World Press Photo-Winning Photographer Accused of Greed Over Album Cover


Madeleine Corcoran over at Duckrabbit has published a sharp criticism of photojournalist Samuel Aranda‘s decision to license his most famous conflict photo to Canadian electronic band Crystal Castles for use on their album cover and merchandise.

Samuel Aranda's famous photo won the coveted World Press Photo of the Year prize in 2011

Samuel Aranda’s famous photo won the coveted World Press Photo of the Year prize in 2011

In the piece, titled “The blindness of photojournalism made crystal clear,” Corcoran accuses Aranda of lacking in compassion and being driven by financial gain:

If you believe in photojournalism, if you want documentary to work, as a photojournalist, photographer, artist, storyteller you are the defenders of the ethics and necessity of your practice. If you sell-out your images in this way, debasing the stories you claim to tell, trading in the bodies of people you claim to be an ally to, you deserve your industry to flop on its bloated, Cyclops-eyed face. If you cannot see beyond the money, you have no business engaging people in image making in their private moments of suffering.

What the use of this image on a ‘cool’ t-shirt has done is turn these people into objects to be consumed by people who are far more privileged than they. The objectification and consumption of a person’s story, which essentially figures a dehumanisation of that person, has been used to support and reassert the identity of a privileged group of people. The consumed people are fighting for their identity by protesting against an oppressive regime. The privileged group of people pose their ‘identity’ by purchasing a band t-shirt.

Electronic duo Crystal Castles used Aranda's photo as the album art of their 2012 album III.

Electronic duo Crystal Castles used Aranda’s photo as the album art of their 2012 album III.

Aranda soon responded to Corcoran, saying that he had permission from the subjects and that he believes the album art will generate further awareness about what’s happening in Yemen:

First of all, I don´t understand that you publish an article about me, without contacting me in advance to ask for my answer. Is not really ethical in journalism, in case that you are a journalist. The language that you used is pure sensationalism. The answer to this “polemic” that you are trying to create is easy, I still in contact with the woman and her son, and they were agree on this. Also it was a personal interest from the music group to put the focus on this persons that during the last two years are fighting for their rights. So, I don´t see the problem anywhere, everybody was agree, and this photo published in the front of the album will arrive to many youth that will know about Yemen and the suffering of the civilians in this country.

Duckrabbit editors question whether Aranda did get prior permission, pointing to an interview published last year that seems to suggest otherwise.

The blindness of photojournalism made crystal clear [Duckrabbit]

  • Madeleine Corcoran

    Hi. I’m not accusing Aranda of greed. I am accusing the industry of photojournalism of having little integrity if it cannot honestly assess its means of profit and what this does to its cause. The case with this image being used on a t-shirt was my exemplar. This is an issue far bigger than Aranda.
    Also, I did not enter into any direct debate with Aranda in the comment section and was not the one to point to the interview, that was the Duckrabbit moderators.

  • Michael Zhang

    Hi Madeleine, thanks for your response. I’m simply referring to this statement in your piece: “I do not know for sure why Aranda agreed for his image to be so totally detached from context, slashed free of human framing, and pasted onto a t-shirt for hyped up cool kids, but I’m guessing it’s something to do with our good old friend, Money.”

    Thanks for pointing out the fact that the followup response wasn’t yours. We’ve updated this post.

  • marc

    It’s Aranda’s photo, let him do what he wants with it.

  • david

    Madeleine just wants clicks on her site to get monies from adverts, trolling about nothing.

    she should get off the internet

  • Madeleine Corcoran

    Yes, I think he did sell this image to Crystal Castles, i.e. for money, rather than give it away in the spirit of collaboration or something similar. I think this is well established elsewhere. I think this is a violent use of the image. The two things are connected and reflect importantly on one another.

    I’m not bothered with accusing Aranda of greed. Money was involved, money helped people make certain decisions. People need to be accountable for their decisions, in this case and in the industry of photojournalism.

    Thanks for correcting the stuff about the follow up response.

  • piergi

    bah he won wpp with an incredible image, way better than the one of this year… its just jealousy for one of the best image of our times

  • MarvinB7

    Agreed. There seem to be instances where ‘ethics’ is actually misused in place of ‘visual political correctness’. Being politically correct is destroying our nation (USA) and really needs some re-thinking. We can’t all agree about everything all of the time.

  • Helen Rimell

    Madeleine doesn’t have adverts, and the post was not written from her site. Good to see that you have actually even read this article. And by the way there should be a capital letter for She. This is clearly a site for educated and informed people!

  • yup

    I agree. But I also don’t think that this picture on the album cover or t-shirts will increase awareness of what is happening in Yemen very much, if at all. I’m not sure how he can assume that everyone knows this picture and that it has to do with Yemen. I had no idea what it was. I also really had no interesting in finding out what the picture was actually from.

  • TM Foto

    Dear editors, why don’t you focus on correctly spelling Mr. Aranda’s surname? Arnada, Arunda ≠ Aranda. I’m not usually a grammar National Socialist, but It’s very rude to misspell somebody’s family name.

  • Helen Rimell

    That is why these posts are written to encourage discussion and debate around important subjects and issues.

  • lograffi

    maybe with those money he can help those people…
    cit… “It’s Aranda’s photo, let him do what he wants with it.”

  • Todd Gardiner

    This is a Canadian issue, by the way.

  • Paul

    Isn’t Madeleine’s post raising awareness for herself and her money with a presumptuous and naive critic on how we should all live without price-tags? Again, it’s Aranda’s photo, let him do what he wants with it.

  • Timothy Burgin

    Please tell us what industry gives away it’s product for free. How is he supposed to keep doing his job without asking money for the product he created?

  • Steven Barall

    Corcoran simply has no standing here, it’s none of her business, Take my word for it, “Photo Journalism” does not need Corcoran’s help. She speaks from the perspective of someone who has never had to work for a living and is completely unaccomplished. If photos never get published or used anywhere what would be the point? Photographers work hard and they should get paid for what they do and it’s up to them to decide how the photos get used. Corcoran wants everyone to work for free, except of course herself. She wants everyone to think that she is pure of heart but the reason that she “published” her commentary was to promote herself.

    Here’s what you do Corcoran, buy a camera with money you actually earned yourself and then go to someplace where people are trying to kill you and hang around there for a year or two and then come home to a stack of bills and then you can pass judgement on how photographers make money.

  • mrbeard

    i recall seeing a burning monk on a Rage against the machine album cover in my youth and being intrigued enough to find out more

  • william praniski

    of course not. just because YOU had no interest in finding out what the picture was actually from it doesn’t mean other people won’t.
    many people (mostly youngsters) will notice the image and will want to know what is it about, and inevitably learning more about the situation in Yemen.

  • Samuel

    Yes because only the smartest and most informed people pick up on the spelling/grammar/punctuation of a non formal piece of writing like a comment rather than taking issue with its content.

  • Samuel

    So people can’t use their photos for what they want anymore ? Urgh leave him be if he wants to license his work to 10,000 different people thats his call.

  • Ivor Wilson

    Well, if it wasn’t for her, I’d have never heard or heard of “Crystal Castles”. I’ve yet to discover whether this is a good thing or not.

  • Sean Curran

    Also, this photo will become even more of an icon than it was before, where it might have only been remembered by people in the photo world or who are deeply invested in the news. You dont have to know why it is an icon, but chances are someday, you will find out the true significance of the photo. I think this is a good thing, especially by crystal castles, which also creates good music.

  • Mansgame

    Normally yes, but did he really get permission to use the pictures of these two on a hipster band album? Are they getting any money too or is he exploiting them? It’s one thing to get permission to take their picture for a news story but something else to put it on a band’s art work.

  • guest

    Better that he licensed it than Crystal Castles “borrowing” yet another image to use to market themselves.

  • Fez

    Age old arguments about photojournalism… It’s meaning, it’s power. Things change and develop… Other than the national geographic, a few Sunday papers and some well funded papers, where do you see a lot of so called quality “photojournalism” ? The process of the camera and taking pictures of news worthy events has changed greatly, new change means new outlets for work. I love one of the previous comments about a rage against the machine cover(monk on fire) If crystal castles were not a hip emo band would this discussion have happened or be a lot different?

  • R E Casper

    Okay, first and foremost, photographers are finding it more and more difficult to make any money with the work they do. Companies are evaporating their photojournalism divisions at the substitution of “crowd sourced imagery”, offering less wage and now that everyone and their mother calling themselves a “photographer,” the market is saturated with junk, bringing the value down even more… now someone wants to criticize an artist for doing what he wishes with HIS image, WITH the subjects permission, to gain a wider awareness and some financial reimbursement for his work…. Come On!

    Its not ones business but his and the subjects. If he has approval from the subjects, then its his choice… and he is right. Images are a dime a dozen when you think about the usual limited audience available to most photographers. If this gets it to more eyes, then all the better.

    Another commenter alluded to the self titled LP by RATM, that had a burning monk on the cover. I remember when I was younger, when that album came out. The first thing I did was research more into why monks were doing what they were doing. Its not belittling the images power, its bringing it to more eyes. Especially more than it would have gotten. Winning WPP is great… if you want mostly photographer eyes to see it. But if you want masses to see it, then he’s doing the right thing. It may not seem PC, but in todays world its true.

  • John Kantor

    All Journalists are parasites living off the pain and suffering of others. If you want to change the world, choose sides and pick up a gun.

  • Sid Ceaser

    Hopefully the band is smart enough to have a blurb about the image in the CD notes along with a link for further information. That way they can funnel those curious to definitive further information.

  • bob cooley

    That was the example that immediately popped into my head.

  • Mat Miller

    The further the photo can go (as in other mediums) the more iconic it can become. This can reach hole new levels of audience of people, even into the future. This is broadening the awareness of the photographs background. When CC’s album dropped I knew exactly where the image cam from, I felt it was a great choice for a cover. Artists try to reflect society through their many mediums, and not only that but as I see it, it’s one art supporting another. Plus Samuel has every right to do what he pleases with the image. He took it! There should be no question of how greedy photographers are. If anything, go after the real greedy a**holes like the paparazzi.

  • Mik

    Crystal Castles is really good. If you’re going to have your image exploited, consider yourself lucky to have it exploited by good artists. No harm no foul.

  • minotaur

    As long as he has a model release it should be fine. ‘Permission’ isn’t the same as an actual release where the subject really understands that the use is commercial to sell a product, in return for compensation. Verbal or over the phone permission isn’t the same thing.

    Are there other instances of an editorial image being used commercially? If so, he could be relying on precedence.

  • Stretch Ledford

    Madeleine can you say, “Holier than thou?” Whoops… you already did.

  • Zos Xavius

    Agreed! By that logic crystal castles should just give away their album.

  • melissaedora


  • David Pastern

    I agree – I think it’s disgraceful. The image should have stayed non profit.

  • Josh

    Here’s a news flash. Without commercializing it almost NO ONE would ever see this image or know what it is about. Heck the controversy alone has probably raised more awareness about the situation in Yemen than the photo by it’s self ever could.

  • Mia

    I am “a youngster” who is a fan of Crystal Castles. While looking at their merch I saw the t-shirt with this photograph that we are all discussing on it. I was very intrigued by it as it is obviously an interesting photo. I then proceeded to look up the photo’s origins, where I discovered not only the story behind it, but articles such as this one.

    In defense of the band, they are not just a “hipster” band, though like many musical artists there are some hipster fans whom over-look their message. Crystal Castles’ lyrics contain topics of religion and other social issues occumpanied with dark electronic beats that appeal to a younger mass. Is that so wrong?

    By using Samuel Aranda’s photograph, they exposed an issue to their fans and thus making them aware of a world problem.Truthfully, there will be many people who just buy the shirt and don’t look into it’s meaning. For others though, like myself, I would happily wear this shirt and explain to people who inquire on what I am wearing what it’s really about.

    Photojournalism is about documentation and exposure, isn’t it? Why can’t clothing and music do that too?