John Balean remembers his friend, Alfonso Gutierrez

Alfonso and me


Remembering my friend Alfonso: 

With great sadness the industry has lost another pioneer of stock photography, Alfonso Gutierrez, he approached everything with passion and speed. I can attest for this after spending 8 years on the CEPIC Committee, with him as President, and travelling as a passenger in his car. 

I write the following not only as a tribute to Alfonso but also to capture some of our Industry’s history. I mentioned to him once that it was a great shame that no-one had written a book about stock photography and its evolution, particularly from the 1970s to today. He took it that I should undertake this endeavour and it must be said here, that I am not writing that story. That rests in the minds of those of us who remain and I am urging you all to share some of your time in an industry which is so visible and impactful to the world and at the same time virtually invisible to anyone who isn’t working in it. 

I told Alfonso that one of my first jobs at TopFoto, then Topham, was back filing images from the Picturepoint collection. His eyes lit up, his arms went in the air and he exclaimed “Picturepoint, that is how it all started for me. Ken Gibson and Geoff Constantine, my first agent.”. He then reflected on how British that it was all agreed, on a handshake with goodwill. At this point, he was very forthcoming that he did nothing without a lawyer which became evidently true quite quickly. Marisol, via Alfonso and at the expense of AGE, became a great supporter and friend of CEPIC throughout his presidency. The benefit of Marisol’s legal advice during that time cannot be understated. 

Of course, I managed to get a little more of Alfonso’s story pre-Picturepoint. He was quite proud to say he graduated, studying Chemistry. More than once I recall him starting a sentence with “I am a chemist and…”. Those of us old enough to remember a photographic darkroom understand how important chemistry was to photography but I can’t recall how his transition to the photography industry transpired. He did say that his first main photographic job was the Mexico Olympics, in 1968. My immediate thought was you don’t look old enough Alfonso, age certainly didn’t slow Alfonso down. 

General Franco was in power in Spain until 1975. This naturally caused a whole variety of problems for an emerging business. Alfonso pointed to his shoes and jovially laughed that he used to stuff his boots with pesetas when crossing the border, in order to pay photographers and agents. Looking back through the lens of a United Europe, for Alfonso, it was always the UE and not the EU, it seems hardly possible that within a generation, a statement like that is now a laughing matter. 

During his time as CEPIC President, Alfonso would often bring the photographers back into the conversation. Yes, CEPIC is representing agencies but the grassroots is professional photography. Not a direct paraphrase, yet that was the essence of his ethos. If we protect and nurture the photographers, then we, as agencies, will do well as a result. In a practical sense, Alfonso tried hard to incorporate the photographers into the CEPIC Congress. The best he achieved was masterminding the CEPIC Photography Awards, which generated a reasonable interest for 3 consecutive years but was unfortunately not sustainable. 

I met Alfonso at a time when I was trying to create collodion images using old photographic processes, equipment, and of course, chemistry. I thought this might interest him. I could not have been more wrong. Despite his education and a wealth of knowledge in “traditional” photography, Alfonso had put tens of thousands of duplicate transparencies for catalogues behind him. He embraced digital and was always looking forward. As a result, Alfonso was never scared by new innovations, or pricing models, that “threatened the industry”, his attitude was “how can we make use of it?”. Without a doubt, this is how agefotostock flourished when many traditional agencies floundered during the digital transition. Embracing digital early, building a platform, and accessing more markets. Within CEPIC, Alfonso brought this mindset with him. As I arrived to the board, Alfonso was in the thick of the CEPIC Image Finder (CIF). A prototype reverse image search system to signpost images to CEPIC members, primarily to combat the right click save as generation. Built within the RDI, an EU-funded project, the system worked but left questions like: “will such a platform impact direct licensing?”, “will the signposting point clients to a competitor?”, Alfonso’s riposte was “we shouldn’t be thinking about who is licensing but whether it is being licensed at all.”. Ultimately investment meant the CIF was not realised into a fully operational platform.  

From there Alfonso and I joined a working group, with Google, to help develop the “licensable image badge”. Again, there was a cloud, from certain parts of the industry, hanging over the project. Murmurs along the lines of “we may endorse Google to become the biggest picture library in the world” and “it is only one step from Google marking them as licensable, to offering them for sale”. At the time, CEPIC was also lobbying hard, on behalf of the image industry, to the EU on the proposed Digital Single Market directive. This included Sylvie publicly talking to the EU Commission in Brussels for CEPIC, about topics such as platforms, scraping content, and communication of images to the public. It was a fine balance but Alfonso remained a firm advocate that SEO, and by implication Google, was the industry’s best friend, “this is how images are found, this is how we are signposted.”. This is why the licensable badge was very important: for education to users, adding a link to rights holders, and of course attribution. IPTC was also a party to this development, however, Alfonso insisted that although IPTC was an important standard, it wasn’t universally adopted and therefore critical that the licensable image badge was added to the Schema (structured data). Google appreciated this insight and although it added complexity to develop, they agreed it was a valid approach to do both. Seeing Google develop and implement a change to “search”, which would in turn benefit the industry, felt quite monumental at the time. I remember saying to Alfonso when it was launched by Google, that as a legacy, the “Google licensable badge” would probably be the most important thing we did during our time in CEPIC, and he agreed. 


Marisol x Sylvie x Alfonso

Image: Marisol Muniz, Sylvie Fodor & Alfonso Gutierrez in front of the European Commission building 


The last year of our tenure on the committee saw CEPIC managing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and undertaking a restructure into a new “International” format. The latter was spurred on, mainly, by the UK’s decision to Brexit. Both of these tasks were a bit like trying to piece an egg together after being dropped from a great height, as such, it felt like carefully building yourself back to square one. As someone who was always moving and thinking forward, I believe this frustrated Alfonso greatly, but CEPIC made it through. At the AGM in June 2021, not long after CEPIC officially registered the new AISBL at Brussels, both Alfonso and I left the CEPIC board for other capable hands. 

Alfonso’s passion stretched between moments of uncontrollable laughter, to fists banging on the table. It felt as though he would never stop moving and never stop talking but he was always generous within his busy schedule to find time and if one ever had the pleasure of being in Barcelona that often came with a fantastic restaurant and a bill that was paid before you could think about splitting the bill.  

I know that many may not have seen eye to eye with Alfonso but I don’t think anyone can doubt his dedication to the image licensing industry.  I am very sorry that I was unable to meet again him in person after COVID-19 started and although it is not true that my start was at Picturepoint itself, the sentiment of his last email to me can be reflected by replacing Alfonso for John and vice versa.  

“I will never forget the times we have had together, John. We both started with Picturepoint at 7 Cromwell Place in London many years ago. Even less the work we did with Google. I hope all this will not be destroyed after all the effort. 

 Warmest regards, 



Written by John Balean, TopFoto (CEPIC 2013-2021)