I write on all aspects of photography based on my personal experience, in that sense I am at heart a journalist reflecting on life as I see it. My experiences provide me with content and shape my opinion. It does not provide absolutes or facts, but I hope at times to suggest answers alongside questions. In doing so I open myself up to bullies. This has taught me one very important reality and that is that there is no place for bullies within photography.
I have no time or respect for bullies in any aspect of life, but as I am involved with photography it is here that I have experienced the most. The photography world is a small one, people talk and word gets around of poor behaviour. Stories of photographers bullying assistants, make-up artists and models are not as commonplace, as they once were, but they do still exist. This is old school bullying that is easy to identify, but not easy to stop if the photographer is well known, and perceived to be powerful within the industry. However, the fear of being outed on social media seems to have stopped much of this, although I am sure that it may still be going on.
But, bullying is not always obvious. A lack of ethical behaviour can also be seen as a form of bullying. The use of people as subjects, rather than collaborators can see a negative power in-balance form in which control is abused by the photographer in search of an image that wins awards based on its documentation of tragedy, abuse, or conflict. When empathy is absent bullying is evident.
Bullying within photography does not need a camera to occur. A pack mentality on social media and photo sharing platforms can lead to a dispiriting environment of bullying, where those looking for supportive comments can feel attacked and demotivated to show work.
Sharing issues that challenge the status quo can also raise a bullying stance from those who feel their beliefs are being questioned, and their need to attack as a form of defence comes to the fore. Bully’s often take things personally.
Jealousy and discontent can be instigators of bullying as can a sense of insecurity. Feelings that photography can establish and promote, but photography can also offer a sense of community and friendship. I have been told on many occasions that photographers are insular beings unwilling to support others, but I have experienced the opposite to this suggestion. Sadly, I have also witnessed the opposite, and all of the bullying I have outlined here.
Agendas can also provoke the bullying pack mentality online where well intentioned beliefs are hijacked by those looking to control the conversation. Bullying is an attempt to control.
It is this sense of a need to control that is at the root of all forms of bullying, and in an increasingly difficult environment for photographers where a sense of security is rare, and the old ways are being replaced, the need for control may be stronger than ever before. What is important is that this does not knowingly, or unknowingly become an agenda of bullying in making, sharing and commenting.
Photography and photographers need to promote the idea of community, and promote the work, and success of others. Celebrate collaboration, support the young, and inexperienced, encourage new thinking, and embrace respectful communication. There is no place for the bully, young or old, male or female, experienced or novice.
Dr. Grant Scott is the the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 www.donotbendfilm.com
© Grant Scott 2022