Interview: J Salmeron on being blacklisted from Arch Enemy

Posted by on December 31, 2018

On Christmas day, J Salmeron, writer/photographer/editor of Metal Blast, decided to publish an editorial on how he got banned from shooting Arch Enemy. We recently caught up with Salmeron to discuss why he went public, the overall response, and more.

Did you do all of this to be paid with “exposure”?

Let me give you a little bit of background on how this happened: After I shared the photo of Alissa at Fortarock on my Instagram, her, and a lot of her fans, reposted it. While that, in and of itself, is infringement, I tend to turn a blind eye to people like that sharing it, since there is no financial gain on their end. Nobody is going to buy an Arch Enemy album because of my photo, and the fans are just showing their love for the band. Things changed when I saw that a store shared the photo, since I saw an obvious commercial aspect to it. I sent them a message saying that they’d have to pay for the use, and, well, I think the correspondence that we posted in our article is really self-explanatory. The designer behind the brand contacted Alissa, who told her that AE’s management would “take care of it”… and, well… you know the rest.

The problem, and this is what I was trying to shed some light on, is the terrible power structure that exists within the music industry, and which allows somebody in a band like Arch Enemy to say, “well we’re going to destroy your career because you don’t want to play by our rules” even though the only thing I was saying was that I simply did not want somebody to use my work for free for commercial gain. The band lashed out against me not because I was doing anything wrong, but because they simply had given themselves the right to own other people’s work, and did not want to be challenged on that point. Keep in mind Angela Gossow expressly said that Arch Enemy had the right to do whatever they wanted with the work of photographers!

What you have to understand is that people like these are relying on others being too afraid to speak up. Well, I am not afraid, I do this for a living.

So, to go back to your question, I thought that this was a good opportunity, not to bring “exposure” to myself, but to expose this systemic problem in which people in these powerful positions are able to take advantage of others. That is the only exposure that I wanted to get… believe me, I don’t think my photographic career is going to flourish as a result of what happened. I would be really surprised if this gets me any bookings any time soon. It’s just that when you see an injustice that you believe you can do something to stop, you have to think in bigger terms than just yourself.

Did you expect to have a reaction like this?

No, not at all. I was actually really surprised. I thought that their fans, understandably, were going to support the band regardless of what had happened because, well, that’s what fans often do. I remember being a big fanboy when I was a teenager, and I would be super militant in how protective I was of the band (I think that I would have pretty much taken a bullet for, don’t laugh, Marilyn Manson!). On the other hand, I expected to see some photographers say that it was a bad situation, and that’s about it. What ended up happening, was that, after seeing the communications, even the fans themselves realized that what Angela Gossow in particular had done was so unfair, and so absolutely disgusting, that they couldn’t support it. They realized that this type of behavior is aimed at creating a chilling effect among other photographers, and they couldn’t support it. People from all over the world have reached out to me and shown their support. It was extremely touching and very rewarding.

How do you feel about the possibility of people being a bit confused about what exactly happened? Some seem to have thought (because Angela and Alissa made it look that way) that you went after the band, instead of their sponsor.

Well, a lot of things come into play here. On the one hand, I submitted all of the emails to PetaPixel when they offered to mirror our article (something that I’m happy about since I am reader of PetaPixel and, also, our server really couldn’t handle all the attention!) so they at least saw that the communication was really as it was published.

There was a moment where Angela, for reasons that I still fail to understand, decided to make a statement where she said that these were “alternative facts” (good Trump reference there!). She said, quite literally, that this was only “part” of the story. But it wasn’t! Aside from removing all of the email addresses, everything was posted in full. She knew exactly what had happened, she was well aware of it. Sadly, this is not the first time that something like this happened. As it turns out, Angela had done something similar back in 2010, banning Dutch photographer Anouk Timmerman because she had asked her to either take down the photos that she had posted without authorization on Angela’s personal website, or that she would have to pay for a license. In other words, she was punished for just saying “please don’t use my work for free.”

This seems to be a carefully engineered system that results in keeping people quiet. And, as I mentioned in my article and in our video, it is certainly ironic that this comes from a band that has tried to portray itself as an anarchist, anti-establishment, outfit.

So they’ve been doing this for a long time?

That’s what it seems to be. They did this in 2010 and in 2018. It is very difficult for me to believe that between 2010 and 2018 they were handling things the right way, and that I just happened to get them on a bad day. It’s very difficult to think that they just so happened to take a break from being nice, just to be a dick to me and to Anouk.

Had you known things would escalate as it did, would you have handled things differently?

Some people have said that I shouldn’t have said that I’m a lawyer because that made them feel threatened. In fact, Angela expressly said that she saw the word “lawyer” and she felt threatened. Give me a break! You are one of the biggest metal bands in the world, at least among the “new wave” of metal bands. They are a massive band, they have a following of 1.5 million people on Facebook, they have massive amounts of money. Sure, it’s not Jon Bon Jovi in 80’s kind of money but, you know, a very comfortable amount. Also, keep in mind that Angela isn’t “just” Arch Enemy’s former singer, she is their manager, as well as the manager of Amaranthe, another huge band. She runs a management company. How can she say that the word “lawyer” scares her? It’s just a childish excuse. It makes no sense. Not to mention that Anouk obviously didn’t say that she was a lawyer and got a very similar result. Being a lawyer had nothing to do with it.

When this happened I did exactly what you are supposed to do when you contact someone who infringes on your copyright. You, respectfully and clearly, state your case is, why you feel that you’re rights have been violated, and explain the way to fix it, so I don’t think that I could have done anything different. Sure, I could have not said that I am a lawyer but, come on, it’s not like I am saying, “Hi, I am a photographer and a hit man.” They make it sound like I’m some mafioso with a baseball bat saying something along the lines of, “Hey, nice career you have here, would be a shame if you had an accident.”

To be honest, I think that question of whether things should have been done differently really needs to be answered by Angela. With the benefit of hindsight, would she send an e-mail to a bunch of people in the music industry claiming that I threatened them? Angela must have known that by sending that message she was portraying me as a potential threat to others, and that this could have massive consequences against me, beyond just Arch Enemy shows.

Marta Gabriel, the designer behind Thunderball Clothing, issued an apology. How do you feel about it?

I think their apology was absolutely heartfelt, and I gladly accept it. I believe that they were sincere in what they said, and I am very happy to see that they are taking steps to remedy the situation. Marta was expressly told by Arch Enemy to just remove the photo from Thunderball’s instagram and that they would “handle it.” They clearly did Marta a disservice by acting the way they did, and now they left her out to dry.

Obviously, I think that Marta could have handled things better when this happened. For starters, she could have just contacted me and told me her side of the story. She could have negotiated, etc. Still, hers was a relatively minor mistake, since she was not the one who got labels and promoters involved, and was expressly told by the band that they would take care of everything. Now Marta has acted like the adult in the room, issuing this apology, and wanting to make amends. I think we can agree that both Angela and Alissa could learn from this, as their answers demonstrate a worrying  lack of self awareness.

Also, and I want to be really emphatic here, I’m sickened to hear that people have sent her any kind of threats or insults. Nobody should have taken my words to justify any kind of abuse against her, or against anyone else for that matter. It’s absolutely sickening to see that people feel justified in sending any kind of insults or attacks simply because they want to demonstrate their solidarity with me. How is that solidarity? What we wanted was to stand up against a behavior that could be used to silence or bully people who stood up for their rights! I don’t want anyone who supported me to feel justified in bullying anyone, let alone in sending racist, misogynist or threatening messages.

Have you received any additional backlash that you’re willing to share?

Before she issued her latest statement, Angela and I exchanged e-mails again in regards to their genius idea of calling me an extortionist. She told me that she has received death-threats about what happened (I have no reason to doubt her, since I’ve received my share of them in the last couple of days). As I’ve said, I would sincerely like them to stop this behavior. It’s disgusting to see that anybody would think that they have the right, no matter how much they agree with me, to make violent threats against Angela, Alissa, Marta, or anybody else. If anybody is sending threats, I hope the police will get involved.

I’m particularly worried about the backlash that Thunderball Clothing has received as a result of what happened. I don’t want her company to go out of business, I don’t want Crystal Viper, Marta’s band, to lose fans. Hers was a minor infraction that was blown completely out of proportion by a, to say the least, incompetent management team on the part of Arch Enemy. She has apologized, she wants to make amends and, like anybody else who makes a mistake, she deserves the chance to move on from that mistake. And, just in case there are any doubts (as I’m sure there will be, since I’ve been accused plenty of times in the last couple of days of being “after money”), I am not saying this because I’ve received anything in exchange. I still don’t want to see a single dollar or Euro for this problem. None.

When it comes to backlash against me, besides the insults and death threats… well, the fact of the matter is that I’m pretty sure that my photographic career is at risk. I worry that the next time that I apply to cover a festival or a concert I will be told, “coincidentally”, that the press list is full. When I wrote the article I knew too well that there was a high risk that such a thing would happen and, in fact, people have reached out to me to tell me, in pretty clear terms, that my career is over.

Take, for example, Jeremy Saffer, a truly amazing photographer that works for Metal Hammer. He wrote a long article, which he has since taken down, explaining how, as person who is very close with Arch Enemy, he knew my career was over. He seemed to be truly delighted at the idea that I would not have much of a photographic career now that I had put this out in the open. He also called me an extortionist… apparently that was the word of the day in the Arch Enemy camp.

 Or look at another great photographer, Tim Tronckoe. He’s also close to Arch Enemy, and left a public message on our Facebook page saying that we lacked ethics, that we were a sensationalist publication, and that we should have NEVER published these “private” messages. Nevermind the fact that the messages were public in the first place because Angela saw it fit to copy other people in the business, or that keeping quiet about abusive behaviors is, precisely, what allows for abuse to continue happening.

Both of these amazing and very talented photographers, not to mention Arch Enemy themselves, are extremely well-connected within the metal industry, and so it is not far-fetched to imagine that they’ve made sure I’m branded for doing what I did. Maybe my camera is going to become a very expensive paperweight, or I’ll have to start specializing in macro photography, or landscapes, because nobody should work with a shitty “extortionist troll”… but, you know what? I don’t care. I did what I had to do, and I’m glad that I did it.

In the States you have a fantastic expression: “Fuck you, got mine.” In other words, “I already got what I needed, so anyone else who also needs it is of no relevance to me.” I can’t live like that. I’ve managed to have a small modicum of success as a photographer, I’ve worked with bands I truly love, and I’ve gotten my work featured in albums by major bands, like Status Quo and Unisonic, but I only managed to do that because there were other photographers who helped me do it. People who taught me and assisted me when I needed it. In the same way that they helped me, my duty is to pave the way for the next photographers, the new guys who are going to kick my ass with their amazing photos, and who, unless we all speak up against injustices in this system, are not going to be able to succeed because they will be taken advantage of. I am very happy to have done what I did, even if it means that I don’t get to do this anymore, or at least not as often. It’s a matter of principle.

How do you think this should have been handled?

First of all, they shouldn’t ban photographers who expect compensation. Second, Angela should not have sent an e-mail to people within the music industry accusing me of sending “threatening correspondence”. That is a a very serious, slanderous accusation, and which can permanently damage my reputation. She was hoping to scare me into being quiet… well, it didn’t work.

Now, after the article was published, what they definitely should not have done, was to double down, accuse me of lying, of falsifying the facts, of committing a crime… instead of, you know, just saying “hey guys, sorry, we fucked up, we are all human.”

Although you’ve received an overwhelming support, there are still those who are against you. Some people say that you are greedy and that you just want attention. What can you say to people like that?

One of the cool things about making a YouTube video is that you can see how long people watch it. People rarely watch the whole thing. The same thing happens with articles, which are rarely read in their entirety, as most people leave within the first 15 seconds. So, with that in mind, I know that some people will just assume I’m trying to score a quick buck. There’s nothing I can do against that. At some point you just have to accept that if people don’t read the entirety of what you say, and move on.

I stand to make no money from this photo. Zero. The video has no ads, our website has no ads. If you want to say that I’m doing this for the money, I’m clearly terrible at it.

Is there anything else that you want say on this issue?

To my supporters: Don’t be dicks to people, don’t threaten or insult others to show that you agree with me. That’s not the support that I want. Show that you believe with the principle of standing up for the rights of others, even with those of the people you disagree with.

For Angela, Pro Tip: If you screw up, don’t double down, apologize, and try to rectify the mistake that you made instead of lying to weasel your way out of it. Also, don’t call your own fans sheep. They don’t appreciate that.

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