PetaPixel

The Power of Wikipedia: How I Became Gaming’s Most Popular and Anonymous Photographer

wiki

I’m a very accomplished photographer. My photos have been in magazines, newspapers, textbooks, blogs, online videos, television and any other medium that you can think of. My work has been seen by millions and will be one of the most important resources for the history of video games. The only catch is that I’m almost never credited and don’t get paid for it.

Wikipedia is one of the internet’s most powerful sites, with its massive user base and high-ranking results in search engines. As a result, the photos associated with its articles quickly become some of the most-seen images on the internet. This massive visibility, however, comes at a cost: to place a photo on Wikipedia a photographer must give away all rights to the photo for free. This leads to massive exposure for your work, but at a price: you must release your rights so your photos can be used by anyone, for any purpose, without any compensation.

Evan-Amos-Artcl01

It’s a crazy trade off for a professional photographer, but this is exactly what I do, because my passion for video games and photography outweighs any potential financial gain. I take high-quality, hi-res photos of video game hardware and upload them to Wikipedia. From there, these photos spread – showing up in videos, magazines, blogs, and news articles.

I didn’t realize this would happen when I first started taking pictures of game consoles. It all began because I was annoyed by low-quality pictures on Wikipedia: small, poorly composed and lacking consistency. When I looked further, I found it was the same situation across the rest of the internet. Why had no one bothered to take good pictures? If no one else was going to do, I would do it.

Left - previous picture, Right - my picture

Left – previous picture, Right – my picture

I made the jump from Wikipedia reader to Wikipedia contributor. Many don’t survive the experience: the rules and bureaucracy of Wikipedia’s formatting, along with the surprisingly unfriendly atmosphere new editors face, makes the learning curve steep. I made beginner’s mistakes and took hits for them, but my work started becoming more proficient and my persistence paid off: my photos began transforming Wikipedia articles.

At first I took photos of food items, candy bars and electronics, but I began narrowing my focus on video game systems. I started making lists of every console ever released. Before the video game crash of 1983, there were numerous systems, many now barely remembered, with little information available. Message boards and fansites had few details, with the same poor, low-resolution pictures. I realized that relatively recent history was being lost to time, all because the internet did not have good information and media about these game systems. There was a need to document these systems and show people what they looked like before they’re forgotten to time.

The problem is access to the actual systems. I only had a small collection of consoles to photograph, and it’s the same stuff everyone else owns: an NES, an Xbox and so on, but who the hell owns a VTech CreatiVision? Who has even heard of a Bally Astrocade?

Evan-Amos-Artcl03

I started contacting collectors and anyone willing to help. I found a passionate collector on Long Island, so I lugged all my photo equipment and lights on the Long Island Railroad to his house to get the pictures I needed. After just a few hours of intense work I was able to more than double my previous collection of photos that I had taken over weeks. I found an independent games store Video Games New York that let me “rent” out the hardware they sold, as taking pictures in the store would have been impossible. There was also James Baker, an enthusiast whose collection covered a large wall at his business. With the assistance of just a handful of collectors I was able to document a large amount of video gaming history, with a gallery that including rare consoles like the Sega SG-1000 and the Casio Loopy.

Despite my progress there were still gaps, with systems and hardware too numerous and obscure to be covered by local collectors. Travel to other collectors was cost prohibitive – remember I’m doing this for free. It wasn’t in my budget to purchase newer systems that needed photographs like the Nintendo 3DS, the PlayStation Vita and Wii U. (Plus, who wants to own a Wii U right now?) And as my process improved, I wished I had the opportunity to redo some of my earlier work. Facing these challenges my work halted.

Evan-Amos-Artcl04

It was during this lull that my pictures starting taking off. Gaming blogs and YouTube series about gaming began using my photos, especially the older consoles. Newspapers and magazine were using them as well. This took me by surprise, but the reasons were obvious: because my photos are on Wikipedia they’re immediately available and usually what a person finds first when they google it. Also, the photos are easy to reproduce – they’re direct and clear photos with white backgrounds – and they’re free so there’s no need to find original owners and get permission, if they can even be tracked down. As a result, my photos were popular and being used around the world.

However, even if my photos were being used often in numerous places, it was usually without credit. Maybe it’s because the pictures are free, or maybe it’s because of the nature of the internet. Either way, I’ve come to terms with it if; I’m just happy that the work is being seen and used.

Even without accreditation, people found me on my Wikimedia page. I would get the occasional thanks for my photos, like the one of the Vectrex system (an obscure flop). I begin to realize this was less about the quality of my work and more about saving and sharing the history of gaming. It turns out that my video game gallery is a valuable resource of gaming information: one central location, easily found through a web search, with consistent and complementary high-quality images available to all for free.

Evan-Amos-Artcl05

I wanted to continue and expand my work with new ideas: more pictures from different angles, motherboard shots, videos and detailed descriptions. Yet the same problems remained: access to systems and money, but I now understood that there was a community of gaming fans that appreciated this work and could help close the gaps. I started a Kickstarter to appeal to the gaming community and ask for their help in transforming my current gallery of pictures into an expanded and in-depth site tailored to gaming history’s needs. The funding would allow me to purchase old and obscure system and spend the time to document them in the detail they deserve.

There is a huge need for this. There is no one else trying to provide this service at this level, at this quality, at this reach (Wikipedia) and in a format (public domain) that will ensure that these photos will last for decades from now. The work that I’ve already created and its impact thus far is a testament to the importance of the project. These are the reasons why I do this work, and why I do it for free.

Please take a look at my existing gallery and watch my Kickstarter video.

If this stuff appeals to you and you want to see more, consider donating some money. There’s only a week left to donate, so there’s little time to waste. Some might see this work as madness: hundreds of unpaid hours seeking out and photographing gaming systems that have been lost to time. But my work and my Kickstarter aren’t for them. Instead it’s for the guy who would consider traveling 8 hours round trip just to visit a retro game convention or would take apart an NES controller just to see what’s inside. I admit it’s a little crazy – but I don’t think I’m alone.


About the author: Evan Amos is a photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. Visit his Wikipedia profile here. This article originally appeared here.


 
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  • lidocaineus

    If he’s being sarcastic, everything I’ve said can be invalidated (also including incendiary’s response) as it wouldn’t apply.

  • Sam Borg

    Well its only the easiest type of photography. I don’t know what book you’ve been reading. Shooting products drove me out of my mind for being so boring and repetitive. And its mostly done by unambitious photographers looking for few easy bucks and indoor work, with the cheapest possible gears you can buy.

  • Sam Borg

    Amen brother. Similar crap going on with the graphic design “contest” sites. These things really hurts the pros and the whole industry. Not to mention quality of graphics.

  • hmmmmm

    That’s definitely not true, but I can agree product photography can make you want to smash your camera in frustration. I also know what photographers you are talking about, because their work was unusable and I wasted a lot of time finding the right person to do my company’s.

    As you probably can tell, I know a little something about photography, but still choose to outsource it. I have a DSLR, light box, and the knowledge to do it. It is exceptionally difficult to do right, and that’s why I don’t. I do the post production, because there are a lot of considerations in web work the photographer can’t really be made aware of efficiently.

    I would wager your average photographer doing product shots makes a lot more than any other kind of photographer. Food photography in particular pays well. Of course most lay people, like with other art, assume it is just easy and that anyone can do it because all they see is all the crap on deviant art and Instagram. They have no understanding of quality.

    Those in business however do know. A good product shot is immeasurably important. You can step up sales a magnitude just with a good shot, with the proper light and post to make it shine the right way. This is the reason why clothing designers for example, don’t just do renderings for their designs, and use actual models (another difficult photography niche). Even if your average lay person is absolutely clueless to what is good and what is not analytically, when it comes down to sale, they really know how to sift through quality subconsciously.

  • hmmmmm

    Historians definitely need it. Think of how much human history you know before the year 1500. You know almost none, because it simply doesn’t exist, and was lost, despite efforts by those living before us to preserve it. Human races have existed for over a million years, so this is quite a significant fact.

    Maybe in 2,000 years this will prevent people from believing Intellivision was the coming of messiah. It very well could be his historical documentation saving humanity from robot overlords, and World War XXXIV.

    Also nobody really needs clean drinking water either. Mexico proves it is possible to survive on coke alone. You can make the same argument about practically anything. There are organisms that survive on methane, screw an atmosphere filled with nitrogen!

  • TheFrog

    Considering he’s raised more than 12K, he has more than enough for a plane ticket

  • Kevin O’Connell

    Thank you!

  • Marcus Sudjojo

    Well said….

    Simple example: I honestly don’t think that Rolex shots or Tag Heuer shots are so easy that anyone with basic knowledge of photography can do it. I also don’t believe that those shots only cost ‘few easy bucks’, like stated before….

  • Benjamin Eugene NElson

    And if you read the kickstarter description he states he’ll ONLY use the money to purchase systems…

  • TheFrog

    And that’s exactly where I disagree with his method.

    So the guy wants to photograph/document every odd piece of gaming history right ? I still think it’ll be cheaper and easier to help others complete what they’ve been working on for decades rather than starting from scratch on his own…

  • axz055

    So I suppose you also oppose Linux, OpenOffice, GIMP, Inkscape, etc. because it’s better for the software industry if Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe make money by selling things that other organizations are willing to give away for free?

  • Benjamin Eugene NElson

    I love how you know more than the guy who’s already been doing it a while.

  • Dana Barratt

    This is a misplaces Onion article, right?

  • http://www.legalmorning.com/ Michael Wood

    So even an unbiased editor sees the dark side of Wikipedia:

    “I made the jump from Wikipedia reader to Wikipedia contributor. Many
    don’t survive the experience: the rules and bureaucracy of Wikipedia’s
    formatting, along with the surprisingly unfriendly atmosphere new
    editors face, makes the learning curve steep. I made beginner’s mistakes
    and took hits for them, but my work started becoming more proficient
    and my persistence paid off: my photos began transforming Wikipedia
    articles.”

    Glad it worked out for the good. The same things happens to thousands of others who have been chased away from Wikipedia.

  • Geert Peter van Asperen

    With this project, he is just trying to achieve that!

  • TheFrog

    You’re right! Who am I to express an opinion ?!
    Dickhead

  • Benjamin Eugene NElson

    Here’s an opinion for you.

    You’re throwing a childish tantrum and calling me names because I dared to say you might not be right.

    You are also and assuming you know more than someone who actually does what you’re criticizing.

    And, again my opinin, by attacking me personally you just pretty much admit you got nothing real to argue with so you skip right to the personal insults.

    Dont’ worry though, I actually like it when you do. Because, again, it proves you got nothing.

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    Actually argumentum ad hominem is a direct attack on the person making the initial statement’s character (e.g. replying, ‘well, you’re just stupid’ or ‘you don’t know what you are talking about’) without making a substantive statement about the initial argument. If anything, its close to a tu quoque argument.

    El Gnomo makes the argument that what is being created is not difficult to do, the implication being that anyone can do it. It’s implicit in that statement (by the dismissive nature of it) that he too can create these images.

    incendiary replies through implication that El Gnomo’s statement is incorrect, by asking him for examples of his work.

    He’s essentially saying (coequally) “put up or shut up”…

    While that in itself isn’t a solid argument, its not argumentum ad hominem. And this is an internet forum, not a court, so both statements are equally valid (or invalid).

    And beyond strict logical structure, it’s a valid sentiment to be dismissive to El Gnomo who clearly doesn’t know (or is simply being abusively dismissive) in the amount of work that Evan put into creating the photos. Anyone who has shot still-life/product knows its not just point and shoot – there is a lot more that goes into it.

  • lidocaineus

    And what Incendiary said is exactly an ad hominem attack – he’s indicating that unless you produce the same level of work as A, you can’t compare it to B; this is a personal attack. “You aren’t as good, or you can’t possibly be as good since you have no understanding of what’s involved.”

    And of course El Gnomo made an invalid statement. However my point wasn’t that I was agreeing with El Gnomo, it was that Incendiary’s response was just as bad.

  • incendiary

    nah I was just more annoyed at the way the response was written. If you’re going to say something you might as well say a little more than a whine :P

  • collinnyo145

    my Aunty Alexa got an awesome
    silver Hyundai Elantra Coupe only from working part-time off a pc. browse
    around here J­a­m­2­0­.­ℂ­o­m

  • Eugene Chok

    as a gamer and a photographer… Bravo sir bravo