A gypsy wedding in New Jersey. A Hebrew school in Brooklyn. Two shower-capped employees of the Brooklyn Central Laundry holding up a handful of hospital syringes as grim evidence of their occupational hazard. After 15 years of capturing social change on film, Impact Visuals, the photo agency, is going out of business.
Known by the local and national media as an outlet for images of news events no one else covered, Impact’s pending demise has left editors wondering where those powerful images will come from now. “Impact was vital,” said Ted Keller, design director at the Village Voice, which relied on the small company for photos of local events like the Crown Heights riots. “There were people digging, coming up with the kind of things the newsweeklies should have been covering.”
But the cost of running a collectively-owned photo house that sold the publishing rights for its photos on a sliding scale proved too much in the end. “Costs have outstripped our income by a large margin,” said Jim West, a Detroit-based Impact board member and specialist in photographing labor actions. As the company’s financial problems grew over the years, photographers saw their own profits dropping, and they stopped working with Impact. What remains is an archive of more than 1 million images that the agency is now scrambling to get back to the photographers. With only two staffers and limited resources, however, time is short. “I don’t know whether the bank is going to try to close us down,” said West, who hopes if that happens they can at least rent some storage space for the remaining pictures.
As for where news outlets will get shots of massacres in Albania or a Zapatista march in Mexico (two of the last offerings posted on Impact’s website), editors are unsure. The agency may send out a list of its 94 members to clients so that they can start dealing with the photographers directly, but some photographers wonder how well this system will work. “Really, there’s nothing to replace it,” said Hazel Hankin, a New York-based photojournalist. “All these places that were using my pictures–where are they going to get stuff now?”