“Ballet Dancers in Random Situations” Photographer Speaks Out

August 15, 2013

11:50 am

On August 10, an imgur photo gallery called “Dancers Among Us” started to go viral. The gallery includes 84 images of ballet dancers, credited to Jordan Matter. The dancers are jumping, stretching, and back-bending in everyday life, from a student on her desk to a guy in the shower to a man in prison.

Jordan Matter - flood

Jordan Matter - shower

Jordan Matter

The article was posted on Reddit, where it has since gotten 2,543 points and 551 comments. Another site, Leenks.com, came along and posted the same photos – and then that article went viral, maxing out Leenks.com’s servers. But Leenks.com didn’t credit the photographer; only the last photo, of Matter himself, had a hint of his identity.

Jordan Matter photo

Leenks.com is a website that features photo galleries, funny videos, and links, and is definitely NSFW (particularly the Smut section and videos on demand). After a wave of critical comments from Facebook users, who wanted to see the photographer credited, and an email from Matter himself, Leenks.com added a credit today.

Ballet dancers in random situations

“I have added credits to the photo gallery. The reason I didn’t originally was simply because I didn’t know whose photos they were, as is often the case with content on leenks.com,” the Facebook posting said. “For the record I did not rip the photos off Jordan’s site, merely found them on another image sharing site, where they were also posted without credit.”

Matter is the author of Dancers Among Us: A Celebration of Joy in the Everyday. His book has already gotten tons of acclaim: featured as a New York Times bestseller, in Oprah Magazine, in the Washington Post, and on ABC World News. But he was still disturbed to see dozens of his photos shared without a mention of his name.

Below, we talked to Matter to learn more about his side of the story and the lessons he’ll take from all this.

Tech Cocktail: How did you find out about this, and what happened? 

Jordan Matter headshotJordan Matter: Two days ago, I started getting Facebook posts from people who said, “Your images are being run uncredited on this Leenks website.” And, apparently, a lot of people were seeing it, because a lot of people were contacting me. So I emailed them and I said, “You’re using my images and you’re not crediting it. Will you please add a credit to the gallery?”

It was the same exact gallery that was on Reddit, without the credit – the same title, the same sequence of photos, just no credit. And they didn’t respond to that email, so then last night I posted about it, and a lot of fans went and posted on Leenks’s Facebook about it. And so today, they finally did add a credit…

There’s two issues here. The one issue is the amount of photos, and the other issue is the crediting of photos. I don’t believe that people should have unfettered access to everything you do and just post everything, because they’re not encouraging people to go back and see your website. I think people should select a few images and credit them – that’s the ideal.

Tech Cocktail: What’s the damage here? 

Matter: Last night, Leenks posted that their gallery was so popular that it crashed their website, and that’s pretty hard to do – especially with a website that seems to also include some form of photo pornography. If you look through what they’ve got there, there’s some racy stuff – which would lead you to believe that they have a pretty strong server to be able to handle all the traffic they get. So the fact that it crashed that server would lead you to believe that there was a huge amount of traffic going to that gallery. And none of those people knew to go look for, for example, the book that I have for sale with those images in it or the calendars or any of the other stuff, or just to go see the videos or photos I have. They weren’t directed to see anything additional; they went to see the photos and then they moved on. Or, maybe, they grabbed those photos and those photos are all living online somewhere else, without credit.

I’ve had some pretty crazy experiences over the years with this stuff. There were a couple different websites that were actually selling my photos as if they were their own. I don’t know how much stuff I have never found out about. But I get at least one or two posts a week from people who say, “Hey, your photos are being uncredited.” But it’s usually a single photo and it’s not generating a ton of traffic.

Tech Cocktail: What’s your approach to photo crediting and sharing? 

Matter: I don’t believe I would have had the success that I’ve had with Dancers Among Us if it weren’t for social media and for photo sharing. So I’ve always been very liberal with usage, and encouraged people to grab my images and share them with anybody or anywhere they want, as long as it’s credited.

There’s two camps here with photographers. There are photographers who have the desire to hold on to all their images and to not allow anybody to see them – they watermark them, they lock them on their website. But I think we live in a new world now, and I want to be a part of that new world and I want to encourage people to send my pictures out and to get joy from them.

Tech Cocktail: What’s the lesson here for intellectual property online? How will you protect your photos in the future?

Matter: I think every person has to make their own decision on this. I’m not going to change.

Through all this, I also got an email from a teacher in South Korea who sent me a drawing that an autistic child drew of one of my photographs. And the woman said that my photographs are helping his family heal. Now, that outweighs any sort of negative issue with people stealing my images. The fact that they’re out there and people can see them and have a positive impact from them is why I’ll continue to allow them to be shared.

I can watermark these images, but I don’t like watermarking because it draws focus away from the image itself. I usually add a template to the photos that I add on Facebook, but I don’t add a template to the pictures that I have on my website, and maybe that might be something to add. But once again, it does detract a little bit from the image itself.

So the overall lesson is I’m not going to change anything because I do believe that if anybody posts these pictures, and they go in any way viral, enough people that know my work will know, and they will contact me and this will happen again.

Tech Cocktail: What’s the message of these photos? 

Matter: The idea behind this photo series came from watching my son, who was three, play with his toy bus and seeing his enthusiasm for his fantasy. I realized that there is beauty in everyday moments that we stop seeing as we get older. I wanted to create a series of images that celebrated the joy and beauty of everyday life – not the big moments, but the small moments – and used dancers to embody that joy and beauty.

I think one of the reasons that the photos resonate so much with people is that it takes everybody’s experiences and makes them see those experiences in a different way. So it’s basically making the ordinary extraordinary and using extraordinary dancers to represent that.

Tech Cocktail: Anything else you want to share? 

Matter: Overall, it’s a positive because the photographs resonated with people, and we effected change and got crediting. I’m very lucky that I’ve had such an impact with my images and I get to do what I love every day. That’s basically the overall thing I got from it – I’m not angry or anything.

Photos by Jordan Matter

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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