“NO, I will NOT work for free.”

“No, I will NOT work for free.”

I bet you are intrigued by the above statement. Perhaps you are wondering what has inspired me to write the statement. Well, it is a tale that needs to be told, has been told, and a story many others have also experienced. So sit back, grab a big cup of coffee…..it is time to share the story as to why I WILL NOT work for free.

city hall park, red deer, albertaIt all started with this picture. Honest to goodness it did. A shot of the City Hall Park in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. So while I thought I was posting on this blog a beautiful image showing our city’s downtown in a most positive light, what I didn’t realize was this image was the gateway to insult and a demeaning of my worth.

Was it a crap picture? No. That was the problem. The problem was this was a picture that others wanted.

blog work for free rdpsd

One day in September I received a message in my WordPress notifications requesting permission to use the image. The message was from Red Deer Public Schools. A publicly funded institution wanting permission to “use” my “photo” for the foreign student brochure. I was a bit put out. A bit insulted. Instead of getting into it with the person requesting use, a person who is paid a salary for their work (that clearly involves surfing the net….obviously….your tax dollars at work!), I simply didn’t respond. My tactic was “If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.”

I knew this would eventually happen, I just wasn’t expecting a PUBLICLY FUNDED institution, an institution funded by our TAX DOLLARS, to behave this way.

For months my emails and messages were normal and then one day I opened an email from the Government of Alberta. It read:

blog work for free alberta govt 1The pictures being discussed were of the Jeongia in Edmonton, Alberta.

Jeongja, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada Jeongja- Edmonton, Alberta, Canada Jeongja detail - Edmonton, Alberta, Canada I responded thinking surely the Government of Alberta is going to provide compensation for the use of images. WRONG. Instead I received the following response:

blog work for free alberta govt 2Yep, the Government of Alberta was going to offer me in compensation for my work “good karma and lots and lots of appreciation” . That’s pretty special isn’t it? Could you imagine how far I would get paying my provincial tax in “GOOD KARMA”?. My gut tells me that wouldn’t go over so well. “GOOD KARMA” also doesn’t feed my children, or clothe them or keep a roof over their heads.

Isn’t it special when someone sitting in a cushy job, playing on the internet, paid with MY TAX DOLLARS, tells me that all my work is worth is “good karma”.

As you can guess this one really rubbed me the wrong way. Insulted. Undervalued. They came to me regarding the images and then expected me to hand them over because artists in our society have ZERO value. Did anyone pick up on the irony? I, a born and raised Albertan, from a family that has been in Alberta well over a century, was supposed to GIVE AWAY their work to celebrate the cultural history of Korea. A twinned relationship with a foreign country was more important to the Government of Alberta than treating their own productive taxpaying lifelong resident fairly.

The Government of Alberta expected me to work for free.

Yes, I wrote an email regarding the fact that it was about time the government started to appreciate and see value in artists. I couldn’t stay silent on this one. I am sure it was just deleted.

A message was left on my phone about there being a “misunderstanding”. How? I didn’t return the call. How much devaluation should one have to endure? Chances are they were just going to withdraw the offer of “good karma” or perhaps charge me to use my own images. I wouldn’t doubt it.

red deer city hallSo today my phone dings, I look down, and this is the email that has just come through:

blog work for free red deer advocateThis time it is the Red Deer Advocate asking to “use” an image of Red Deer City Hall for their advertising department. Seriously. Are you kidding me?

First I was going to email back (as in the case of the Government of Alberta). Then I was just going to ignore it (as I did with Red Deer Public Schools). Then I decided to BLOG it. And so I did.

Does anyone else see how bizarre this request is? The Red Deer Advocate EMPLOYS their very own PHOTOGRAPHERS. The Red Deer Advocate has ARCHIVES. It was +28C today, the sky was blue, City Hall is a 10 minute drive from the newspaper’s headquarters, yet they would rather I just GIVE them my work than shoot a picture of the bloody thing.

They want to “USE” my image for THEM to MAKE MONEY!


I’m tired of publicly funded institutions trying to screw me over.

I’m tired of the government trying to screw me over.

I’m tired of big business trying to screw me over.


I am professionally trained in both art and photography. I have diplomas in Fine Art and Design plus in Photographic Technology. I have years of experience on two different continents. If you want my images I must have FINANCIAL compensation.


The Red Deer Public Schools are NOT a charity.

The Government of Alberta is NOT a charity.

The Red Deer Advocate is NOT a charity.



(and if you ask me to, I’ll blog about you too! Enough is enough.)








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13 thoughts on ““NO, I will NOT work for free.”

  1. Pretty much why I stopped trying to promote my photos. It’s like people have some kind of policy or principle not to pay for photos, since anybody can press a button. And clearly my time is of no value whatsoever, running around on a beach for two days chasing horses is like a gift dumped into my boring life, yeah? They’ll even buy me a soda?

  2. yes, I hear you. I’ve even been told you “should teach art courses for free”…… hmmm, not sure how that’s going to put food on the table ! I don’t get that sentiment over in Australia, thank goodness! But overall, ART is undervalued when it should be a staple on everyone’s agenda in the schools.

    • Visual art is so undervalued in our geographic area that it isn’t even funny. We suffer attitudes like this, have few display spaces and the hit on commissions is brutal. It is a downward spiral. Perhaps this is just because we are in red-neck oil country. Our city of 100,000 has less gallery/display spaces than our tiny community of 2500 in British Columbia, there is just no value in the visual arts….not to our government, our schools or big business (as indicated in the post).

      • some parts of the Pac NW are not bright spots for artists, (esp. if you’re not in the large cities like Vancouver or Seattle.) Yes, It was in that area that it was suggested I donate my art classes 🙂 It was Frustrating. I was lucky… I moved.

      • that made me laugh at first! No, actually husband’s work. We’re native to Pac NW; then Sydney, then back to PacNW, to Dallas, to Sydney and now Perth Australia. there’s been a lot of scenery changes! 🙂

  3. I’ve never had anything like this happen to me, but I definitely understand why it makes you so mad. People hardly ever think of the work behind an photograph or art in general. I think you wrote a great post about it.
    Have a nice day

    • I’ve donated a lot of work for free with charities, shooting full galas, etc.. When I get requests from publicly funded institutions and big business it is really uncool. It chokes me to think someone with a secure guaranteed wage (in some cases paid by my tax dollars) is expecting me to work for free….hand over my work. In the case of the newspaper they wanted me to hand over my work so that they could make a profit. When you say “no” to use, generally you become the bad guy. It is unreal. It is time for everyone to out this poor practice, that is the only way we can end this expectation.

  4. I do want to say that the photos are really lovely! It is amazing that you got hit up so many times to hand them over for free!

    • I get lots of the “work for free” requests. If it for a community group or charity I usually do it, but when it is government and big business it just crosses the line.

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