Robin shifted to photographing for nonprofits after a long career in newspapers. He talks about how he got started, what that’s like and the editorial resale market for his work on ZUMA Press.
Robin was a photojournalist for 20 years at newspapers, then left to venture out on his own. He became aware of the nonprofit Our Children’s Trust because his son is a plaintiff in the federal case. Loznak began providing pictures to the org for free early on, but now he’s a paid contract photographer for it. The team traveled around the country, including some high-profile climate rallies in Washington, D.C, and New York City and another event where climate activist Greta Thunberg spoke to Congress. The images were used by the nonprofit mostly for social media outreach.
Robin Loznak: I’ve been working with a nonprofit law firm that’s based in Eugene, Oregon, called Our Children’s Trust. They are involved in climate change litigation, representing youth across the United States.
I’d be feeding them photos, and just being able to work on the deadline was good, and understanding how that works from my years as a news photographer.”
Prior to COVID, it was the same team for the whole time. And we definitely got a really good working relationship and understood what was needed.
I’m not an employee, I’m a contractor, but I am part of the team. It’s slightly different than being just a pure journalist working for a newspaper when you’re actually working for the organization you’re covering.
But that being said, I have a relationship with a photo agency, ZUMA Press, which I’ve had for almost 20 years. Both of the nonprofits that I’ve been working with, when I set up my contract, I spoke to them about sharing images with ZUMA Press, and they agreed that it would be OK to do that.
It seems to benefit the nonprofits to have a news outlet for their images like that.
But Robin says his edit for ZUMA is different from the one he delivers to his nonprofit clients:
I have a pretty good feel of what news wire pictures they want. The newsworthy pictures are the ones that I’m sending to ZUMA. I’m not sending them the personal backstage pictures; occasionally one of those would be good, too. But you know, it’s more press conference pictures and the court, like what the pool photographers will be providing in the courtroom. In fact, I have been the pool photographer in a couple of courtrooms.
There’s not much direction. I’m pretty much allowed to do what I need to do. You know, I’m really looking at it like I’m documenting history, and they’re open to that. They want me to do it.
Robin also works with the NGO Heart to Heart International in Haiti. It is a medical and humanitarian aid organization, which interests him because of his background as a vet tech and volunteer firefighter. He applied and got a volunteer position with the NGO as a photographer and writer. He is now paid:
I searched and searched on the internet and sort of wrote letters to several of them, and Heart to Heart International, from Lenexa, Kansas, they actually were thinking about doing kind of a similar thing to what Our Children’s Trust was doing. Meaning putting more photos on a timely basis up on their social media and their website to inform and encourage people to give to their nonprofit. They had a position that they were sort of advertising for, but it was a volunteer position. So I applied for it.
Robin then attended a three-day disaster response team training in Kansas that he paid for with his own money. His first deployment was after Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas. Accompanying a doctor and logistics person, he had access to very remote locations where he captured and transmitted pictures:
We went in, we were the first people into some of the really hard-hit areas in the Bahamas, on Abaco Island. We ended up finding the place where the organization ended up setting up a clinic that was there for a couple of months.
It really helps to bring people into the story and bring their donors on board. And it was super successful.
Since then he’s been deployed to places hit by wildfires in Oregon, supplying thousands of hygiene kits, and recently to Haiti after the earthquake where Heart to Heart International has a medical presence already on site composed of Haitian doctors and nurses:
Again, we had a great, great response and really got the word out what Heart to Heart is doing down there.
The NGO pays all Robin’s expenses and a daily rate when he deploys with the organization, but Robin admits the copyright remains in its hands. Nevertheless, it is OK with his posting his images on ZUMA Press, where they have gotten picked up by news organizations. Robin keeps any proceeds from these editorial sales and considers it a win-win for both him and the organization.
Heart to Heart and Robin are diligent in ensuring the people he photographs don’t feel exploited. They use translators and have a release written in the local language explaining what they’re doing and why they’re doing it and that their decision to be photographed, or not be photographed, in no way has anything to do with the medical care they’re being provided with.
Robin explained that when he’s with an NGO in these locations covering disaster response, he doesn’t have the freedom to roam around as he would if he were on assignment for a news organization or working on his own:
I’m kind of tied to the NGO because I’m there on their dime; they’re paying me, right? So they (the other photographers) could go down the street or across town to maybe where a funeral is taking place, and if they have access, to take pictures there. Whereas I really can’t do that, because I’m doing my job with the NGO. So there is that sort of thing like you are a little different than just being just out there documenting for a news organization because I’m documenting it for the NGO.
Having it on ZUMA, I think it helps because I get a little bit of sales from it. But also some publications don’t really want handout photos. But having it on ZUMA, they’re not really handling photos anymore. In a way, I don’t know what the ethics there are because I was working for the NGO when I put them on ZUMA. But I think everyone just feels more comfortable getting them from ZUMA for some publications.
When I started 20, 25 years ago as a journalist, I think the handout photo was a bigger no-no. And I think just because of the way the world works now, handout photos are more accepted. Probably because maybe there are more people like me who are actual photojournalists working for organizations so that they can see the value in the pictures.
On increased access because of working with a nonprofit on a story:
Heart to Heart actually has Haitian people in Haiti treating patients. That was just truly amazing. Whereas a lot of the NGOs that I ran into in Haiti had Europeans and Americans treating Haitians. And our access, I think, was way better in getting into villages that other people were probably not getting into to help people. We were in areas way up that had been a week since the earthquake hit, and they had had no contact with any medical care.
Update April 13:
Robin just got back from a three-week deployment to Romania, Moldova, and Poland with Heart to Heart. The advance team was on a fact-finding mission to see where the organization could help out with the Ukranian refugee crisis. While they have mobile units and medical teams that could be set up, they discovered where they could help most was in shipping medical trauma supplies to Ukraine. They could also provide funding for a van to an organization in Romania that monitors illegal human trafficking, a situation that has grown tenfold since the Ukranian crisis began. While in Poland, Robin contracted Covid-19. In his words:
It was first scheduled to be a one-week trip, like a fact-finding mission. And we stretched that to two weeks because there were a lot of facts to be found and a lot of networking to do and how Heart to Heart could fit into helping the refugees. But then I end up getting Covid and had to stay an extra week in Poland in a hotel room, which was not my my greatest moment in life, but it was just mild. I ended up there because you can't fly without getting an official Covid test. The official test was reported to the government so they they put me on lockdown in the hotel.
Even when they first decided to send me with that team, they were like, “You might not get a lot. We're not sure what's going to happen because we might just be networking with people. We're not sending the medical team.” But we ended going to a couple different borders and places. And then met with that trafficking thing. There definitely was enough to photograph. We actually spent a couple days at a refugee center, and we spent the night in Moldova with Hope Worldwide, the ones running it. In fact, Hope Worldwide was the group that received the big shipment just as we were leaving. And so I just made general photos and videos of the refugees coming across and refugees in the refugee center, and then interviewed people. And the general stories and general photos of the refugees and the refugee crisis. And Heart to Heart was really happy with it because they use that in their presentation on their social media, and on their website, to show a crisis going on. And they talked about how they're planning to help and what they're helping, but using my videos as B roll.
I think it had a lot of impact. I've heard from the team leader, and a comms director at Heart to Heart, and the response has been tremendous from people wanting to help. And I like to think that a lot of that has to do with my photos and video that I presented them. And they agree with that.
Credits: Robin Loznak website
Karen Ducey is an independent photographer based in Seattle. She can be reached at [email protected]. Twitter @KarenDucey Instagram @DuceyPhoto. She has been a member of the NPPA since 1996.