Leif Skoogfors and Photography Copyright

Oscar Romero by Leif SkoogforsAs you all know, I’ve gotten serious about image copyright around here over the last nine months or so. The truth is that I always thought that I could use any image on Wikipedia because they were free and that was that. Well, that was not that. Most of the images on Wikipedia at least require attribution. And a large number of them are Fair Use, which is a whole legal can of worms.

I got a good and fast introduction when I started working for Quality Nonsense. It’s not that anyone took me aside. But I found myself editing a bunch of articles on copyright and plagiarism. It made me paranoid. And then, I got put in charge of finding images for our biggest website Who Is Hosting This? So getting serious about the use of images was easy enough. Just the same, with over 7,000 articles on Frankly Curious, I haven’t been able to go back and fix my previous problems.

It’s easy to be casual about image copyright when you are running a tiny blog that no one reads. But Frankly Curious has become big enough that people start to notice. And what’s more, I’ve decided that I would like to make the blog as professional as possible with a set publishing schedule and my prohibition against coarse language in articles. But until you reach that point, a blog is like a collage that you put together during the commercial breaks of Dancing With the Stars — something you do without the thought that what you are doing is going anywhere. It’s just for fun or your own self-actualization.

Leif Skoogfors

Well, this morning, I got an email message from Leif Skoogfors. He had noticed that I was using the image above in an article, Religion Is Politics. I had provided no attribution, as was my habit in those days. He was extremely nice about it and only asked for credit, which I gladly provided on the article and another where I had used the image, 35 Years Without Óscar Romero.

Leif Skoogfors is more or less the romantic archetype of a photographer. I know a lot of photographers. I greatly admire the visual arts, although I have no talent for it. But most of the people I know work in studios or forests. And that’s great! But Skoogfors was working in El Salvador in the late 1970s! Looking over his career, he seems to have gone wherever he had a good chance of being killed.

An eight year old child of Fatah Jordan, 1969

Of course, it isn’t just the romantic aspect of the photographer throwing himself in harm’s way to get the shot. Much of Leif Skoogfors’ work is stunning. Take, for example, Eight Year-Old Child of Fatah. It was taken in 1969 at the Baka refugee camp in Jordan. You can see men marching in the background and some buildings and other structures. If there were no people in the photo, it would be a fine bit of nature photography. I think that’s an olive grove in the upper right hand corner. But instead, we focus on this child, holding a machine gun and wearing… sneakers. When the picture was taken, I was 4 years old. My life was utterly different. It’s hard to imagine that the boy in the picture is still alive. What a sick and arbitrary world we live in.

Check out Leif Skoogfors’ other work. He does have a great eye and documented some of the most important things that happened in the world over the last fifty years. He is certainly a man who should be acknowledged. And compensated.


I received a followup email message from Leif Skoogfors. Part of the text above was changed based upon a correction he alerted me to. Here is part of the email, that adds a little more to the story of that photo:

The guide translator who showed me around was thoughtful and pulled the loaded drum magazine out of the weapon and replaced it with an empty one, thinking that the boy might get nervous and pull the trigger.

It was a few years after I’d been there that I realized the very nice “freelance journalist” in Cairo who’d arranged the introduction to Al-Fatah for me was with the CIA. Perhaps the first time I’d run into one of those guys…

I appreciate the article on copyright. Many folks have pointed out, if artists don’t get paid for their work, how can they continue to create. When I ran an image search on the Oscar Romero photograph, over 400 sites showed up. Only 9 were licensed.

Yes, I feel sorry being in that list of 400. But I’m glad to get the chance to highlight the work of Mr Skoogfors.

5 thoughts on “Leif Skoogfors and Photography Copyright

  1. What a class act — to compliment your article and appreciation of his work without getting cranky for one second that you didn’t understand how photogs were paid.

    The art of a photojournalist is insane to me. Not just the risk (some don’t shoot in war zones.) The lack of control. They have to take shot after shot after shot and then look at them later to determine the ones which best express their emotions about what they were trying to depict. I suppose it’s not unlike a musician trying out different notes. It just seems so difficult. I imagine they enjoy it a lot, though. Like paleontologists making guesses on where to dig.

    Did you see that thing on the creepy cave where fossil nerds found pre-Sapiens bones in a location so narrow and dangerous they needed the skinniest experts around to dare lowering themselves into the cave? That was just amazing.

    • Yeah, he’s an amazing guy. His approach seems to be that if a website makes money, it should pay. If not, he just wants credit. He told me a story about a guy who ran an Ayn Rand inspired site who he actually had to take to federal court to get an image taken down. That’s just amazing. Now who’s the moocher? But that’s typical of Randian thinking where they deserve everything but owe others nothing. Given the life he’s led, I’ll bet he could put on a great one-man show just telling stories of his travels. Did you check out some of his photos off-site? There’s a lot of amazing stuff.

      I think I know what you are talking about. As I recall, they think they were throwing dead bodies down there — sort of a group grave?

  2. Fantastic image, the starkness of it, sadly could be today.
    I wish to say about your writing sir, the truth and the reason give me hope (not to imply that intention) anyway thank you…the whole site is great, you have been there

    • Yes, the child soldier is probably more important today than ever.

      Thank you very much! I’ve worked very hard on the site. I don’t have children, so it’s my baby.

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