Tomb of the Unknowns photographer learns a ‘real big lesson in social media’

Karin Markert says Monday has been a “real big lesson in social media,” after a photo she took in September of sentinels guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns in the rain confused many news organizations and social mediaites who thought it was taken during Hurricane Sandy.

Markert’s husband, Col. James C. Markert, is the regimental commander of the Old Guard, which conducts honor-guard duties throughout the Washington, D.C., area, including round-the-clock vigil at the tomb, in Arlington National Cemetery. (Yes, they’re out there during the hurricane.)

Karin Markert has been a photographer since 1983, she says, and an interest in taking pictures in storms coaxed her out of her house near Arlington Cemetery to photograph a changing-of-the-guard ceremony at the tomb last month.

“I don’t think it was really raining much when they started,” she says by phone. “They just got caught.”

And Markert stayed out there with them, capturing more than two dozen photos, including the striking one that bounced around the Internet Monday. Usually, during the day, Markert looks after the couple’s three children — a 14-year-old, an 11-year-old, and a 9-year-old, two of whom have special needs. “Being a military spouse is wonderful,” Markert says. “I need an outlet, and photography is it.”

Karin Markert took this photo in mid-September.

NPR, The Washington Post and Talking Points Memo were among the news organizations that posted the photo in various media. Markert says she doesn’t get paid for her photographs, which she sometimes supplies to Army public affairs shops in the D.C. area.

Today’s burst of interest in her photography is a little bittersweet, she said, since her Nikon 5100 is headed to Best Buy for extended warranty coverage — all that rain isn’t so great for a camera’s insides, as it happens. The soldiers were laughing at her “big, silly umbrella” as she photographed them recently, she says.

Markert thinks the photo got out via her Facebook page, where she’d made the shot her cover photo. Markert “felt bad that people thought it was from today,” she says. “People got so excited by it. I don’t like misinformation to be out. But it’s way beyond me now.”

As to her own rise to fame, which includes “20 new Facebook requests but no marriage requests yet,” Markert says she’s happy to shine a light on the work of the Old Guard. “I’m maybe famous for 15 minutes,” she says, “but the Old Guard will live on forever.”

Related: Instagram users are posting 10 Hurricane Sandy pictures every second | How journalists can avoid getting fooled by fake Hurricane Sandy photos

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  • Anonymous

    did the news outlets that “posted” the photo actually SAY it was taken during the current storm? the story implies/hints that they did but does not directly address that point. in any event, half-way competent editors should have learned long ago not to presume ANYTHING, particularly when they do not know the source (in this case) of the picture.

    it apparently is legal for hundreds of people, news outlets etc. to use ms. markert’s picture without paying for it, but for many people that is morally criminal. the media just love it when people will work for free, and they don’t care if the “citizen journalist” had to endure a downpour to shoot a great picture..

  • Sara Hawkins

    Great article! It’s a sad tale about copyright law that so many legit news organizations didn’t verify the source of the image. Likely, their use will fall under Fair Use, but that doesn’t diminish their need to locate the source. Ms. Markert will likely now watermark all the images she uploads, and in some ways, diminish the power of the image. Then again, there will be people will crop out her watermark (in violation of the US Copyright Act) and post them. Thank you for clarifying the source of the image. I hope Ms. Markert continues to photograph The Old Guard for all of us to see.