“We are human beings and we are part of this system. We refuse to be a passive entity in the equation of this industry anymore,” he added.
For the uninitiated, the street-style universe works like this: A woman becomes known for her enviable personal style. Photographers start to take her picture, either by chance or prearranged agreement. She then posts images on her Instagram account, which rapidly gains followers and fashion brands start to notice her pulling power.
Sometimes, they send clothes to borrow (or keep). Often, she then wears them to a show. More photographs are taken. The brand (and increasingly, glossy magazines) then publish an online street-style post. The woman’s profile receives a boost, possibly resulting in paid partnerships or a sponsorship deal.
Then the cycle begins again.
Arguably, everyone is using everyone else for mutual advantage — with some kind of contract being the ultimate goal of photographers and influencers alike. But the photographers believe they are being used the most. Along with the hashtag, group members are now adding to their Instagram bios: “My images are not to be used without express consent of license. Contact me to obtain the rights.”
Another photographer, Adam Katz Sinding of the blog Le 21ème, said, “Our copyright-protected street-style photos are constantly being used without our consent, be it by brands in their news releases, or by influencers who use them in order to fulfill their contractual responsibilities to brands when wearing their clothes and accessories.
“These partnerships drive millions of dollars’ worth of sales and hinge on our work, yet few photographers ever get paid for their service and that just isn’t right,” he added. “An occasional tag is not enough and it doesn’t pay the bills.”
Mr. Sinding said that many photographers spend thousands of dollars a year covering the shows in the hope of getting a paid contract with a magazine or brand. Few, however, are successful.
Both photographers stressed that the campaign was more about raising awareness of the issue than explicitly criticizing any one group — but it provoked at least one heated response: “It feels like an attack on us and the fact that we get a larger piece of the pie, and that isn’t fair,” Bryan Grey Yambao, the blogger known as Bryanboy, said outside the Missoni show on Saturday.
Many influencers, like himself, do pay photographers to shoot street-style work, he said, while few brands pay influencers to attend shows. “We also spend thousands of dollars” attending fashion weeks, he added. “Like photographers, we, too, have business expenses. And if you don’t want to spend that money, then don’t get into this business.”
How photographers could be compensated — and how much — is unclear, as there is no generally accepted rate. Pandora Sykes, a British writer and influencer, said that the larger issue at stake was the democratization of imagery in the digital era.
“I find photographs of myself being used all over the place all of the time without credit or permission,” she said. “There is no regulation, and people take imagery from all over the place. It is out of control for everyone.”
But on one point both the photographers and influencers appeared to be united: The “work for free” culture that permeates the underbelly of the multibillion-dollar fashion industry needs to end.
“The issue here for all of us is that there is still no clear way of quantifying the value of new ways of driving industry sales — of which street style plays a major role — compared to old established strategies like print advertising,” Mr. Yambao said. “As long as newer people come into the game willing to work for nothing to get their foot in the door, and legacy brands and titles gain from that status quo, this is a situation that will keep perpetuating itself.”