At times we struggle with the identity of our blog. Many posts are born of a desire to include our faraway friends and families in our lives, while others are the result of pent-up creative energy in search of an outlet. Even those posts, however, do not aspire to greatness or widespread recognition. We are happy if people derive enjoyment from the photographs and stories we share, but we don’t really think of what we post as “art,” so it is flatteringly disorienting when other people view it as such.
A couple of months ago, a contributing editor for a Polish science education project emailed us asking permission to use one of our photos in a publication that seeks to educate children about different indigenous dwellings around the world. It sounded like an awesome idea and we were all too happy to help.
The email triggered a bit of soul searching. We never really gave much thought to proprietorship issues when we started this blog. At some point we had talked about watermarking our photos but decided it was too much of a hassle. We figured it was unlikely that many of our pictures would be used for purposes of which we disapproved anyway.
The photograph in question had come from a blog entry we wrote after visiting a Maasai manyatta, the homestead of Kenya’s warrior tribe. This post is one of the most oft-visited pages on our blog because the picture is the number one result in Google’s image search for “Maasai manyatta.” Given the photo’s popularity it came as no great surprise that half a dozen other websites reproduced it on their pages, none of them giving us credit for the image. Because a couple of sites used the picture to sell products, including safari trips, we emailed them asking for the image to either be taken down or properly credited, and were pleased to find that all but one of them complied with our request.
A few weeks ago we received another email seeking permission to use one of our photographs. This time the request came from the exhibition developer at Chicago’s Field Museum. She had been looking for an image of Madagascar in which a landscape had been transformed by agriculture and came across our blog. We were excited about the opportunity, but a few days later she wrote back to say that her team had settled on another image. Alas, we won’t be able to cross off “being featured in a museum exhibition” off our bucket list just yet.