Contemporary photographers owe a great deal to the handful of photojournalists who banded together in the 1940s to lay the foundations for what was to become the most dynamic and effective trade association for publication photographers. The following is a brief outline of ASMP's early history.
Click magazine photographers Bradley Smith and Ike Vern chat with New York Post columnist/critic John Adam Knight about the need for magazine photographers to “have some sort of club or something.”
Some two dozen photographers gather in Ewing Krainin’s New York studio and agree that a formal organization is both wanted and needed. Wrote founding member Bradley Smith: “It was the year of 1944, a year of the beachheads of Normandy, the beginning of the end of World War II. It was also the year of the first meeting to organize photojournalists, a new breed of concerned visual communicators.” Philippe Halsman, a portrait and editorial photographer who had moved to New York from Paris in 1940, attends that first meeting.
Photographers pay a $25 initiation fee, plus $2-per-month dues, to become members of The Society of Magazine Photographers — SMP.
SMP is chartered by the state of New York. A temporary board of governors, including Herbert Gehr, Nelson Morris, Herbert Giles, Bradley Smith, Roland Harvey, and Allan Gould, write the Society’s constitution. Members elect John Adam Knight as temporary president and Philippe Halsman as temporary secretary.
John Adam Knight believes that a full-time working magazine photographer should serve as president, and steps aside. Philippe Halsman is elected SMP’s first official president, serving with his fellow officers Eliot Elisofon, Harold Rhodenbaugh, Herbert Giles, Michael Elliot, Nelson Morris, and Robert Disraeli, as well as board members Fritz Henle, Fritz Goro, and George Karger. Operating temporarily from Halsman’s studio on West 67th Street, the founder’s group establishes committees for publications, membership, exhibitions, and a monthly bulletin. SMP holds regular meetings at the Hotel Belmont-Plaza as well as the Waldorf-Astoria and attracts more and more interested photographers as word spreads about this small but increasingly visible group.
ASMP’s Bulletin, originally edited and written by Herbert Giles, Allan Gould, Sid Latham, and Jack Manning, publishes Volume 1, Number 1.
After just one year of the Society’s existence, it is estimated that over three-fourths of all eligible magazine photographers belong to SMP, including David Eisendrath, Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Capa, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Jerry Cooke, Andre Kertesz, Peter Stackpole, Lisa Larsen, Andreas Feininger, Dimitri Kessel, and Arthur (Weegee) Fellig.
When the Board learns that the School of Modern Photography holds claim to the letters SMP, members vote to rename their group the Magazine Photographers Guild — only to discover that name is spoken for, too. SMP then changes its name to American Society of Magazine Photographers, and the acronym ASMP officially enters the vernacular of New York’s magazine and photography world.
Edward Weston becomes a member; Edward Steichen is made an honorary member.
The Society amends its charter and begins the fight to represent magazine photographers in matters of wages and working conditions.
ASMP is licensed by the state of New York to act as a labor union.
ASMP establishes the Code of Minimum Standards, an agreement that, while not legally enforceable, spells out what the Society believes to be fair pay rates for freelance magazine photographers. One by one, magazines sign the agreement, and the publishing industry is forever changed.
Asked to join ASMP, French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson responds, “I am much honored of your proposal. I never belonged to any club, nor did my camera, but my trigger finger and I cannot resist your suggestion.”
In a decision with far-reaching effects for the industry, the New York State Workmen’s Compensation Board rules that an ASMP member who was injured on an assignment is entitled to workmen’s compensation benefits. ASMP worked hard to help establish this ruling.
In a letter to President John F. Kennedy, ASMP’s Equal Rights Committee supports and urges passage of the proposed civil rights legislation, stating: “We are a well-informed and influential group of photographers whose pictures inform and thereby help to mold public opinion. We are behind you one hundred per cent in this fight and rest assured that we will do everything in our power to make sure that Civil Rights legislation becomes a reality and that the word Democracy will take on a deeper meaning for all Americans.”
The issue of residual rights to images shot during a magazine assignment is raised and vigorously challenged by the magazine industry. ASMP’s answer: a “Declaration of Conscience” stating that “reproduction rights and ownership belong to the photographer; that each use of a photograph must be compensated for; that limitations on a photographer’s freedom to reuse his own creations must be related to the purpose and protection of the publication and must be limited in time; and that no ASMP member or unaffiliated photographer should agree to terms inconsistent with the resolution.” A two-year battle with Time Inc., is waged, and many ASMP members jeopardize their livelihoods before this basic right is recognized by the publishing industry. The stock photography business, and the benefits photographers realize from it, is a direct result of ASMP’s stand.
The Society changes its name to “ASMP — the Society of Photographers in Communications.” Within three years, the Board and members decide to get rid of the second part of the new name, retaining simply the original ASMP.
ASMP requests union status from the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB denies the request, saying that ASMP, a group of independent contractors, is officially a trade association.
After years of tireless effort on the part of ASMP staff and officers, the Copyright Act of 1976 goes into effect, placing ownership of a photographer’s creative work back in the photographer’s hands.
Through ASMP’s efforts — and similar efforts by associations representing other creative arts — photographers, writers, composers and artists are exempted from the IRS’s Uniform Capitalization Rule. (The rule treats the costs of creating images as capital assets rather than deductible expenses. It is still in effect for movies, videotapes and sound recordings.)
ASMP completes the 10,000 Eyes project which culminates in the publication of a large format book and production of a highly acclaimed photo exhibit. (The next year, the exhibit, shipped to Russia for a photographic festival disappears. St. Petersburg contacts say the exhibit is in storage. It is never returned.)
At the insistence of president Vince Streano, the ASMP board approves establishment of a Legal Action Fund, a legal war chest.
The Board of Directors votes to change ASMP’s name to American Society of Media Photographers, retaining the ASMP acronym but replacing the word “Magazine” to better reflect the diversity of work done by ASMP’s members.
ASMP relocates from New York City to Princeton Junction, New Jersey. (It moves again in 2001, this time to Philadelphia.)
ASMP launches the first Strictly Business seminar series.
ASMP’s 50th Anniversary celebration in New Orleans is a great success; President Bill Clinton sends ASMP a letter of congratulations.
Since 1994, ASMP has continued to work for photographers’ interests. But we will draw the line here. We will leave it to some future historian to look back and evaluate which of our actions of the 21st century had lasting impact, and to extend this timeline farther.