A successful professional photographer for more than 30 years, Tina Manley began her documentary photography business after raising four children and teaching school, as recounted in her 2002 interview with Photographer’s Forum (“Tina Manley: It’s Never Too Late to Make a Difference,” May/Summer 2002, Vol. 24, No. 3). She specializes in documentary photography of families, traveling the world to capture images that demonstrate that people everywhere are more alike than different. Her award-winning photographs have been published in numerous periodicals, including National Geographic, British Heritage, Newsweek, Charlotte Observer, The Boston Globe, Earth Watch, Foreign Service Journal, Natural History and Photo Techniques. Her documentary projects include Dimes for Hunger, Families of Abraham, Family of Man II, Families of Honduras, Women of Guatemala, Medical Mission, People of Iran, Faces of Iraq, Incredible India, China Today, Cuba Today and Kenya.
For this interview, we connected via Skype, with Manley at her farmhouse home in South Carolina. Her easy manner and Southern charm belie the intensity of her passion and dedication to her work.
Ken Lassiter: When did you first try digital photography?
Tina Manley: It was 2008. I had to switch to digital when my stock company began asking for digital images. Processing film and scanning negatives and slides was too much work and took too much time. Digital is much faster. I was just following the stock photo trend. Although I had always used Leica rangefinders, Leica didn’t have any digital cameras at that time, so I switched to a Canon DSLR.
KL: What was your first digital shooting experience?
TM: The first time was when I traveled for a month throughout India. I was disappointed in the picture quality, and I missed my Leica cameras, but in some ways digital photography was much easier. Now I don’t think I would ever go back to film. Carrying all that film and getting it through airport security are hassles I don’t miss! And, when I used film, I didn’t know what photos I had until I got back home. With digital, I can send a photo to anyone from anyplace in the world with Internet access. I haven’t used film for at least five years. I still have a darkroom, but it’s covered in dust.
KL: What digital cameras are you using today?
TM: I never regretted going back to Leica when they finally came out with digital cameras. Now I use the Leica M type 240 and the Leica M type 246 Monochrome. I had the Leica M9, but dropped it in Cuba and it couldn’t be repaired. Leica offered me a deal on a new camera, and I chose the new M type 246 Monochrome. I also just got the new Leica SL, and it is terrific. The SL is my first Leica camera with autofocus, which I really like as I’m getting older! As with all Leica cameras, I can still use even my oldest Leica lenses on the newest model.
KL: Why would you want a digital camera that can make only black-and-white photographs?
TM: When I used film, I carried two cameras — one with color film and one with black-and-white film. I learned to think in color with one and in black-and-white with the other. Now that Leica has a pure black-and-white digital camera, I can do the same. I carry the M240 for color and the M246 for black-and-white. I find that when I’m thinking in black-and-white, I’m looking at light and eyes. When I’m thinking in color, I look at colors. Color is important sometimes. I can’t imagine photographing Guatemala in black-and-white. But I love my black-and-white photos in Honduras for the light and the people. It’s just a different way of seeing.
KL: What are the markets for your photographs now?
TM: Still mostly textbooks, and some editorial. I sell through several stock agencies and on my own via my website at www.tinamanley.com. I still sell to non-governmental organizations like UNICEF, Heifer International and the Presbyterian Church. Some of these clients I’ve had for up to 30 years.
KL: Are you happy with how clients pay today?
TM: Pay has definitely not gone up. Most clients pay less than in the past. They all want more rights for less money. Many beginning photographers are willing to give up rights to their photos for the exposure. There is no way to make a living by working for free, and it only ruins the market for other photographers.
KL: How has the stock photo market changed since the conversion to digital images?
TM: It used to be that I sold my picture rights as rights managed. I never sold anything as royalty-free. I made sure I never sold the same image to a competing textbook for a cover. I used to sell a textbook company an image to use on a cover and they paid me. If they published the same book in a later edition and used the same image, they paid me again. Now that has all changed. When a stock agency acquires a photo, they lease it for 20 years for all uses. When I sell a photo through my website, I sell only limited rights, so I maintain the right to use my photographs for my own books, print sales, exhibitions and self-promotion.