Photo of Chubbs by Anders Marshall, posted on Drake's Instagram without credit.
Drake and OVO liked my photo so much they used it twice.
The problem is, despite my work being showcased to hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people, I'm no better off.
This has happened before, both to people I know and to almost every creative worker at some point in their life, I'm sure.
At Ryerson's 6fest in May, Drake showed up for a surprise performance. Jake Kivanç from VICE posted a photo of Drizzy himself (among the set of six he posted through the night) that Drake liked so much, he chose to use for himself. He wrote a column about it with which I couldn't fully empathize at the time. Now I can, because, months later, it's happened to me too.
I woke up late one day last week to a few notifications: some follow up emails, a missed Facebook message or two, and a handful of pings on Instagram. Nothing major.
One stood out as I rubbed my eyes. It was a comment tag from my friend André on Instagram, with nothing but my name. Intrigued, I clicked on it and found the above photo I took of Drake's right hand man Chubbs, but cropped and in lower resolution than I remember.
I thought it was odd, since a) that photo is from Thanksgiving weekend and b) I didn't get why André tagged me in my own photo.
An alternate photo of Chubbs by Anders Marshall.
In a morning fog, I hadn't realised that Drake and right hand man Chubbs themselves had each posted the pic. That's the third time in a week somebody big in hip-hop has helped themselves to my work. French Montana was the first.
Combined, the [rappers who used my photos] have about 35 million social media followers between them. That's the population of Canada having access to my photo on demand, just because of a few thumb taps.
I know a tiny nod in my direction from my city's biggest export won't change my fortunes overnight. A small part of me feels somehow validated that somebody that big thinks my work is good enough to show the world.
Still, I feel used. Drake, French Montana and Chubbs used my photos for personal gain without credit or compensation. That might seem a bit of a reach — one flattering photo on Instagram won't make or break their image — but typically something you want is something you're willing to pay for. It's not like Drake can't afford it.
Combined, the aforementioned trio have about 35 million social media followers between them. Assume each account is unique and a real person, and that's the population of Canada having access to my photo on demand, just because of a few thumb taps.
That kind of exposure would have been great if I were credited or even tagged. Hell, swing me $20 and a mango juice and I might have been cool without my name on the photo anyway.
Anders Marshall's photo of French Montana post on French Montana's Instagram, again without credit.
Drake’s caption “Ryerson always shows love” on Kivanç’s photo is a tad ironic, given he’s ripped off at least two Ryerson students within the year.
Still, it’s tough to be mad.
Yes, photography today is a game centered around likes and followers. I took photos of artists to post on my account, and on this website. These photos are of faces, other people’s faces, and for that reason I can see why an artist wouldn’t feel the need to credit a photographer for using their own face.
And yet, I can’t shake the fact that my work was exposed to so many people without my name on it. It almost seems like it isn’t mine anymore, like Chubbs’ face is the only thing that matters, not the face behind the camera that clicked the shutter.
I know I'm not alone in the rat race, where every other teenager is a strategic hashtagger and Canon connoisseur. I reached out to a few photographers I know who have dealt with similar issues, and asked how they feel about their encounters now.
Lil Bibby. Photo by: Drew Yorke
Chart Attack: Does it piss you off when people lift your photos?
Drew Yorke: I never react like that. You have to remember that rappers’ managers are sometimes the ones doing social media. Still, a lot of artists don't care. They've got mad followers, they don't care who took it. It's unfortunate. I can’t understand that perspective.
It doesn't take much to just say who took the photo. Artists are starting to do it more because they're getting called out. Danny Brown posted my photo but I didn't whine about it. I sent a DM but he didn't respond.
Have you had any success stories?
Does this lax attitude around using photos without permission bother you?
No, it doesn't bother me. It's easy to take stuff. I do it with memes, I don't care who made it. Still, if you really like a photo you should care about who took it. To me it's just about putting food on the table, but I’m not gonna freak about it.
Drew Yorke is holding a gallery exhibition tonight in Toronto at Blank Canvas Gallery. “Live from the Pit” starts at 8pm and ends around midnight at 1544 Bloor St. W
Jake Kivanç's photo posted on Drake's Instagram without credit.
Chart Attack: Tell me about what happened when Drake used your photo a few months back.
Jake Kivanç: It was surreal because of how big it got. Josh [Visser, VICE Canada editor] got me to write the article about it. I think my care for it had died off by the time it was published. I wasn't concerned about the credit anymore. A member of OVO reached out and told me Drake was aware of the photo, and was sorry. They offered to tag me in the photo. I told them no. It seemed kinda pointless.
I asked if they had anything else available, like something I could shoot for them. That turned into shooting Roy Wood$’s listening party. [This ordeal] was more of a golden ticket than a lost opportunity. Me having a platform on VICE got me the attention. I don't regret it at all. People in the hip-hop community started to dap me about it.. I find that artists are very mindful of tagging me now.
So if you could turn back time, you wouldn’t want anything to have happened differently?
I don't know what else I could've done. When I shot Drake I had to be first to post it, and I accepted the consequences at the time. Now I have less anxiety about posting stuff right away. I'd directly get in touch with him this time around, work from the top down.
Drew Yorke said “that's the game" referring to this type of issue. Does that mindset bother you?
It does, but I try to get better access now [instead of getting my elbows up in the pit]. I want a personal connection with an artist; I want more work, not just the credit.
Photos of actor/singers Sarah Carmosino and Shane Harte that were passed around without Hung’s consent.
Hung Le: I shot Hashtag Live last year, and a couple of fan pages reposted my stuff without informing me. Also, a well-known Toronto DJ almost did, but I bugged him about it and had a couple friends chirp him. Sarah Carmosino and Shane Harte, too.
Chart Attack: How do you typically react?
If someone tells me or I come across a fan account doing it, I'll send a strongly worded message. It's probably 12-year-olds running them.
If someone big like French Montana reposted my photo, I'd be a little salty/low-key kind of amped that the guy liked my stuff enough [to repost it].
So what would bother you more, an account with a big following doing it, or a bunch of small accounts?
I'm conflicted. Typically the people with larger accounts are harder to reach out to. Smaller accounts tend to apologize and take your pic down, or actually credit you.
K. Forest. Photo by: André Varty
Chart Attack: What happened to your K. Forest photo from the show the other night?
Did you reach out?
Nah I never reached out
It was the same photo that got used twice, and I don't know, I guess I didn't really care that much,
It didn't bother you that you weren't paid or credited?
No not really, because it's not like this is how I make a living. I'm just happy that they used my photo; that's why I took them in the first place. Until this is something that I depend on I'm not going to be too mad about it.
I'm not going to sit here and act like not getting credit is good, but I don't feel like I'm really in a position right now to be demanding money for things.
Because I feel like I'm still at the stage where getting exposure is just as good as anything. Money isn't a top priority for me. If someone wants to pay me for something then that's great, but if not then, depending on the project, it's not really an issue for me. I just enjoy taking photos for people. I think having my photos in an article is different though than having someone post my photo on their personal account and not tag me in it. In that situation I would definitely be bothered.
In terms of celebrities or artists reposting other people's photos they should be a lot more considerate. They know they have a ton of followers and by tagging the photographers, they'll get major exposure. There's no bad side to it so I don't get why they wouldn't.