By Brandon Brooks and Jennifer Bihm
Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel
LOS ANGELES—“At a black event [like the BET Awards] there is no reason that a black photographer shouldn’t be there,” said Valerie Goodloe, who has done large scale photo shoots here for more than 12 years.
A group of veteran photojournalists and media professionals in Los Angeles have joined their colleagues across the nation in outrage, at the recent rejection of legendary photographer Bill Jones at this year’s BET Awards. The incident, they said, was the most egregious so far in a long line of insults to the Black media at this and other red carpet events, organized by White public relations firms like Slate PR and giant photo outlets like Getty Images. They, along with Jones suffered through hassle and runaround, not only at this year’s event but hundreds of events in years’ past.
“Enough is enough,” said Robert Torrence, who has been a photographer in Los Angeles for forty years. “Here Bill Jones is, 83 years old, everybody respects him not as a black photographer but just as a premiere photographer period. All the celebrities know and love him. To me, [Bill being rejected] was like the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Now, they are speaking out, they said, hoping to uncover insidious practices, that include putting Black media professionals in bad locations on the red carpets and in the shows, continuously and unnecessarily checking access passes or flat out denying credentials to black media while giving white media all access.
“On behalf of the National Newspapers Publishers Association, the unfortunate denial of basic professional respect to an iconic photographer who is not only well known but well respected in the African American community… BET should be awarding people like Bill Jones. And if BET is going to [hire contractors] they should be African American so this can’t happen again.” said Ben Chavis, NNPA president.
“At a black event [like the BET Awards] there is no reason that a black photographer shouldn’t be there,” said Valerie Goodloe, who has done large scale photo shoots here for more than 12 years.
“But, a lot of the photographers who usually grace that red carpet, who shoot for smaller black publications were not allowed to shoot…”
What happens in Goodloe’s and the others’ opinions, is that “big fish” photo services like Getty and Wire Image intend to monopolize the Black photography pool in Los Angeles and across the country.
“For example, you go to red carpet, and the first they want to know is if you’re from wire or if you’re on a different wire service or, if you have the ability to put something on the wire,” Goodloe explained.
“Nine out of ten black photographers shoot for small black publications. They shoot for maybe their own websites and stuff like that. Sometimes they don’t have access to a wire service.
“But the reality of a wire service is that, nine out of ten times the pictures don’t go up on the front pages of the wire service anyway. So, these people, these black folks say, ‘ooh they’re going to put us up on the wire…, if they are not Chris Brown, Beyonce or Rihanna or somebody, they are not going to put you up because nine out of ten times, they don’t know who these artists are and they won’t even pick up their camera and shoot them.
“The insulting thing is that they have all these white wire services that aren’t taking the pictures, that aren’t posting them, but black people think that if they are on the wire services it will get them credibility…”
Finaimage photo agency founder Malcolm Ali had been denied award credentials via email but had hoped to be able to assist Jones with his red carpet gig. He was with Jones when the 83-year-old who had been shooting large events like the Grammys and Oscars for years, was denied his BET credentials.
“In my opinion, for them to deny Bill Jones, it’s an organized conspiracy to slowly eliminate all Black media photographers from these events and the conspiracy is coming through Getty Images,” Ali said.
“In the big events (Grammys, Oscars, etc.) most of the time we’re pushed out period and most of the black events, (NAACP Image, BET Awards) we’re pushed around, like they don’t want us there,” Torrence said, adding that although he was credentialed he and other Black media photographers were relegated to a “pile” at the end of the red carpet.
Meanwhile, Lynn Allen Jeter, president of PR firm Lynn Allen Jeter and Associates said BET should be embarrassed for denying Jones and the other outrageous stunts they pulled on June 29.
“As far as the Bill Jones rejection as well as veteran Tanya Hart’s rejection… Tanya Hart covers the Oscars and the Grammys… and for BET to reject either one of these veterans is really unacceptable,” she told the Sentinel in a recent interview.
Jeter felt that Slate PR, hired to replace BET’s original corporate communications group who made room at past events for both giants like Getty and small media outlets alike, orchestrated the set up so that black media were underrepresented. When she got there, she, like Torrence, Ali and Goodloe was bounced around from one location to another, trying to get passes for clients like actresses Lisa Raye and Margaret Avery, who currently star in “Single Ladies”, a show currently airing on BET.
“My client Margaret Avery who plays the mother of Gabrielle Union on the show was so mishandled and so mistreated by BET’s crew and staff that a woman who is a very peaceful lady started cursing…”
“For many years the Black Photographers have been the backbone of the Black Press,” said Sentinel Publisher Danny J. Bakewell Sr.
“ I find it totally unacceptable that any organization which would undermine their value or deny credible professionals access, particularly an event where the subjects are predominantly Black is not going to be tolerated.”
For his part, Jones called the incident “unfortunate.”
“I was hurt,” he told the Sentinel.
As of press time BET had not responded to the Sentinel’s attempts to reach them.