Kodak Gallery – and why NOT to use them for your books and prints!

I was planning to write about something else for this blog entry, but something happened today that’s just forced me to change topics.

As you may have read here, earlier this year I ordered some books of my photos from the Kodak Gallery online. I was generally satisfied with what I got, but I also have a $33 credit on my account.

I saw that that credit will be expiring in a few weeks and that there’s currently a 25% off sale, so I thought I’d take advantage of both things by ordering a larger, hardcover book. I’ll be going to Las Vegas for a few days soon and I’ll be getting together with my friend Terrell Neasley there, so I thought it would be good to show him a book of my fine art nudes, which I know he’d enjoy seeing.

I planned to use their two-day delivery with FedEx, but because I had a problem with FedEx on my last order, the woman I spoke with on the phone at Kodak gave me a credit for Next Day shipping to help insure that I got it on time. Yes, I was being given Next Day delivery for free – so everything was more than fine.

I then spent several hours last night scanning some new negatives to include in the book and putting together the book online. It all looked good and I expected the book to look great. That, unfortunately, was as close as the book was to get to being made.

After getting home from work today, I just happened to log onto the Kodak Gallery to look at the book layout again, but first I decided to look up the order status. It was there that I found out that my book order had been cancelled!!! The reason given was this: “Cancelled for Terms of Service.” I was shocked! I knew that it was a book of nudes, but I’d ordered books of nudes before with Kodak with no problem – so what was wrong here???

I called up Kodak, and the automated system told me that I should have been sent an e-mail explaining just what was wrong. Well, I never received any such e-mail. So, I stayed on and actually spoke with someone. This phone call lasted for about an hour as I was put on hold as the fellow tried to find out what had happened. First he said that some of my photos violated Kodak’s anti-pornography clause by showing genitalia. I told him that none of my photos showed that. At my request, he dug deeper and deeper to find out what was wrong, and at last he told me this: only one photo was objectionable. I asked him if I could guess which one it was – and I got it right.

The image in question is the one I’ve posted at the top here. It’s a photo of Betcee May in my motel room near Los Angeles when I was visiting there in July. I’d wanted to work with her outdoors, but as I couldn’t find a good location, I ended up photographing her at my motel. For someone like me who likes to work with more interesting settings, a generic motel room is somewhat difficult to work in. Still, Betcee is an experienced model, very beautiful and fun to work with. (She is a natural giggler, I’d say.)

Toward the end of our session, I decided to set my tripod up high and stood on a chair to make some photos from a high angle. I was really trying to think up things that might look interesting, so I asked Betcee to spread her legs wide. I was just interested in the graphic play of arms and legs – not anything erotic – and I asked her to put her hand where you see it to intentionally cover up what Monty Python would call “the naughty bits.” This was all I had in mind.

When I saw the recently developed film, I liked this photo for the positioning of the arms and hands and also the calm, dreamy look on Betcee’s face – a rare moment of quietude between the giggles, actually. So, I decided to include this and another one of her in the book.

I had no idea that someone would find that this image crossed the line from fine art into pornography. I had thought that Kodak was an American company, but obviously it must be located closer to Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan. (Or, as I said to the fellow on the phone, the man reviewing the photos must have been a Republican. The guy laughed.)

Now, as I had guessed that this was the photo in question, I must have felt that this photo was a little different from the other 79 in the book. Yes, I can see how some people might find this image to be more erotic in nature than the others – but come on now! I can understand the objections if her hand wasn’t there, but there’s nothing showing here that’s pornographic – with the exception, I suppose, of the imagination of the person at Kodak reviewing it. I might even understand if the entire book was composed of photos like this, but to cancel the order (and not tell me about it!) for just one photo like this out of 80? That’s ridiculous. (The other photos here are among those other ones, including another of Betcee.)

I was told that the order could go through if I ‘d replace this photo with another one, but I said ‘no.’ This was the photo I chose, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it and I will not change my order. “The Kodak Gallery,” I said, “has lost me as a customer and they don’t deserve my money.” Perhaps they don’t deserve the money of the people reading this, either.

So, valued reader, now that you’ve read my story and seen the photo, what do you think? Am I right in thinking that Kodak is acting like a bunch of idiots here, or do you agree with them that the photo in question is, indeed, too risqué? I’d like to know what you think.

About Dave Rudin

Dave Rudin is a fine art photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. He specializes in art nude and travel photography, using black & white film and making silver gelatin prints in a darkroom.
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10 Responses to Kodak Gallery – and why NOT to use them for your books and prints!

  1. Saintz says:

    No I don’t find it at all offensive and I went back and looked at it a few times in order to be objective, it doesn’t even come across as an implied masturbation shot in my opinion. As to the censorship issue, I reckon it will bite us all in some way or another at some time due to the subject, no matter how tasteful or artistic the images are. It’s only a matter of when and where.It really irks that Kodak of all companies should be so prudish, I bet if we sifted through the thousands the kodak related photographic publications out there we’d find more morally challenging shots than this.

  2. I’m 100% with Saintz, and couldn’t say it any better than how he just put it.This is madness!

  3. Iksodas says:

    You get this all over corp America.. doesn’t matter, it only has to be “close” or offend one subjective person, and they (in their opinion) err on the side of caution. this happens quite often, and has been with us a long, long time.Check my blog in a little while for a post about ebay, and paypal.Same thing, really.Ever hear the story about Weston and his assistants using a magnifying glass to check a print for pubic hair? Back then, he could have been busted for obscentity by mailing a print with genitalia, and one pubic hair counted!

  4. paul burd says:

    I would hardly call that beautiful image pornography. I’m very disappointed in Kodak. One would think that a company with such a long history in the industry would be able to tell the difference.You’re right in taking your business elsewhere.

  5. As I told you last night, I gave up on Kodak many years ago. They lost their way as a photography company 30 years ago when the MBAs took over and got rid of the tech reps. Kodak is just about the bottom line now, but they have lost the connection with their customers and serious photographers who used to have influence in the company and helped them stay ahead of changes in the world of photography. Now they just follow…or try to…and they keep doing away with everything that once made them great, replacing it with nothing of value. Kodak deserves to go out of business.

  6. Agree with everyone. I’ve done over dozen books with MyPublisher.com, with some images much more explicit than the one you show, with never a problem, so we may hope it is an issue restricted to Kodak — although that helps you very little. Too bad you couldn’t get it done for your trip.Stephen

  7. TLNeasley says:

    Hey Dave,I was wondering about them too. I chose to also check out other possibilities when I got my books back and the coloring was off on a few images. I am now torn between MyPublisher, Blurb, and Lulu. So far Blurb is the frontrunner. I am inclined to agree with Saintz. I even tried to see Kodak’s point of view here and just couldn’t make sense of it. Now I am disappointed I won’t get to see any of it. You can definately scratch me off of their list of patrons…even for prints.Looking forward to your visit, man!Terrell

  8. Ben Streeck says:

    The whole pornography issue in the States is so ridicules. A bare breast can’t be shown in public, but 50 cent has clothed women doing things to him in his video which are obviously pornographic.Some day an American company will develop a digital camera that recognizes and refuses to take pictures of breasts… and they will claim they are saving our children. If Kodak knew what kind of things have been captured on film made by them, they might even consider that step.BTW: You’re not honestly asking if the picture is ok, are you? Of course it is.

  9. AtomicP says:

    I have no problem with the image at all and I’d do the same as you and withdraw your custom from Kodak. They seem to be fading away slowly anyway.I bet if you had some gun-toting models pretending to shoot each other then you’d have no problems, but photos showing the slightest glimpse of a lady garden is off-limits – madness!The UK is nearly as prude as the US though so it’d probably happen here too.

  10. Lin says:

    Oh for heaven’s sake!!! Kodak fussed about THAT? But the photograph didn’t show anything….!?!Only in America….

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