I’ve got to hand it to some of the self-promoters who’ve hitched their wagon to Leica. They are, in the proper sense of the word, ‘parasites’ i.e.
- An organism that lives and feeds on or in an organism of a different species; and/or
- One who lives off and flatters the rich; a sycophant.
Since starting this blog in 2013 I’ve gradually become (a very minor) part of the secondary Leica media machine, which has made me aware of others involved in the same thing. I suppose that makes me a parasite too, except that I don’t monetize the blog. I’ve probably spent over $10,000 in the last 9 years to keep this up and running without ads. I did add a “Buy Me a Coffee” thing to the site, for which I won’t apologize, because you are totally free not to buy me a coffee, and 99.9% of you freeloaders don’t (thank you to the .01% who do). You, dear reader, get it for nothing. Think of me as a benevolent parasite.
Recovered From the Way Back Machine: Back in 2014 He Was a Photo Journalist, Apparently. Most of it is Bullshit.
Let’s do a deep-dive on Mr. Thorsten [von] Overgaard, the gentleman above with the film wrapped around his face, the “Specialist in Reportage.” [von] Overgaard is, in my opinion, the premiere Leica parasite in the strict sense of that term. The picture itself is instructive. It implies that [von] Overgaard has a long history as a photographer who cut his teeth professionally in the film era (i.e. before 2000). Certainly that’s what I take from it and I think that’s what it means to do. The truth is he doesn’t have any photographic history stretching back to the film era. If my understanding is correct, he didn’t even begin to photograph until about that time. Prior to that he worked in the advertising industry and had no connection to photography of any sort. Apparently, at that time he became a Scientologist and had an epiphany that he could be a photographer, or at least that’s what I remember of a blog post from his early days that has since disappeared from the web (or, as I discuss subsequently, has been buried so deep it’s pretty much impossible to now find).
The film photo is what people in the ad business refer to as ‘puffery’, exaggerated claims used in the service of publicity. No overt claim need be made; it’s there to subtly plant the seed in your mind – Overgaard/film – this guy has competence that goes back to the film era, and era intimately intertwined with Leica history BTW.
It’s one small misrepresentation in a much larger history of misrepresenting much about himself, his history using Leica cameras, and his connection to Leica. He’s massively inflated – and sometimes outright made up – his background and career accomplishments. It’s a shame, because he does publish good information about Leica’s. And there’s a lot of it. It’s just that it’s in the service of all sorts of workshops, books, videos, correspondence courses, print sales that all rely on him being perceived as an expert, seasoned professional photographer. He’s not. He’s what the dictionary defines as a “huckster” i.e. one who uses aggressive, showy, and sometimes devious methods to promote or sell a product, most of it puffery and/or downright duplicity with an eye to selling $800 books and $5000 workshops to Leica owners.
What’s the proof, you ask? As someone trained as an attorney who spent 32 years deconstructing evidence given me by the opposing side, I’ve gotten pretty good at finding confabulations i.e. falsities, lies. Deviousness and confabulations are easy to uncover if you know the tells. Overgaard’s website is chock full of tells. Man, there’s a lot to unpack here, to put it mildly. So let’s go:
According to his self-written bio “Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish born multiple award-winning AP photographer, known for his writings about photography and Leica cameras.”
Claim 1. AP, Getty Image, Wire Image Photographer. Apparently Overgaard is or has been an AP Photographer. He does not, and never has “worked for Getty Images and Wire Image.” AP members are newspapers, broadcast stations and individuals that do their own original news reporting. Once you are a member, the AP has the right to take the local news you report and rewrite it for use elsewhere. While he apparently is a member of the AP, he’s not very prolific, to put it mildly. Run his name under the AP individual photographer search and you come up with 6 photos of Seal sitting on a bench and 6 photos of Kelly Preston…and I found 1 photo of Hans Blix on his website that he’s given the AP designation (why he would need an AP designation for his own work on his own site is a mystery). That’s the extent of his 20 year AP career. I can find no evidence that any of these 12 photos has been subsequently circulated by AP. There is no evidence he’s been commissioned to do any AP work. Ever. There’s no evidence that he’s been paid for work through the Associated Press. There are no photo credits on any site, or in any magazine that I can find, citing him as the AP photographer. None. As best I can tell, he’s never been to a war zone to report with his camera, never done a human interest story sold through AP, never covered a news event of any sort that was subsequently distributed nationally or internationally by AP. And there’s certainly no evidence that he’s a “multiple-award winning AP Photographer”; that claim is patently false, period. As for “Working for Getty Images and Wire Image”, complete fabrication. Getty Images is simply a stock photo agency. One does not “work for Getty Images.”Likewise, WireImage. Using his criteria, you too can work for WireImage – just submit a photo of your cat. Verdict: False.
Getty and Wire Image Search 11/22. Oops! I love the fact that 5 of the 7 Images he’s submitted to WireImage are of him. The 2 Denmark Royals are at a Public Event. Clearly, Getty and WireImage Aren’t Paying [von] Overgaard’s Rent
Tsunami Reportage? More Flim Flam
Claim 2. Awards? Nothing. No mention anywhere, on 3rd party sites or his own, of any specific award he’s received for his photography work. Certainly nothing for his work as “an AP photographer” (which is the implication). None. There is a screen shot from the APA “American Photographic Artists” claiming one of his photos won an award there in 2017. Entirely plausible…but frankly, not very impressive. The APA is a vanity organization. Anyone, and I mean anyone, can join and be a member. Just pay the fee ($350 if you want to be labeled a “Professional”) and you get a membership card and a “Pro Media ID card”., which, according to their website “is specifically designed to help expedite quick check-in service at airports, as well as to facilitate the pro media discount on excess baggage, available through many airlines.” Seriously. And, of course, they offer “photo contests”, (i.e. money making devices for the sponsor) where they charge people to enter a photo in a contest and some lucky guy or gal gets to claim they won and put it on their CV. Verdict: False.
Claim 3. Known for his writings .Yes, he is known for his writing about photography and Leica cameras… but that’s been built on the claim of his long, distinguished history as a famous photographer, a claim which is a complete fabrication. In his defense, he is a decent writer and he knows a lot about Leica’s and how to use them. Much of what he writes, stripped of the self-promotion, is valuable information that less-experienced Leica users can learn from. Verdict: True with a caveat.
Claim 4. Claims to have “thousands” of images for sale through Getty Images Etc. [First, see above] When you click the website link where he makes such claims you get nothing but a recursive loop runaround to a site called “PSI Photography Services Inc” (supposedly located with main office in Hollywood (No Address or phone number given) and a “studio office” in Clearwater, Florida (No address or phone number given)) which bills itself as “a full-service agency for photographers” but yet claims to represent only one client – you guessed it, Thorsten [von] Overgaard (see above). The site has no photos nor a link to any photos. There is no ability to view [von] Overgaard’s photographs or order his photographs. It is a complete dead end. It gives no physical address or even a phone number. The “Inc.” of course, indicates that it’s an incorporated business entity in CA (or maybe Florida). A quick check of incorporated business entities through the Secretary of State’s office in both CA and FL finds no such corporation. It’s a complete fabrication. It doesn’t exist.
Where ARE All these Images? Apparently, You’ll need a Forensic Computer Specialist to Find Them
Further digging unearthed this above. He claims to previously have shot for Life, AP, Getty Etc but “pulled his archive” from them in 2013 and moved them to PSI. Let’s parse this out. First, The idea that he shot for Life is simply ridiculous. Life folded in 2000; by his own admission elsewhere, he hadn’t even started photographing yet and was working at a Danish ad agency, and even if he had been around, Life wouldn’t have looked twice at an inexperienced hack like him. Second, claiming you pulled them all from these various archives is a convenient way of hiding the fact that you’ve never had any there to begin with, because it can’t be confirmed. Third, There’s nothing at PSI where these vast archives are supposed to have been moved. Nothing. PSI itself is a fabrication. PSI doesn’t exist except as a webpage buried behind a bunch of hyperlinks. There is no physical PSI location anywhere, though he claims it to be “located in Hollywood”. None of these “thousands of images” can be accessed anywhere I’ve been able to locate, which, if you’re a professional photographer partly subsisting on the sale of your images, isn’t a very good thing. I guess you have to contact PSI and talk to their “Director of Sales”. Good luck finding them. Verdict: False, coupled with serious deviousness to hide the fact from the public.
“By 2006 he was concentrating more on photography, specialising [sic] in more portrait work for international magazines and eventually for actresses and celebrities such as Seal, Kelly Preston, Anne Archer and for Bill Clinton and members of the Danish Royal Family.”
Claim 5. Photographed Bill Clinton: [von] Overgaard claims to have photographed Bill Clinton. Well, he has, in the sense that he stood outside somewhere with a bunch of other people and grabbed a snapshot of him as he got out of his car. If you do a deep dive on him with Google (“Thorsten Overgaard Bill Clinton”), you’ll find a few photos of Clinton getting out of a car amongst a throng of people (Thorsten just another member of the general public standing in a big crowd taking a photo) and one B&W photo, an informal shot of Clinton in the Oval Office – a photo he misleadingly uses on his website – that was taken by Robert McNeely. That’s it. Claiming you’ve photographed Clinton as part of your bio is like me claiming I’m friends with King Charles because I shook his hand once. Verdict: False.
Claim 6. He photographed Seal: Yes. Six informal photos of him sitting outdoors. That’s it. No studio sessions. Verdict: Puffery.
Claim 7 And Kelly Preston: B Grade celebrity and Scientologist. Six really banal photos of her, apparently in a studio. [von] Overgaard is a Scientologist. Verdict: Minor puffery.
Claim 8. And Ann Archer: B Grade celebrity and Scientologist. He photographed her while she was was presenting 50,000£ to charities on behalf of the L. Ron Hubbard Foundation, amongst them the East Grinstead Museum where [von] Overgaard shot a few quick “portraits” of her. He’s posted these to his website with a big article about how he photographed her. I’ll let you be the judge of his work. Verdict: Large puffery.
Claim 9. Portrait Work for International Magazines: His bio claims he has shot for Vanity Fair, GQ, Vogue and the Times (https://www.overgaard.com/about) in addition to the Life claims I’ve noted above. I can find no evidence for any of these claims. There’s nothing on his site to back up said claims. Run a search for “Overgaard Vogue” and you come up with lots of hits – all for Anders Overgaard, who is a legit fashion photographer. For Thorsten, Nothing. “Overgaard GQ”? More Anders Overgaard. Thorsten: Nothing. Vanity Fair? Well, you get where I’m going…. Any other legitimate “international magazines”? None that I can find. Verdict: False.
Claim 10. Royalty. [von] Overgaard claims royal lineage by virtue of the “von Overgaard” name change. This is a complete affectation. A few a years ago he gratuitously added the “von” to his name, apparently to claim some sort of noble lineage when in fact he comes from humble lower middle class roots in Denmark. This mirrors his wife, Joy Villa, another Scientologist who bills herself as “Princess Joy Villa” when in fact she’s a HS graduate from Orange California, although in her latest bio she’s dropped the Princess claim and now claims to be a famous recording star. She and [von] Overgaard are no longer married, apparently. Verdict: Royalty? False.
Claim 11. Has Photographed Members of the Danish Royal Family. Yes, he has. Verdict: True.
Claim 12. Has Photographed for Life Magazine. Oh boy. [major eye roll] Hilarity ensues. Verdict: No. Full Stop.
I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I find the Google search result above very suspicious. Do a search on [von] Overgaard and, after two or three pages of links to his website and a bunch of self-written bios, you get this. And you get literally pages and pages of it, again and again and again and again, ad nauseum. Click on it and you get a link to a nonsense PDF that you can’t access without membership. Now, a few years back, had you done the same Google search, after 3 or 4 pages of self-promotion you’d have found a number of interesting articles about [von] Overgaard – one a long-ago bio post he had written himself when he not yet a photographer and was working for an ad agency. A lot of what he said then flatly contradicts the history he’s since spun about himself. You’d also have found a post by a former friend – apparently a photographer who helped him gain membership to AP – calling him out for all his false claims about his backstory and labelling him a liar. These things don’t come up anymore, because they’re buried behind endless pages of this site above.
More egregiously, his name is linked there to Humans of New York as if that was his blog or that he has something to do with it. It isn’t. He doesn’t. He’s got nothing to do with it. Started in November 2010 by photographer Brandon Stanton, Humans of New York developed a large following through social media. Stanton’s book based on the blog subsequently spent almost a year on the New York Times Bestseller list. The closest [von] Overgaard ever got to that blog is that he probably read it once or twice. Another laughably cheap, duplicitous attempt at appropriating other people’s work, purposely done to deceive (it takes time and effort to create a link that shows up so many times in a Google search. Somebody who knew what they were doing created that link).
I’m convinced someone has created and placed that PDF site and tagged it in such a way that it comes up again and again in order to bury sites critical of [von] Overgaard or that contradict his current backstory while also insinuating that he has some connection to the Humans of New York project. To put it mildly, it’s just low, patently dishonest and a grave disservice to Mr. Stanton and all the great work he’s done on his blog. [von] Overgaard should be ashamed. He owes Mr. Stanton an apology if nothing else.
Which brings a larger question: Why isn’t the mainstream photo press calling him out for all this? You’d think that at least one of them would do some basic fact checking. 30 minutes and a few clicks of the mouse and you’d be aware of some serious issues.
UPDATE: I owe La Vida Leica an apology. They actually called [von] Overgaard out way back in 2014. Well done.
Thorsten [von] Overgaard Obsessing Over Aesthetics
“Obsessed with the aesthetics of the world, Overgaard has been blessed with an innate ability to paint with the light he sees.” More word salad. I do understand the need ‘to sell oneself.’ I get that’s what he’s doing, mixed in as it is with a lot of downright fabrications. And, it’s not like there isn’t a veritable cottage industry of famous people who’ve invented backstories. The ‘Art World’ is full of them. [von] Overgaard is selling a dream to people dreaming the same dream – it’s the dream of exclusivity, access and specialized knowledge. So what if it’s all an illusion. There’s always going to be people happy to partake of the illusion. Thorsten [von] Overgaard is just giving them what they want, right? Unfortunately, the dream he’s selling is fabricated, parasitical of the hard work of legitimate photographers who’ve used a Leica and all the associations that come along with it.
Surely, a Prolific Famous Award Winning Photo Journalist Like [von] Overgaard has a Book or Two of his Collected Work on Amazon, Right?
And, as I said previously, I do think that he is doing some good things. His site has a ton of information about Leica’s; he’s obviously put a lot of work into it. People who take his workshops say he’s a nice guy and that they’ve enjoyed the experience. Fair enough. I give him credit for all this. I just wish he’d stop with all the puffery. Is he, or has he ever been, a photographer seriously embedded in day to day photography practice either as a freelance photographer, a staff photographer, or a gallery represented ‘Art Photographer’ or the author of industry published and recognized photo books? No. Does he have any significant ‘body of work’ that singles him out as an accomplished photographer either from an artistic or popular perspective? No. Does he have a gallery that represents his interests, exhibits his body of work and offers it for sale? No. As best I can tell, he is not, and never has been, represented by a gallery anywhere, let alone one in the usual centers of artistic practice – NYC, Paris, Berlin, LA. Again, as best I can tell, the only gallery shows he’s ever had have been self-generated vanity projects where the artist rents the space and throws a party to himself. As best I can tell, there are no extant reviews of his work by any recognized, independent photography or art critic associated with any independent publication or website, ever. He doesn’t even appear to have, or have ever had, a studio where he practices his “portrait work.” His own website doesn’t seem to have a gallery of his best “portrait work.” The only thing his For Sale Gallery page offers is 7 photographs, one of a horse, one of a girl sitting by a window, one of a guy in a snowstorm. You get the idea.
Has he offered a site – ignoring the self-generated puffery – with a lot of good, practical information about Leica’s? Yes. That should be good enough. Hell, without all the puffery and self-aggrandizement I’d be a fan. Starting from basically nothing in 2000, he’s taught himself a lot about Leica, and he’s used his website, among other things, to impart that knowledge to the public. That’s impressive. I admire him for it. It’s all the other things I’ve noted here where he loses me; they’re the product of a calculated deviousness that most people with a conscience can’t pull off with a straight face. [von] Overgaard, meanwhile, seems to have doubled down on it all.
Do a Standard Industry Search for “Photo by Thorsten Overgaard.” That should uncover all those industry credits for his remarkable work, right? This is what you get – Nothing but links to his website. I especially like the photo of him dressed up as Shakespeare…or is that Francis Bacon?
Here’s what [von] Overgaard should do: He should scrub his website of all the false, misleading information. He should scrub all the false links. He doesn’t even have to acknowledge any of it; no mea culpa’s necessary. He’s now been given a means of saving face. Just bill himself as an educator, someone who knows everything about Leica, their history, their cameras; he DOES know a lot. Invite real photographers – folks with recognized experience and expertise to talk at his seminars. Given how much he’s invested in the whole thing, it should be easy enough.
The business model he’s currently operating under is fraudulent. People are spending good money for his books, seminars, etc based on fraudulent claims. Someday, somewhere, an enterprising attorney is going to file a class action lawsuit against him for fraud. Plaintiffs will be those people who spent money on his courses, books, video presentations based on the expectation that they were going to receive instruction from someone who actually had the experience and past success he claims to have. In other words, they were induced to spend money based on patently false claims and the claimant knew they were false and made them for the purpose of inducing the public to buy what he’s offering. As part of the class action suit, serve him with interrogatories requesting proof of each of his claims. Sit him down and depose him under oath. Someone could have a field day with this. Just a thought.
Elements for Fraudulent Inducement in Florida:
Defendant made a false statement regarding a material fact;
Defendant knew or should have known the representation was false;
Defendant intended that the representation induce plaintiff to act on it; and
Plaintiff suffered damages in justifiable reliance on the representation.
My bio, [von] Overgaard style:
“Award-winning photographer, photojournalist and gallery represented Abstract Expressionist painter whose photos and paintings hang in private collections both in the States and in Europe. His photos have been published in B&W Magazine and Vis A Vis Paris and exhibited at SPEOS Gallery in Paris and Sizl gallery in Carrboro, North Carolina. He has been gallery represented both for his photography and his painting by Sizl until their untimely closure in 2008. In 2006 his paintings and photographs were exhibited in a 2 man show along with award-winning Macedonian painter Robert Cvetkovski at Sizl. His photography permanently graced the walls of the iconic Crooks Corner Restaurant, an eatery whose recent closing literally made the front page of the New York Times. He is friends with King Charles and has dined with numerous celebrities, including Susan Sarandon and James Spader. He has sat at table with Susan Sontag in Paris and discussed her iconic book On Photography. He has shared a room with Henri Cartier-Bresson. He has travelled to numerous countries on 4 continents photographing in his unique, muscular B&W style. He has bumped into many famous people while engaged in ‘street photography’ in Paris and on the Lower East Side and Soho in NYC, but is sophisticated enough to leave them be. His photographic education includes study at The New School in NYC, The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, and SPEOS Paris, where he studied under Cartier-Bresson’s Master Printer George Fevre. Being a man of great integrity, he has consistently rejected commercializing his work, as such standing in the tradition of uncompromising artists like Robert Frank. He has also earned graduate degrees in religion/law/history from Duke University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was a matriculated graduate student at Harvard (consistently ranked as the world’s finest University) until he was stricken with cancer. He is noted for his trenchant writing on his influential award-winning Leicaphilia blog. Photographing seriously since he was 12, he has been blessed with an innate ability to photograph with light he sees. In 2005, he brought that innate sense to his remarkable large canvas paintings. He always wears a camera.”
See how that works?