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Once again last night on an online forum I was reminded of the element of commercial photography I particularly dislike. That of the "boy's club" mentality of so many male photographers in the industry.
Coming across a thread about model / photographer's releases started by a model (who, by the way, seemed to avoid the thread after that), I decided I'd share what I do in terms of a general description of the photographic agreements I have in place with my clients and models. Having seen the way subsequent photographers (including one woman in particular) were torn apart I guess I'm happy I got off with minimal notice the way I did.
What disturbed me about the thread was the derogatory manner with which the photographers assumed superiority over their models; as if models, like all good Victorian (the era, not the state) children, should be seen and not heard. Admittedly there are times when I am thankful I can model for myself just for simplicity's sake, but in many cases these photographers would be nowhere without their models. In addition, the way that the male photographers (including one who is only 26 and has only been practicing photography for two years according to his profile) tore into other photographers including one woman in particular who was willing to voice herself in this area and defend herself once attacked (for I can find no better description of the way in which some of these folk took to her comments).
To a large extent, forty-something and older male photographers assuming superiority over female photographers never surprises me. However to see that this is still something being fostered amongst the younger generation of male photographers saddens me.
One thing I've been aware of almost since I started pursuing photography is the (false) view that a photographer's skill is measured by the length of their lens or the dollar value of their kit. I don't disagree that using the right equipment for the job is valid, but just because you have a high-end camera, lighting and a studio in a fancy part of town does not make you a master photographer.
Many of the photographers I know of who have all the bells and whistles and make no bones about telling you all about them in detail, I find often take the most uninspiring and cliched images. Yes, they are technically perfect: well-lit, well-exposed, pin sharp. But they're boring.
And so many of those photographers love shooting nudes, which are also, for the most part boring. Because of course another part of showing how successful you are as a photographer is by how many young, beautiful female models you can get naked in your studio.
Not to forget, as the 26 year old male photographer above states in his profile, that it is important that his models be "tall and skinny fashion models for test shoots, and yes you need to be tall and skinny and (ideally) with an agency. It's not like I'm going to be mean to you if you're not tall and skinny, but I will point you to my rates." Le sigh.
All this is by no means to say that I am against male photographers in general – quite the contrary, I am regularly inspired by many male photographers (and males working in other areas like film and music). Nor that I am against nude photography – some of my favourite photographers create honest, raw, stunning nudes that not only beautifully capture form and the human figure, male or female, but also capture the essence of their subject as a person, not just as an easily substituted body.
But the three reasons I personally found the responses from some of these people irksome were:
- The assumption that you cannot write up a photographic agreement without having some sort of law degree. I have dealt with publishers, photographers and so forth who have put together plain language contracts that clearly state what is required of both parties, who owns copyright, what the usage rights are for each party and so on. As these documents are not full of legal doublespeak and therefore eminently more understandable to the average Joe (or Josephine) I understand they are as enforceable as any other contract as long as they are signed by both parties. The photo agreements I tailor to each client / model allows protection for both parties and clearly state what each party can expect from the other in respect to the shoot. In the event that an image or series of images of any of the models I photograph were to be sold for usage by a third party I clearly state that this would be subject to a further agreement, and in that instance I would seek legal advice. As it happens, to this date the usage requests I have received and accepted have all been self-portraiture so I have not had to deal with this element yet.
- That my view was dismissed because "Has it occurred to you that he is in Australia, which does not have the kinds of rights of privacy and publicity laws the US does?" I think that's a simplistic way to ignore someone given that many of our laws are similar, though admittedly (and thankfully) Australia is (thus far) less sue-happy than the United States.
- That as I was a photographer I was assumed to be male. The person (supposedly) defending my (naive, in their view) response managed to take the time to note my location from my profile, but didn't manage to read the word "Female" which appears above my location in my profile on that site. Because unless my name is a blatantly obvious feminine one (though Bronwen is just that, given that traditionally names ending in ~wen are feminine, and ~wyn are masculine, in Welsh grammar) the assumption is that as a photographer I must be male, and models should, for the most part, be female.
As I said: boy's club. And perhaps that is why I got off so lightly, because I was assumed to be male, though I did assert otherwise in my response.
To balance all that I have said above and make it clear that this is an element I dislike, not a blanket statement about all male photographers, let me introduce you to some of my favourite male photographers:
And since I'm in a giving mood, here are some of my favourite female photographers:
Olive and Rose
All of which are doing wonderfully creative things, whether with honesty and raw imagery or with highly fabricated fairytale-like worlds, and many of which include nudity in their oeuvre in ways that are not banal and soulless.
Thankfully there are far more people producing wonderful photographic work within all areas of the industry than those who continue to uphold the "boy's club" mentality.