Wednesday, March 27, 2013

His letter to me and my response Maurice van Es

Yesterday I opened my unionbeachmemories gmail account to find the following: 

Hi there- My name is Jakob Schiller and I'm a reporter with I'm writing an article about a photographer named Maurice van Es who has been using some of the photos from your site in a project about the history of photography. He's interested in the way people's memories are stored in the photos and wants to explore how the lost photos you are discovering might tell us something about our evolving relationship to a single photo. I had a couple questions about your website and was going to see if I could talk to someone on the phone. I'm on deadline today so if there is any way to talk this afternoon that would be great, I really appreciate the help. Best, Jakob 505-414-

This followed a heated phone conversation expressing my shock and dismay that someone would steal photos and use them for his own personal gain regardless of financial or additional attention to their work/website. That is do not approve of this, Maurice van Es never contacted me for permission and never told me what he was doing. I am wasn't feeling bad, I was MAD as HELL and I am still am.

The reporter called or skyped with Maurice van Es

This is the letter that I received from him: 

Dear Jeannette, (seriously - you don't know me, you use my last name was published on the website)

I understood via Jakob Schiller ( that you feel bad about me sharing a selection of photos that you collected after the passing of Sandy. I first want to say I see you as an hero doing this. Bringing all those photos back to their rightful owners. I so can imagine what it means for them to have at least their photos back. What touches me also is that the photos show the true power of photography in relation to memories. And show how valuable a photo still can be. (Especially nowadays, when we make so much photos it is hard to find that true power of photography) I really love that. In my work I am always searching for projects that show the most intense value of photography. That’s also why I am interested in the Sandy photos. Whats important for you to know is that: - I will NEVER use the photos to make financial profit. My intentions are good, caring and respectful. I try to tell the story of Sandy in a whole new perspective and get a lot of reactions from people who see the photos. They are really touched by the situation the victims were in and can imagine the impact of Sandy better after seeing the photos. And most of all they show the vulnerability of life. This way the photos serve a bigger goal. I never present myself as the owner of the pictures. I always refer to the context of how they are found and rephotographed in order to find their rightful owners. And when there is an online publication about it, I always will refer to your website. I hope we can understand each other better, because we are on the same side, we both recognise the intense value of photography in relation to the persons that were victim of Sandy. Best,

 Maurice van Es 

Hello! Mr. van Es

I am physically and emotional upset over this. Although you feel we are on the same side, we are different ends of an American football field. You think because you had good intentions wrote me that I would just say "Okay he contacted me".

My concern about using the Union Beach memories photos is that they are not mine or yours to share. I post them on Facebook and Wix (which will be taken down after this mess) because I wanted to find the owners not because I am trying to share with the world the experience of the photos. The families, my family didn’t ask for this and never asked for their photos to be posted.  For me to post the photos on Facebook and a website was a last resort.

You cannot even being to understand or image the violation that one feels to know about seeing your personal life shared without your permission. Our intentions do no matter because the only thing that matters is that as the owner of the photo you don’t want it shared with the world you wanted it back in your hand.

You are trying to tell a story that isn't your story to tell. You were not affected by the storm. You didn't lose everything in your life that you worked so hard to purchase and gather. You didn't fight for your life as the water began to rise and the only thing you worried about is that you might not make it to see your loved. You didn't see your whole world crumble as the storm raged. You didn’t have to write a farewell letter tuck it into your clothing and pray that someone would find the note so your loved ones knew you loved them. You don't know what it is liketo have your life turned upside down and inside out. People cannot even begin to understand it unless they experienced the storm.  You see these just as photos of memories. However, I see them as my family. A family that is lost. A family that their lives were destroyed. My utmost concern is not about the story you want to tell but for my families well being.  Again you can’t understand the fragile nature of this because you don’t know anything about these families. You are Seeing this as a means to an end while I see this as a means to the beginning.

The photos that I was blessed with finding were a glimpse into the possibility. A possibility that you can never begin to tell because you have not lived the hell that my friends, family and the community has. You randomly took photos because they looked good to you. You feel that you are doing something positive, good and noill harm, however you are not looking at it from the standpoint of the victim. Me as a survivor of the storm that destroyed my family, community and property sees it as another assault that I didn't ask for. At least with Sandy there was a warning. With you, no warning. 

I am offended, insulted, saddened that someone thinks because something is posted on a website they can take those images and just use them for their own purpose. Regardless of your intentions, you are ethically wrong. Would you walk into a families home, go through their photo albums and remove photos? Would you go to Flickr and remove an image so you could share your thoughts? How would you feel if I took your photos of your parents, your first car or photos from your website without your permission and shared them on mine? Would you not be upset?

There is absolutely no reason you didn't contact me through the website and discuss what you wanted to do.  You were Obviously on the website to view the photos and “borrow”. Yet, you couldn’t take the 3 minutes to contact me like youdid tonight?  You could have reached out to me at any point but you didn’t. You didn't give a second thought to the families and how they would feel. 

If you would have contacted me prior to exploiting the images, I am sure I could have spoken to the families, let you know which photos the families agreed for you to use and helped you get permission from the families. I might have even been able to get the families to talk to you about the specific photos and their memories. However, at this moment, I am not inclined to agree with the use or inclined to reach out to the families.

I am requesting that you remove the images from your website, blog and stop using the photos. I have been in contact with an intellectual property attorney and will press the issue if needed. That is how strongly I feel that you do not understand the stress, trauma and pain you have caused me or the families the photos belong to.

Although you don’t believe you are benefitting financially from what you are doing, are you not driving traffic to your website? Are you not, having articles written about what you are doing? I see that all as a benefit to you. I don’t see a single benefit to the families that are trying to survive 5 months later. Hardworking families that are trying to get their lives together. Families that huddle together to stay warm because they have no heat in there homes. Families that don’t know if they will ever have their lives back. Some families that aren't even sure where they are going to stay tonight.

Thank you for contacting me. I wish you the best of luck. I do hope you remove the photos are asked. I don’t want to cause additional pain to the families.

Jeannette Van Houten
Caretaker of the photos
Union Beach Memories

Today I spoke with the editor for the reporter and he says I don't own the copyright to the photos and that can use the photos because of fair use according to the editor they don't even need families permission to use the photos because

1) they are a new worthy event.
2) Once the photos are published on the web they are fair game. 

I don't believe number 2 and I will have to continue to speak to legal experts about this. 

What have I learned:

1) the website now has no gallary.  Since there are people will abuse the photos and not treat them like someone they care about, the photos have been removed.

2) the facebook page that has helped reunite families with their photos will no longer have photos published there.

3) learned that regardless of what is right, a company and other people will always do what they feel regardless if it is wrong. Other peoples feelings don't matter as long as they are turning a buck or getting their name out there.

The most important thing that I have learned is that I have caused pain to the families. I posted the photos to facebook and website because I wanted to return the photos to their owners. There was no personal gain. However, in doing this, I have caused the families' pain. Their photos are being used without permission. I will continue to perform my service but and Maurice van Es has made the job 1000 times more difficult. They have shown me that people that are out for personal gain is greater than victims rights.

I hope they are happy with themselves. They have stopped helping families heal and now caused more stress. But congratulations hope you get what you wanted.

You have questions or concerns, reach out to me. 


Jeremy White said...

was this resolved?

Jeannette Van Houten said...

From what I can tell this has been resolved, it doesn't mean that the issue will not surface again. It has been a long fight but I believe I have most of the photos that Mr. Van Es "borrowed" down.