How to Be a Photographer? Be Nice!

I cannot remember how often I have given this advice and heard it given. Two simple words that should inform every action we make in our lives but which are also essential to photographic practice. I know the word ‘nice’ can seem soft, trite, and easy, it lacks depth. It’s too nice! But it also provides a direct clarity to how we should act when dealing with others and ourselves.

The last year has seen a number of exposé’s of bullying, misonygistic, threatening and manipulative behaviour by photographers whom for many years have had these actions known and either accepted, or ignored by those in the know. The last year has seen that inner circle expand and the actions of these people has been revealed to a much larger audience primarily online.

Let’s put to one side for one moment the ethical questions surrounding issues of photographing sex workers, children, and those afflicted by poverty, drug addiction, alcoholism and mental health. Instead lets just think about being a balanced, respectful and empathetic human being.

In life we all make mistakes, those mistakes can upset people, they can have unintentional implications on those we know and those we don’t. But these are mistakes that we all try to avoid and do our best to understand, respond to and resolve. They are not intentional actions upon which to base a career.

The benefit of having worked within the photographic industry for other three decades is the benefit of hindsight. I can look back on many photographers careers and know their back stories. I know where they started and how they got to where they are now. In many cases this is a fascinating position to be in, to see the implementation of hard work, commitment and resilience, with the outcomes that result. I have seen photographers hit hard times and change their path, photographers stay on the same path and fight their way through and others who have created careers based on change. All of whom have tried their best.

I have also seen photographers burn bridges and develop personalities hard to like through poor practice. Photographers that may from the outside seem to be successful and exalted but in reality are mistrusted and not respected by those who know the true nature of their ways of working. I will not name names, although I could, to do so would miss the point of what I am trying to say here.

There is a difference between poor practice and dangerous practice. Poor practice is unprofessional and often get’s found out by those whom the photographer is working for. Many names burn bright for a short time and then disappear after killing the Golden Goose through rudeness, arrogance and greed.

But dangerous practice goes deeper. It becomes part of the photographer’s practice, the stories they choose to tell and the images they choose to make reveal the reality of the photographer’s psyche in plain sight. Images that lack empathy but scream arrogance, violence and voyeurism. Images that reveal the damaged nature of the photographer’s personal narrative. Dangerous practice also embraces the same approach when dealing with others.

It shows itself in threatening emails, bullying texts and a dismissive attitude towards those whom they believe to be beneath them, either professionally or in power. The power to be heard and to influence. I have seen all of these things over the years but I am seeing them more now and the reason for that is because photographers now have social media to bring this behaviour out into the open. Someone who denies their behaviour can now be revealed through their images, printed words, emails and screenshots of texts and linked in messages.

“Be nice” was always a good piece of advice to any photographer looking for a long career in the medium, today it is more important than ever, but perhaps an add on to this should be “Just be human.”

Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Taylor Francis 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Taylor Francis 2019). His book What Does Photography Mean to You? is available now

© Grant Scott 2020

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