Photographers S.H.A.M.E.Written by John Macpherson
‘Stopping Harassment And Male Exploitation’ of women in the photography industry. (But may be good to bear in mind it might equally have happened to some men.)
Colin Pantall raised it on his blog in this post ‘Sexual Harassment in Photography’ last week, and in a follow up ‘Is Photography a Bit Cowardly’ :
The problem is nobody wants to talk about it in public for several reason. One reason is they don’t want to be seen as ‘difficult’. And the other reason is the possibility it will close off career opportunities. One person said, when you consider that ‘60% of men in some kind of position of power has engaged in this kind of behaviour, you will understand why people don’t want to complain. You’ll never work in photography again.’
It is difficult. And it’s ironic that in photography, in the arts, where the rhetoric of telling the truth, effecting change, and being honest and raw is so prevalent, that we’re not honest enough to recognise this problem or talk about it. There are no structures in place that help women to complain or talk about what happens not just to a few, to the vast majority of young photographers.
And if we can’t talk about this, then it renders all that talk about truth, change, honesty, rawness for what it is; empty bullshit. We talk about things that we are comfortable being raw about, but not those that really matter. Which isn’t really raw or honest at all.
It’s a bit like all those debates about ethics in photography. We can discuss at length the amount of dodging in a shadow, or worry our fingernails to bits about Bruce Gilden or Boris Mikhailov, but when we are faced with something that really matters, it becomes something we simply ignore.
Bullshit to that!Dare I say it, but is photography just a little bit cowardly. Are we all yeller?
My question is what little step can help make it easier to talk about and act against the kind of behaviour mentioned above.
Something really basic might be a simple Equal Opportunities Statement of the kind all major educational establishments have in the UK.
It could be something led by the major organisations (I mentioned World Press Photo, Arles, Aperture, Deutsche Borse, Magnum, National Geographic, VII, Paris Photo, and lets throw all the major museums and galleries in there as well), with an opportunity to complain. As I mentioned, I’m sure many of these organisations already have something in place because they must all be very aware of the dangers of people offering access for sex. That’s what it boils down to.
That would be a start.
And given that so, so many women photographers (like 100%) have experienced the things mentioned above, it would good if they could somehow speak out. I’m not sure how though.
And Jorg Colberg echoed his sentiment:
Over the past couple of days, Colin Pantall published two articles dealing with the same topic: sexual harassment in photography (article one and two). If you’re a man, you might not even remotely be aware of the extent of the problem – I certainly was not:
“everybody who got in touch told me this is exactly what large numbers of young women photographers talk about when they get together. At Arles, at Paris Photo, at Unseen, at Houston and so on.”
And stuff like this:
“One woman mentioned her experience of the curator’s casting couch, something that doesn’t feature in any professional development how-to-get-a-show features that you periodically see. She didn’t visit the couch. She didn’t get the show.”
I’d love to write that there is or should be absolutely no place in photoland for such behaviour, but it seems that sadly there is, and that’s utterly unacceptable. Not only that’s it’s disgraceful for photoland as a whole.
I can only speak for myself, but I don’t want to be part of a community where such behaviour is common for that large variety of reasons, such as women being afraid of speaking out for fear of repercussions, men thinking it’s really not such a big deal, or whatever else might be maintaining this state of affairs. Because it is a big fucking deal.
“My question is what little step can help make it easier to talk about and act against the kind of behaviour mentioned above.” asks Colin, and I want to second that as well. Clearly, something will have to be done.
Colin’s post got what I’ll call the ‘Anonymous Respondent Saying Everything’s Hunkydory Ok Lets Eat Shit’ reply. (work out the acronym yourself). Me, I think it’s precisely bollocks like this that needs challenging. “Stop dreaming and name harassers” says the anonymous person. Oh the irony. And if only it were that easy. But its not. It’s a legal, political and social minefield; and it’s precisely those ‘mines’ that enable the problem to flourish.
colin pantall said…
I’ve edited your post – you are posting anonymously. I am not naming anybody, though there is proof out there in the form of screen grabs and the experiences of women around the world. I am not doing it because I’m a bit cowardly too.
But I have been involved in promoting him, and told people he’s a great guy (and had people tell me he’s a great guy – that’s why I worked with him) so share some responsibility for his acts and the fact that people think he’s a great guy.
So the morality play on my part relates to me.
It is easy to be sarcastic about it, but the truth is that doesn’t help. I have heard of maybe 50 women who have had the treatment from this guy, including women who studied at the university where I work – and of course there are others who, if not so prolific, are far far worse.
It’s time for this to stop. And it won’t if we do nothing and all stay quiet.
I don’t enjoy doing this. Nobody enjoys it. But I would enjoy it even less if I just shut my mouth and continued to write about brave, challenging photography, bla, bla, bla, equal rights, bla bla bla, photography can make a change bla bla bla.. It would be a bit pathetic even.
So for me, it alleviates the hypocrisy a bit. And maybe it will make a difference somewhere.
(Quoted/edited response below in bold)
‘Sex has been governing the world since its creation. Stop dreaming and name harassers so that people can protect themselves. What you are doing is useless and self congratulatory. When there are accusations, there needs to be proof and naming. That is if you have decided to become some kind of moral figure in this scene. Were you just born in the world Colin? WOW photography has sex offenders. You mean that thousands of mediocre artists with personality disorders do abuse themselves psychologically and sometimes sexually? Thank you man, this is really something I could never have imagined provided it happens in all parts of society.’
What to do? Well how about ‘something’ rather than ‘nothing’. If we’re unable to openly name the ‘offenders’ how about naming those willing to confront the problem and provide some assistance?
This ‘something’ has been done before – at the University of Virginia – and I suspect it helped. And even if it only helped one woman, I’d say it was worth it. John Edwin Mason has a thought-provoking blog about an initiative that allows people who do care about these issues to make themselves known so they might provide some support to those needing help.
I had the opportunity to assist a photographer recently via email, nothing to do with sexual abuse, but still experiencing a problem of an imbalance of ‘power’. I answered a simple tweet from another photographer asking if anyone could offer advice to this individual. Turned out to be a young woman photographer, and her knowledge and understanding of the issues around contracts, copyright, licensing and digital rights was still in its infancy. She was inexperienced, eager to learn, making photography a career, in ‘contractual’ trouble, and possibly about to be taken advantage of professionally. Together we solved her problem, and saved her some embarrassment. To be honest it was only a little I needed to offer in the greater scheme of things. But for her it was a lot, and it bolstered her feelings about belonging to a profession that cared about her, and, by extension cared about the profession we are all a part of too. Now that was only a ‘contractual’ problem, yet she had to turn to a ‘stranger’ for assistance, so how the hell are young women expected to even start to negotiate dealing with issues as contentious and problematic as those around ‘the casting couch’ and sexual exploitation?
This was my reply to John Edwin Mason’s blog about the UVA initiative, and it’s still valid:
I think it’s incredibly easy to dismiss the power of a simple portrait. Just as it is easy to dismiss the reality that rape happens, and happens more often than we like to think, or even know.
But couple these same simple portraits with text and you have something powerful. In another context – an arrest situation, they become mug-shots, direct-to-camera images with some text, and have a specific meaning, exert an influence way beyond the simple sum of their parts. In many respects they will forever define those depicted in that one particular way.
‘I stand with survivors…’ has this power too. These images not only let those who detest this situation be defined as such, and publicly proclaim their allegiance, but they have one other key purpose, and one that could be crucial. They draw up a contract between ‘community’ and ‘survivors’, one that confers the knowledge that there are people they may turn to, men and women whose moral compass may lead them to a safe haven.
My own dad was raped in his youth, something he never revealed until in his retirement years, and even then only as a consequence of mental illness. I presume he had nobody to turn to, or maybe even more distressing to imagine, that nobody believed him. Rape itself is traumatic and damaging, but the legacy of it can shape a life, destructive in so many ways. I wrote about it here in a specific context of institutional sexual abuse that currently continues to rock the UK: http://www.duckrabbit.info/2012/11/just-three-words/
Personally I think, above all else, for those who have been assaulted it is simply being believed that has to be the first step. ‘I stand with survivors….’ does that, recognises that rape and sexual assault happens and that those who experience it and its aftermath, are survivors, and they are not alone.
I just wish my own father had not felt the loneliness he did for his whole adult life. It affected him, and it affects me too every time I look at a photograph of him.
I’m not naive, I’m old enough to have had naivety kicked out of me long ago – the problem of sexual exploitation of women in photography (or in any other sphere of life) is always going to exist. But for anyone, woman or man, who feels they have been exploited surely we can at the very least stand up and publicly condemn such treatment, and be seen to be a point of reasonable contact and support? Is that too much to ask? In a profession dominated by freelancers there are no HR Departments to turn to, no Sexual Harassment at Work Policies to follow and be supported by, precious little in the way of formal structures to fall back on. I don’t have any ‘really really brilliant solutions’ to offer, but I’m happy to do anything that nips at the heels of the status quo.
I’ve seen the effect of sexual exploitation and abuse on people, professionally and personally. We can talk all day about it as some abstract concept, but it’s not insignificant, it’s not pleasant, and it’s not something I’d wish anyone else have to deal with. It’s fucking horrible.
If we’re not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem.
I know which one I am. Which one are you?