Without naming names, a photographer that a colleague and I travelled to London to attend a training session with has, over the past week, been subject to a series of sexual harassment allegations. According to some of the models who have made these allegations an FBI enquiry has been opened in the United States. This is serious for the photographer involved and it raised some issues with my own relationship with photography as a potential business.
Many attractive women are drawn to modelling as a career. They are confident about what they look like and have people telling them that they should make a living from their good looks. It can be a glamorous lifestyle but the truth is that an aspiring model has many pitfalls to avoid and can easily be exploited. Empty promises and inappropriate advances are unfortunately not uncommon.
Most models that have yet to achieve their big break will pose for shots for a modest hourly fee. As an elected councillor I have attended seminars that are designed to help us avoid situations where we could either inadvertently sexually harass someone or be accused of sexually harassing someone. I am also a qualified football coach where part of my coaching qualifications requires me to be DBS checked on an annual basis. This training helps me to understand the best way to interact with people to hopefully avoid problems.
In my experience it is as much about protecting yourself as it is the other party. I am very cautious around models and always very polite. I always ask that the model brings somebody with them which I hope reassures them that my intentions are purely photography. Unfortunately, wherever there are attractive women there are men who make a fool of themselves.
Even being very careful in my approach it can be easy to make a mistake. Models are usually confident, attractive and full of banter. This can easily be misinterpreted as more than just a professional interaction and a comment designed to be tongue-in-cheek can suddenly cause unintended offence. Or simply the photographer can respond in kind to a bubbly, affectionate model and things get awkward. I’ve never done any such thing, but I am aware of how easy it might be to do so.
It’s difficult, because the alternative to reciprocating friendliness is to be distant and quiet. Not responding to a joke can make us, the photographer, appear moody and unfriendly and the last thing we want is a model who goes into their shell because we are distant. A model often seeks reassurance and may ask things like; “Do my legs look ok like this?” or something similar. As a photographer you cannot grin and say “Yeah, they look great”. That comes across as a bit sleazy. I always focus on the photos and respond by saying things like “Yes, well done, the photo looked great”.
I would be devastated if I ever caused a model to feel uncomfortable, but I also see that if I want a model to look good, i.e. pop the hips out, pout, arch the back, etc. then I have to direct them to move into these positions and I must use very careful language. Nevertheless, if that makes them feel uncomfortable then I’m in trouble, particularly if they grin and bear it rather than saying something at the time.
The lesson here is be very aware at all times what your vocal directions, requests or arrangements may look like. Ensure both you and the subject or model have someone with you. Remain professional at all times and focus on the photos as that is why you are there. Don’t over praise or criticise. Make your primary objective to keep everyone feeling comfortable at all times.
My search for my purpose continues. I am leaning towards finding my way into some sort of public affairs or external affairs position where I can engage with the political process. That is where my skills lie and my main interest lies. Photography will continue to be a passion of mine but I plan on doing more landscapes, because trees don’t sue! I am also considering doing more pet photography too.