Alright, photographers. It’s time for a long overdue speech. I hope you’ll read this, and I hope you’ll share it. And, while I’m generally quite careful to word things diplomatically, professionally, and in a positive manner, I will apologize in advance if I lose my temper in this post.
We are all stuck in this industry together, whether we like it or not. Whether you photograph fluffy kittens, half-naked women, plates of food, or people on bedroom furniture in fields. We share this industry. We all deal with the same challenges, the same economic issues, the same artistic frustrations, the same insecurities. We have fought (or, for the newcomers who have not had the opportunity yet, you will fight) for our successes and our progress in a market that is over-saturated and under-appreciated. We’ve all been through that “Gee your camera takes good pictures” nonsense.
We are in it together.
And yet, have you noticed? We photographers are at least as frequently made fun of online as lawyers are, if not more. No kidding. There are more reasons for that (and most are valid) than I care to list. But one of them is about to get talked about in great detail, and it is this: we are becoming more and more an industry of people who either can’t or won’t conduct themselves professionally. We, as a whole, lack class.
A few years ago, I took what I intended to be a permanent break from online forums. It wasn’t because of the constant influx of newbies lazily asking the same questions without first making an effort to find out for themselves. It wasn’t the whining about how haaaaard it is to master this or that. It was because of the constant bickering, backbiting, and generally poor treatment of colleagues. I very reluctantly came back at the personal invitation of one particular forum, where threads seem to be more skillfully and thoughtfully moderated. They do everything they can to keep threads positive while not censoring the members. Unfortunately, that simply causes the unprofessional behavior to migrate to other places.
Listen. I don’t care if you like every photographer out there. God knows I do not. There are some people I would like to throttle on a regular basis, not because of their work but because of their attitude. There are people whose work I simply do not care for, and styles and trends that make me shudder. And, yep, there are photographers I have mentored that I have no personal affection for, and I will pride myself in that those photographers received exactly the same quality of feedback as all the others have and would not have known the difference. My issues with other photographers are nobody’s problem but my own. I may vent about it to my (mostly non-photographer) friends. I may even kvetch a little during one-on-one conversations with other photographers. I may try to quietly counteract it. But you will not find me, not ever, participating in a public bashing of a colleague. Ever. It ain’t cute, it ain’t funny, and it does not make you cool.
In this day and age, it is no small challenge to be taken seriously as a photographer. It’s even harder to be taken seriously by other photographers. Every time you publicly put down another photographer, you show your inability to conduct yourself in a professional and respectable way. You make both a joke and a target of your own reputation in this industry. When (not if) you become a target yourself, as you surely will if you build a name for yourself in any way, resist the urge to feed the trolls. Always, always, conduct yourself as if the biggest photography client / gallery / publication in the world is watching your every move. Because they just might be.
I’m asking each and every photographer who reads this to please consider, before you push that oh-so-convenient little online button, whether you are making a comment that steers the industry in a positive direction, or whether you are adding to the reasons people smirk at us. Take the emotional outbursts out of your posts and put them into your work, where they belong. If you’re jealous of another photographer, improve and grow; it’s a far more productive way to expend your energy. If you’re angry, go for a damn run. God knows we all spend too much time sitting on our butts in front of our computers, anyway. If you consistently conduct yourself with dignity and pride, you’re far more likely to make an impact when you have something important and valuable to say. Remember that everything you say online, whether positive or negative, becomes a matter of public record, and has the power to hurt somebody, and embarrass you, FOREVER.
Respect yourself, respect others, and respect the industry. If you can’t do that, get out of it.
I will call out plagiarists. I will disagree with concepts and philosophies, in the most professional and positive manner possible. I will gently steer people away from trends or behaviors that, after spending time getting to know them as artists, I feel are tripping them up. I will openly and honestly discuss areas of controversy in the industry, and I will speak up when I think something is incorrect. When asked to do so, I will give very honest but positively worded feedback and critique. But I will never start nor participate in a witch hunt or a public flogging, and whether I personally like you or not, I will defend your right to not be publicly attacked and insulted.
I resent that this post is even necessary.