Tannenbaum Leaves Corbis

Posted on 9/7/2000 by Allan Tannenbaum | Printable Version | Comments (0)



September 7, 2000

While most photographers seem to have issues with Corbis relative to their new

contract, many Sygma photographers are finding the situation untenable. Longtime

Sygma photographer, Allan Tannenbaum, has sent the following letter to his


Dear Colleagues;

After 20 years as a Sygma photographer I told Corbis Sygma this week that I would be

moving on. I had already asked for the return of my most valuable archives,

containing some of the last photos of John Lennon and other significant subjects. I

feel that this is the best career decision I have made in my life.

You may be negotiating in good faith, but Corbis is not. Over the past year since our

acquisition, they have acted dishonestly and ineptly, breaking promises and

arrogantly telling photographers who built the agency to take a hike if they didn't

trust Corbis. We thought Corbis wanted to restore Sygma to its former glory - instead

they went on a search and destroy mission. The instances and examples have been amply


Corbis wants your pictures, but they don't want you. I told Steve Davis many months

ago that prior to Sygma, Corbis bought collections, but now they had acquired lives.

He didn't care. Look how they treated Jean-Pierre Laffont who was one of the founders

of Sygma in the early 70's. At Corbis you will be just a number. The Sygma accountant

used to write 125 photographer's checks per month - now he writes 400 for Corbis

Sygma photographers.

Les Stone, Andrew Lichtenstein, and I are award winning Sygma photojournalists who

have all had exhibits at Perpignan. We are all revolted by the Corbis way, which had

destroyed Sygma, debased photojournalism, devalued our archives, and disrespected us

as human beings. We have left the agency as has Ted Soqui in L.A. and others

following soon. It is profoundly cynical and hypocritical for Corbis to co-sponsor

the photojournalism festival at Perpignan while treating their own photojournalists

with such contempt. That's Corbis: all P.R. and spin. For someone in a field where

honesty and integrity are paramount, it's insupportable.

You can avoid the disillusionment and frustration that the Sygma photographers have

experienced by getting out now. Solidarity is perfect if everybody just pulls out of

the deal. Corbis is playing hardball, so it's time for us to play hardball too. But

not by their rules, for we shall surely lose against the deep pockets of Bill Gates.

The day after I resigned, I got a call from a Corbis exec asking me to participate in

a panel with Corbis to find out what the photographers were unhappy about!!! I

patiently reminded him of our lunches, the contract meetings, a meeting I had with

Steve Davis, a lunch with Peter Howe, and a lunch with Leora Kahn. He had the PBP

(point by point) already. I told him that I thought they were a day late and a dollar


The time and money you will waste trying to reform Corbis will be much better spent

transforming your career. America is wonderful - we have freedom of choice and the

entrepreneurial spirit. If you were looking for an agency, you would never choose

Corbis, which lost $50 million last year, has a bumbling bureaucracy, no real plan, a

lousy website, and is, as a high level Corbis exec admitted to me, "incompetent".

This is not a time to try to appear neutral, or courteous, or unemotional, or timid.

We are photographers because of a passion for the medium, and what Corbis has done to

Sygma and what they will do to you is criminal. In a message to Eliane Laffont which

she onpassed to the Corbis honchos, I compared Corbis to the Titanic, and the Corbis

execs to the captain and designer of the ship, filled with hubris and pride at the

size and speed of their ship. The biggest iceberg is us, followed by the US DOJ et.

al. Would you have boarded the Titanic if you knew her fate? Do you want to be

fiddling on the deck while she sinks?

I feel very liberated by my decision and positive things are happening already. I

will not contribute photos, I have my most valuable archives back, my other originals

will be returned from Paris, and whether I leave the remainder of my archives with

Corbis depends on changes that I will continue to fight for. Our open and bright

office is being Corbisized, and my instincts tell me that before long there won't be

many people I know there. It's time to find our collective cojones and walk away from

a very, very, very bad situation. You are all bright and talented people and should

not forget that we have the upper hand, not Corbis, because we have what they want.

Don't give it to them!

As Woodie Guthrie sang, "Some will rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen."


Allan Tannenbaum

ex Sygma photographer

Copyright © 2000 Allan Tannenbaum. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz


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