better meant that I was willing to make a rare exception.

cereal alternate 1024px.jpg

A few different cereals were shot but in the end the art director liked the Lucky Charms best for the cover, though I did also construct an image for the back cover that depicted a tropical island made with a range of different cereals. As always, I was delighted when the magazine approved of the images and there was a lot of great feedback from Lucky Peach’s hardcore fan base.

In conversations with journalists, editors and creative directors – I’ve often addressed the perception that elements of my work are handed digitally. I feel like I’m routinely having to correct the misperception that Photoshop is extensively used as a tool for composition. One case in point is a recent image, pictured at the top of this post, with a man dogsledding across a cake.

This is one of a new series of winter scenes that I’ve undertaken after a couple of my galleries have had a great deal of interest from collectors for snow scenes. For a while I’ve thought about doing something with a dogsled. A cake sourced from a local bakery provided the perfect setting for the simple concept.

The cake was placed on the set with an assortment of scale trees arranged behind it. Initially I shot the cake on a sheet of dark blue seamless paper. But mid-shoot I had the idea to punch up the image with a night sky with an aurora. The star field was simple as I have shot a few images with a star field and so I have a section of black gator board that has been pricked over with a straight pin such that light comes through. That was arranged at the back of the set with a small LED light source behind it.

As this would be a night scene, the lights were dialed way down to balance the amount of light on the cake with the starlight. From there I cut out some green paper which I applied over the front of a small, handheld light source. With a long exposure I waved the light over the set in such a way that the blurred green light would resemble the aurora. This latter aspect was by far the most complicated part of the image as it took many dozens of tries to get an aurora that I was happy with. And one little happy accident was that an ever so subtle bit of my wrist read as a faint hint of pink in a section of the sky, resembling real world light pollution. This isn’t so obvious in the reduced-resolution jpeg above but it is more clear in the large digital original negative.

In summary, there are qualities to creating practical effects that can make for a better image in the end. Providing you have the luxury of time, being forced to be innovative can pay off in untold ways.

Macaron Team (2012) Residential Installation in Seattle


My fine art galleries work directly with collectors. So it is not always so transparent where my works end up. But occasionally I'll be surprised to see images of installations pop up in design magazines or on the sites of interior designers, as this one did on today on the Instagram page of NB Design Group's James Fung. Mr. Fung and his firm NB Design Group do stunning work. What an honor it is to have my work included in this gorgeous interior design. And it’s obviously also very flattering that the owners of this splendid residence have chosen to include my work in their living space.

This is piece is an acrylic-dibond mount of Macaron Team (2012) on archival metallic paper, in the rare 48x72 size. It has been a surprisingly popular piece, very much in demand with collectors, and at this point it is almost sold out in every size. The larger pieces are produced in very limited editions of three total pieces so they tend to be highly sought after. Only one 48x72” print of Macaron Team remains in inventory but I expect it will be scooped up before long.

Hall of Shame: More Commercial Exploitation of My Copyrighted Work


Having lived with widespread infringement of my copyrights for almost eight years now, one would think I’d eventually get used to it. But stumbling upon infringements still always feels really raw and violating. Case in point, one of the latest commercial infringements turned up on the website of Andy Jansma, a Chicago-based Graphic Designer/ Art Director. I was disheartened to find my Zesty Mower and Banana Riders images being used on his website as examples of past work (a print ad campaign that he apparently worked on for Costco). My studio has absolutely no record of Mr. Jansma or Costco ever seeking permission or license to use my intellectual property. They appeared on his website without attribution where he was using my images as an instrument to bring himself more business, on top of whatever money the Costco campaign may have brought in. The cherry on top was that there is a disclaimer on Mr. Jansma’s site which reads: “Don’t Steal My Stuff.” Right buddy.

An e-mail to Mr. Jansma has thus far gone unanswered. I suppose he feels totally comfortable downloading images off the internet and using them as free content to enrich himself, but is perhaps feels less comfortable about taking responsibility for it. Fortunately, Mr. Jansma will not be able to ignore this situation for very long. My (US) legal counsel has been consulted and a letter was sent out this week to Costco Wholesale Corporation. We’ll start there with the knowledge that a claim for actual and statutory damages in federal court will motivate someone to get to the bottom of this.

I have no idea yet who is actually responsible for initially infringing my copyrights, Mr. Jansma, Costco, or some other party involved with this project. But we’ll start with the brand whose logos are on my copyrighted works and they can turn around and sue anyone else who may have represented to them that they had permission or license to use my work. In the meantime, Mr. Jansma’s ISP (GoDaddy) was very efficient in removing the infringements from their servers.

If I had a dollar for every instance of my copyrights being infringed I’d have my own jet on 24 hour standby right now. I honestly would much rather devote my time to creative endeavors than to have to chase down thieves who think they are entitled to steal online content. But I feel strongly about defending my copyrights from commercial entities who seek to exploit my work. As long as it continues I will pursue these cases.

This infringement will be just one of the topics I will be discussing with a class of students at Photo Center Northwest (PCNW) here in Seattle in a couple of weeks, at which I’ve been invited to speak. In the meantime, I’ll post an update here was the situation progresses.

costco banana riders infringement with portrait.jpg

Big Appetites new works available in Scaled Perspectives presented by Winston Wächter Fine Art

Chip Installers (2019). © Christopher Boffoli/ Big Appetites. All Rights Reserved. Please do not repost or republish without permission.

Chip Installers (2019). © Christopher Boffoli/ Big Appetites. All Rights Reserved. Please do not repost or republish without permission.

Through February 28th Winston Wächter Fine Art is presenting new works from the Big Appetites series in a digital group exhibition titled Scaled Perspectives. Many serious art collectors in recent years have begun to exploit the relative bargain that fine art photography can offer, as opposed to the more mature art markets for painting and sculpture. Purchasing an artist’s newer works early on can present the opportunity to acquire much sought-after works that are low in the edition as they are being offered for the very first time.

Big Appetites fine art photographs are presented in small, limited editions with a selection of mountings. All pieces are numbered and hand-signed on the verso. Please contact Winston Wächter Fine Art for more information.

The pros and cons of syndicating your images

Daily Mail, UK, Oct. 2011.jpg

I’ve written previously about the myriad influences in TV and cinema (especially in my childhood) that inspired my Big Appetites photographs of tiny figures and food.  For a while now I’ve also wanted to cover the topic of syndication as it was a major factor in my work gaining widespread exposure and for the full time career that I have now as a fine art, commercial and editorial photographer. I had no knowledge of the world of syndication at the time I was approached by an editor with an offer to promote my work that way. So maybe there will be something in my experience that will be value-added to other photographers who might be considering syndication of their images.

I sometimes speak with photography students at art colleges, and more frequently get e-mails with questions from students of photography, and a common ask has to do with strategies about making one’s work stand out in an extremely crowded market. It’s always a difficult and complicated answer – beyond warning people to avoid gimmicks, to focus on an area of photography that they love, and to approach a subject of your work for the long game. Usually I get the sense that students are eager to make a living in the field of photography and they want some kind of insight into how to replicate my success.  But as an “accidental visual artist” who studied English in college, I’m limited in my capacity to advise them as I feel in most respects that this is a career that found me.  Though I do always advocate for the benefits of a broad, liberal arts education in helping one to know how to respond to doors of opportunity as they open (even though it means that I tend to not get asked back to speak by schools that are more than happy to have students majoring in Photography as undergrads).

My Big Appetites photographs (which I first called ‘Disparity’) were something that I had been doing for almost nine years by the time they were first published.  To be honest, I really needed a lot of that time too as I was an intuitive, self-taught photographer, more accustomed to shooting for journalism, travel and portraiture. It took me a while to understand how to light for macro food photography and thereby run the roadblocks of my own shortcomings as a photographer. 

These images with tiny figures were a tiny percentage of my total creative output.  The key was really that I just didn’t give up on the idea.  I kept pecking away at it whenever an idea came to me, from the time I made initial test images in December 2002 to the spring of 2011 when everything changed dramatically. Like many other photographers, I put my work online in those early days. But other than one of my young nieces – who enjoyed the images – no one really cared or took notice.

I can’t recall now all of the places I had my images online. I’m sure I must have published some on various websites, blogs and iWeb accounts I had over time. I do know that I had images up on a photography website called Zooomr back in the day (a site I enjoyed a lot and that introduced me to the impressive work of Thomas Hawk) and later on Flickr (which I liked a lot less and that also contributed to my work being misappropriated). Making images available online was just the easy part. One still has the challenge of making them stand out on those sites where they exist among many millions of other photographs of pets, insects, flowers, hot air balloons, people’s kids, etc.

What catalyzed widespread notoriety for my work was a website called 500px.com based in Toronto.  From the start I perceived that the site seemed to be better curated by the other photographers putting their work there (fewer people were using it as a repository for pictures of their pets and family photos).  What I particularly enjoyed about 500px was that – since the site was been founded by Russians –  it seemed to have a better balance of photographers from Russia and Europe opposed to mainly North Americans.  So there was a discernible cultural difference that had a bearing on the look of the images. 

Of course like many other photography sites there was a social aspect to site which would aid in building a following through a system of comments and ratings from peers. Though I don’t know that I’m all that talented in doing whatever I have to do to organically build a robust following.  There are plenty of photographers who are very good at playing that game and understanding how it all works. For me it was just about putting up my best images, taking care to edit myself as best I could, and then being humble and grateful when people would comment or rate my work. I would also not be shy about commenting on and admiring those who I thought were doing work that inspired me. Beyond that I really had no agenda about scheming to get my work “out there” or to market myself in a way that would bring me income.

I don’t recall how long I had been on the 500px site when (maybe around April 2011) I received a direct message out of the blue from an editor in Europe who pitched me the idea of syndicating my images. Knowing nothing at all about syndication I thought it might be a scam and my knee jerk reaction was to have reservations about sending twelve high-resolution images to a complete stranger on the other side of the world.  But after some thought and discussion with my best friend I decided to give it a shot. What I learned is that worldwide media is hungry for interesting content for their publications.  So syndicators will buy a group of images, will package it with a story, and will offer it to a range of publications. Once the content is in their system they will offer it to a network of syndication partners in other countries who will do the same.

Telegraph UK.jpg

The syndication agency I started with was Caters News who placed my images in a handful of publications in the United Kingdom in May 2011.  Although it wasn’t the first time my images had been in print, syndication was a completely new experience in many respects. I expected that I’d get a little bit of money.  What actually happened is that my images quickly spread.  After appearing in England they were in Scotland. Then in France, Greece and Italy.  Then Pakistan and Australia.   The photographs of tiny figures and food that I had worked on in obscurity for almost a decade were suddenly everywhere online.  My inbox was flooded with comments and e-mails asking where people could buy prints. There were interview requests from editors and requests to use images that went on for months. I even received a contact from a book agent at a top agency, suggesting that the work would make a great book. And there were galleries reaching out to ask if I would be interested in selling my photographs as fine art prints.  Interest was suddenly raining down from the sky and I was running around with a paper cup trying to do my best to catch it.

That summer the work took off like a rocket, completely exceeding my expectations. What came first was just the attention.  No one was writing me checks overnight. The money would come long after the notoriety. Big Appetites would go on to be published as a book but not until two years later.  And I did start signing with fine art galleries. But that had its own process too.  I’ll cover the book process and my fine art experiences (which have ranged from terrific to absolutely horrible) in other posts as there is much to say about both.  But for the purposes of the subject at hand I think it is best to focus the rest of this post on the pros and cons of syndicating your images.  We’ll start with the positive.


Broad exposure

Syndication is a powerful way to introduce your photography to the world. I can obviously speak only from my own experience and results may vary.  But on the whole, syndicating my images got my work into a range of publications around the world, expanded knowledge of my photography very quickly and broadly, and brought me opportunities that I may not have been able to realize through other means.   Doing two or three syndication deals, one after the other, for six months to a year at a time, resulted in my photographs being published in around 100 countries without me having to do much of the work in getting them there.

A little bit of money
Depending on the details of the syndication arrangements, the syndicator generally will split the profit with the photographer. So if the publication offers $250 for the content, you get $125.  Some publications pay less, some more.

Awareness leading to opportunities 

Many people have used the term “going viral” in reference to the way my Big Appetites photographs ricocheted around the Internet.  And at a certain point the notoriety did seem to have an organic power of its own. Though to be fair, much of the momentum had to do with the significant work that I did to keep it going. This involved finding a design house to put together a website for me, posting on social media, working very hard to continue the photo series by shooting a lot of new images, doing endless interviews via both e-mail and telephone.  I’d say the first six months or so were the most intense. Due to the widespread interest in my photography from around the world, I was often working on behalf of Big Appetites from very early in the morning to late at night. It is one thing to have doors of opportunity open. It is another to be prepared in a way that helps you figure out the best way to go through that door.

Cons:  (A longer list)

Lack of transparency

I found that syndication networks were less than clear about where my work was being used. Nor did they readily identify the other syndication networks they partner with. So while they would generate intermittent reports about where images were published, sometimes it was evident – like on the NBC Today Show website or InTouch magazine – and other times it would be some obscure Belgian print publication I had never heard of and that was identified in the payment report merely by way of an incomprehensible acronym.  Which leads us to….  

Copyright infringement

Certainly it is no surprise to any visual artist who uses the internet to promote their work that it is easy for others to take and republish images without permission.  So as my photographs spread through the syndication networks, they just as quickly began to pop up on many (many!) websites of publications that had absolutely no right to use them.  Now I could write volumes about my experiences with copyright infringement, and I will at a later date. But I’m not talking here about teenagers who discovered some of my images, found them funny and entertaining, and decided to post some of them to social media.  I’m referring to mainstream news publications – generating revenue from subscriptions, newsstand sales and advertising – who just helped themselves to my work and used it as free content to enrich themselves. 

The percentage of this activity probably comprised better than 40% of where my images went online. In some cases, it could be curtailed or stopped. But in many other cases (Turkey, Russia, Brazil, China, Argentina, just to name a few) the publications rampantly steal content with impunity.

I’ve frequently seen comments from amateur photographers who seem to like to assign me the blame for the image theft I’ve had to endure simply because I didn’t watermark my work before putting it online. The truth is that you can’t so readily sell your work with big, ugly watermarks on them. You most certainly can’t do that if, say, The New York Times or Washington Post is hiring you to create an editorial commission.  My experience has demonstrated that the world is full of entitled people with no respect for artist rights and they are more than happy to take your work and use it to gain attention/interest/traffic.  This is not just news publications either, but commercial brands who take and use images without permission as they engage with customers on social media. But I digress. There is much to say about copyright at another time.   I’ll just finish by saying that the lack of transparency and clear accounting from the syndicators makes copyright enforcement tricky.

Slow payment

Having done editorial commissions I can tell you that print publications are not well known for paying contributors quickly.  Working through syndication networks as no exception. Do not undertake syndication arrangements if you are expecting to collect payment swiftly or to generate a living wage. If you are patient, however, and view this income as part of an overall plan as a working photographer, then you’ll be fine.

Unexpected uses

Read your syndication contracts carefully to avoid getting yourself in a situation in which your images are being offered in a way that you’re not comfortable with.  For example, you might be thrilled to see your pictures used in a large feature spread in a major magazine or newspaper.  But you might not be OK with your images being offered to stock agencies as well, especially when you couldn’t potentially make a lot more by directly licensing your work on your own (to audiences who might be outside of the contract, like commercial entities).


I think I worked with three different syndication agencies over a period of a couple years, but of course none simultaneously as contracts require exclusivity. In my experience they ask you to commit for a certain amount of time, I’d say at least six months. So be sure you are OK with sticking it out.  Business generally works better when professionals abide by their contracts. 

It’s a volume business 

Certain publications seem extremely hungry for syndicated content. I’ve had my work featured in major newspapers in the UK only to have them see my work somewhere else six months later and come back to me to ask if I’d like to be featured in their publication.  They have so many different photo editors, and churn through so much content, that it’s likely they don’t remember that they’ve already published my work. I do take care to offer them fresh content and new text (if they’re looking for it). And here is but one reason this is on the list of cons:

My work at left. The work of a shameless copycat photographer on the right. These were some of the images he sold to the same paper than published my work three different times.

My work at left. The work of a shameless copycat photographer on the right. These were some of the images he sold to the same paper than published my work three different times.

There was the time a copycat amateur photographer in Italy replicated the exact same composition of about a dozen of my images and managed to sell a feature story to a UK daily newspaper. As if that weren’t creepy enough, he even went so far as to do an entire interview about the work, pretending that the idea was his, and sourcing most of the answers about his inspiration from the text on my own website.  I only learned about the feature when the fine art gallery in London that was representing my work alterted me to it. The paper immediately removed the story when I brought it to their attention and – likely understanding their liability in the matter – offered to pay me.  I declined their payment, accepting their apology and the removal. The point was made.  It did drive home how eager they are to fill column inches, not to mention how so many unethical photographers out there will happily bask in the attention and accolades for their “creativity” and “originality” when they’ve totally cribbed the idea from someone else.

Sometimes it is hard to turn off

I generally had positive experiences syndicating my images through Caters News and Rex Features.

Syndication arrangements with Barcroft Media were initially positive during the time I did business with them but were later severely tarnished in a significant breach of trust when – more than a year after our arrangements had expired – my photographs we discovered as still being offered for sale through one of their syndication partners.  They apologized, saying they did everything they could to inform their syndication partners that they were no longer authorized to offer my work for sale.  They claimed that it was a simple mistake.  I accepted their adamant assurances that it would never happen again and then moved on, only to discover FOUR YEARS LATER yet another of their syndication partners still had my images available for licensing. I was less willing to overlook this as a mistake and saw it for the gross negligence and infringement of my copyrights that it was.

This should be an instructive lesson in the way that a lack of transparency on the part of a syndication company may result in your images still being offered or sold for years after the contract ends, simply because you have no way of knowing yourself which partner companies might still have your images as the main syndication company won’t reveal it to you.

In summary, syndication can be a powerful way to gain notoriety for your work.  Though it comes with some serious drawbacks that can temper the benefits. Overall, the exposure of my work through international syndication was the kindling on which I built the fire that is a full time career in fine art, editorial and commercial photography that is keeping my hearth warm to this day.

Hall of Shame: Art scammers



I occasionally get e-mails and letters from students who have seen my photography and want to ask questions or just tell me how much they enjoy the work. Invariably, the younger the age of the writer, the more charming the notes and letters are, sometimes even including crayon drawings and recommendations of foods they would like to see me photograph. Having been an avid letter writer in my younger years, and knowing the disappointment I felt when I never got a response from my heroes, I always try to respond. 

But today I received something a bit more sinister: a handwritten note from Paris – including a blank white card and a self-addressed stamped envelope – from someone pretending to be a fan requesting an autograph. A bit of quick research turned up other cases of the exact same letter being sent to artists over at least the past eight years. It was impressive in its use of proper English, that it is actually hand-written, and that it is personally tailored to me, using my name and mentioning the name of my Big Appetites photographs.

It's clearly some sort of identify theft attempt or even a method by which someone could duplicate my photographs and apply my signature to the verso of those phony prints.


Big Appetites Macaron note card set now available for international shipping

macaron 1024px amended.jpg

We regret that some of the limitations of our online store have made it difficult to offer our limited edition greeting cards to international collectors. So we have made available a small quantity of sets that may be purchased online via eBay with options for calculating international shipping.  To purchase, please click the following link:


Big Appetites part of "Scale: Possibilities of Perspective" at the CMA in New York

CMA 1.jpg

I'm honored that some of my Big Appetites fine art photographs are part of the current exhibition Scale: Possibilities of Perspective at the Children's Museum of the Arts in New York City. My work is the good company of some stunning pieces by a number of other artists, including Zaria Forman and Dustin Yellen.  If you find yourself in New York between now and September, please check it out.  My thanks to the all-star team at Winston Wächter Fine Art New York for helping to coordinate the loan of works to the museum.


Recent uses of "scale juxtaposition" in advertising

Recent print and television ads from brands like Apple and Pine-Sol continue a long tradition of the use of miniatures – more specifically, the mixture of miniature people with normal scale products – in advertising. My Big Appetites work was partially inspired by the very same kind of scale juxtaposition that I saw on television as a kid, in commercials with the Ty-D-Bol man in a tiny powerboat inside a toilet, the small Pillsbury Doughboy being prodded on the kitchen counter, or the Purina chuckwagon being chased through the house by a dog.  I don't know if anthropologists have really devoted very much research into why this sort of thing is so attention grabbing. But the benefits are certainly not lost on the advertising industry as the exploitation of this concept is just as effective now as it was decades ago.



NEW Big Appetites pieces premiering at Pulse Miami

Jackson at Breakfast (2017).jpg

Three new Big Appetites fine art photographs will be exhibiting at Pulse Miami in December with Winston Wächter Fine Art (Booth N-208). The above image "Jackson at Breakfast" was commissioned for the December 2017 art issue of Pulse magazine. Pulse Contemporary Art Fair opens on Thursday, December 7 and runs through December 10th.  

Pulse: https://www.pulseartfair.com
Surface: http://www.surfacemag.com
Winston Wächter Fine Art: http://seattle.winstonwachter.com

Big Appetites a finalist for 2017 Best Photography Tasty Awards

zesty mower Tastys logo 800px.jpg

I'm incredibly honored to be a finalist for a 2017 Tasty Award! It is especially flattering considering the culinary heavy hitters among the voters (including Nancy Silverton, Christina Tosi, David Chang, Chris Ying, April Bloomfield, Mario Batali, and Questlove, among many others).

The kind folks at Taste Talks Brooklyn have extended to my studio a promo code (BIGAPPETITES20) for a 20% discount on tickets/passes for anyone who wants to attend the upcoming festival in New York City in early September.

Festival site: brooklyn.tastetalks.com
Awards site: awards.tastetalks.com

An homage to King Kong

As part of an ongoing series of cinema-related Big Appetites images, today in the Big Appetites Studio we're working with some newly 3D printed elements.  Yesterday we finished the King Kong figure who is just about camera ready.  And today there are a few tiny little airplanes to finish painting.  Next we'll move to building the set and backdrop which will likely be the most complicated aspect of this shoot.

A Choice of Cupcakes

TRUMP: "Isn't this a terrific American-baked cupcake? I like that it's pink, symbolizing my well-known love of women. But it's also vanilla so it is pure white all the way through. And no, my hands are not small. They just look small in proximity to this UUUUGE cupcake."

CLINTON: "Don't call me cupcake. I am a Wellesley and Yale Law grad, an attorney, a wife, a mother, a US Senator and a Secretary of State. If I am elected president we will not have any little cupcakes bee-bopping around the West Wing as that is precisely where Bill got into trouble last time."