Hunting Down Images: A Case Study

Problem: With our deadline fast approaching, it appears that there will be extra space in our 48-page study guide once we lay the final essay out. Additionally, neither the essay on Broadway opening-night disasters nor the essay on the birth of the off-off-Broadway movement have images. This is because we cannot pay for images and stay within budget.

Objective: Find free images to accompany essays.

Time frame: Two hours.

Assessment: With a tight time frame, going to the library is out. Even digging through the books which were referred to in writing the essays (which our two interns wrote) would be a waste of time because getting rights would be nearly impossible. It had taken me about a week to even find the right person to talk to about securing rights to reproduce a part of the introduction to Ben Brantley’s The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century because although the Times owned the reviews in the book, they did not own the introduction. The Times got back to me within a few days, but they couldn’t help me. I finally found the right person to talk to at St. Martins; that person, however, did not return my phone calls. Or my emails. Or my fax.

Even a successful hunt would take time. After calling two wrong Martha Swopes–a big deal New York theater photographer–from the New York White Pages, I finally emailed the Public Theater, with whom she had worked many times. They were so nice and accommodating that soon I was talking with Martha, who is even nicer and more accommodating, about getting my paws on her photographs of the 1976 New York production of Rich and Famous. She sent five to choose from within the hour, and they were all spectacular. But, as happy as this ending turned out, it took two days. I didn’t have two days!

A Chorus Line (c) Martha Swope, 1976

A Chorus Line (c) Martha Swope, 1976

Decision: The internet it was. Google, Flickr, Wikipedia Commons. Searches: Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway, New York City, Broadway 1970s, off-Broadway 1970s, off-off-Broadway 1970s, New York City 1970s, Broadway Flops, Carrie (the Musical), Carrie (the Musical) posters, Moose Murders, Caffe Cino, La Mama, etc. etc. etc. And I found images. Sure I found images!

Moose Murders

Finding images is never the problem. Finding images for this blog, or as research for an artistic team,  or as additions to a dramaturgical packet for a cast: not a problem! But when you want to reproduce that image for a study guide that you sell, and you want to do so legally: whole different game.

Solution: Finally I realized that the only way to even have a CHANCE of getting permission to legally use any image was to go back to the books. One of these books has four photographs of the original production of Carrie (the musical), which only ran on Broadway for 15 previews and 5 performances before shutting down (it has since become a legend), by a certain photographer. Somebody with that certain photographer’s name has his own amateur website. This website has an email address. May not be him, but what the hell: “Dear Mr. Photographer–You have four awesome photographs. We would like to use one of them. We cannot pay you because we did not allot for this photograph in our budget. How’s that sound?”

Thirty minutes later, he emails me back. He’s in Boston so he can’t get us a digital copy, but if the scans from the book are fine then we can use them. Oh Mr. Photographer Man, the scans will work just fine.

Lesson: Always go for the long shots. Maybe even go for them first.

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