Whenever a photography injustice surfaces in the news, I can’t seem to figure out what the perpetrator was thinking. Digital manipulation, falsifying information and copyright infringement. Which comes to my current situation.
On April 27, 2008, I spoke of a random encounter that got me very excited. A new friend who just happened to be from the same town in the United States where I grew up. Lee Mackay Turner showed me that my character judgement needs some serious work.
In May, Turner and I traveled to Burma together in hopes of telling the story of the people affected by Cyclone Nargis. We were both a little paranoid about the military and he suggested that we bring only one computer with us for downloading and filing. I had no reason to distrust the man and so I brought my computer and left it and the images unguarded. While the trip was a tremendous learning experience, it seemed to leave a sour note between us.
Fast forward to October 28. I emailed the UNICEF Photo of the Year competition Southeast Asia nominator asking him about the submission deadline. The following morning I received a phone call from the nominator asking me if my name was Kevin German. He then asked me if my name was also Lee Turner. I said no and that he was my friend. He said Turner had submitted a story about children living on the Burmese border. And after looking at my web site, one of the images Turner submitted appeared to be the same image below.
I immediately told the nominator that he must be mistaken. Turner and I often photographed the same subjects and he would never take an image from me. The UNICEF nominator seemed unsure of my response so I asked him to email me the photograph in question. When I opened up the image sitting in my inbox, my girlfriend gasped and immediately recognized the Burmese monk. I was still hesitant to rush to judgement however. There was something just a little bit off that I couldn’t pinpoint. So I went on to my blog back to the May 24 posting: Burma. And there it was. A slightly different crop and color correction of the image. It was undoubtedly my photograph.
I forwarded the blog posting to the nominator and he called back and said the following image was also in Turner’s submission.
Now I knew there was no mistake about this image. Turner was not around me at the time this image was made. And further more, I was never allowed outside the city of Rangoon/Yangon due to the military sanctions on foreigners so these two images were taken quite far from any border of Burma.
Later that evening I received another email from the UNICEF nominator informing me that I should look at the following photograph posted in Turner’s portfolio on VII Visionaires:
This image was also posted on my May 24 blog posting.
But the following two photographs were not posted on my blog:
In fact these photographs were never posted any where on the web, so he retains my original files.
At this point, the UNICEF nominator sent emails notifying the proper officials at UNICEF and also contacted Turner directly. The nominator wrote that Turner had stated that he was the sole owner of the photographs in question and he could prove this as he has the RAW files.
I began researching Turner right away. I found yet another photo of mine on his Flickr account:
What really upset me about this image was the caption he wrote underneath:
“(Yangon Harbor, Myanmar)(Yangon River, Myanmar) So precocious, such character, such presence, so little hope. This young girl lives with relatives after they helped her escape from a brothel in the Yunnan province (China) where she had been “employed” since the age of 9. ”
This is a complete fabrication. Turner nor I could speak Burmese or any dialect of Chinese. She was simply a girl doing what children do in a small neighborhood in Yangon.
This is when I finally confronted Turner. Several phone calls and an email. Nothing. Finally he wrote back a convoluted email showing anger towards me while being sure to state that he does not admit any guilt.
Further research brought the following links to my attention:
On February 8, 2006, Lee Mackay Turner was permanently barred from the New York Stock Exchange after impersonating a customer of a member firm for the purpose of transferring his account and making material misstatements to a member firm compliance officer during the course of an internal investigation.
This issue is still up in the air and at the time of posting, all of the links appearing on this blog were still active. Resident lawyer at LUCEO IMAGES, Matthew Slaby, has helped me draft a cease and desist letter that I have signed and sent to Turner.
I have only one camera; a Canon 5D. Every time a RAW image is taken with this camera it records the serial number of that camera onto the metadata of the RAW file. I also have the original receipt from when I purchased the camera showing the matching serial number.
As of today, I have officially registered my entire online portfolio along with my entire RAW shoot from Burma with the U.S. Copyright Office. I recommend all photographers do the exact same thing today.
The web site: http://www.copyright.gov/ is a little confusing but you can upload several hundred images in a zipped file for only $35 USD.
And sadly, I will soon be watermarking my blog images. Hopefully with something that isn’t too distracting.
This posting is not meant as a personal attack on anyone, but merely publicly setting the record straight. Turner put my character as a photographer and as a journalist into questionable light. Please let this serve as a warning to all photographers. You have to protect your images.
We live in a world where the dishonest and disloyal people ruin openness for everyone else. This will be the last time that I let my professional guard down around anyone, even a friend.