If you like melodrama, try this exercise: go into a forum on a modeling networking site and open a new topic thread by asking, “How do you all feel about escorts?” The hostile collective moan that ensues will astonish you. What seems like a sensible question to you is actually one of the most divisive issues on any modeling site, and few decisions will call your professionalism as a freelance model into question quite like insisting on bringing an “escort” to a photo session (or asking about it in a modeling forum). Without realizing it, you will instantly polarize everyone you’re hoping to contact with your online portfolio. Some—a very few—will nod their heads; almost all professional photographers will simply cross you off their list of models they want to work with. At best, the “escort requirement” will be taken as a naïve indicator of your inexperience; at worst it will seem provocative, and even insulting.
New models often understandably feel nervous about going out alone on their first few shoots with unknown photographers, and almost as a reflex post their intention to bring an escort for their own peace of mind and personal security. The problem is, when you say “escort,” the photographer hears “body guard;” when you say “personal security,” the photographer hears an accusation that he’s dangerous and untrustworthy. You’re announcing in advance to someone you’re hoping to work with on a creative collaboration that you’re afraid of him, and fear is not a good basis for a trusting relationship. While you may feel that you’re simply posting an objective, general policy that shouldn’t be taken personally, it often will be. Even though you may not be explicitly making that accusation in your portfolio comments, as photographers, we’re all too accustomed to seeing comments like these, pulled at random from actual model portfolios on Model Mayhem and One Model Place:
“I will bring an escort if we work together. I like having all my fingers and toes.” Then she added a smiley face. Funny, eh? Photographers love being characterized as sadistic dismemberers. Hey, what photographer doesn’t tuck an axe in with his filter collection, just in case the model’s fingers need to be removed?
“For safety reasons, I reserve the right to bring a chaperone.” A chaperone? Aren’t chaperones what teenagers try to sneak away from at the prom?
“I will be checking for references and I will be bringing an escort with me. You can never be too careful.” And…
“I reserve the right to bring someone along to any modeling jobs, for my personal safety, THIS IS THE INTERNET, NOT 100% SAFE for young women.” And…
“I will bring a friend/escort on every shoot for my safety.”
“I will not do a single photoshoot without an escort. I do not care who you are or how good you are. I do not know you and I will not trust anyone without having someone there. If you are uncomfortable with an escort than you have alternative motive on your mind and I don’t want to work with you.” So my reluctance, for perfectly sensible reasons shared by virtually all professional photographers, to have an unknown escort hovering over the session is proof that I “have an alternative motive on (my) mind”? Ask yourself…… would you want to work with this person?
Models who put statements like this on their portfolios seem to be overwhelmed with paranoia. Where does all this fear come from, and how reasonable is it?
The biggest source of irrational fear is the pervasive myth that models are constantly being attacked by photographers, a belief driven primarily by a very small number of sensationalized cases. Would an escort have prevented any of those assaults? It’s hard to say; in some cases, the attacks appear to have been incidents that just spiraled out of control, and might or might not have been moderated by the presence of a third party. On the other hand, it’s not a stretch to imagine that an actual sociopath might well have extended the assaults to both the models and their escorts.
In fact, it’s not unheard of in modeling assault cases to actually have an escort present. In 1996, an L.A. photographer was accused of raping a 14-year-old model-hopeful while her mother was having her make-up done in another room in preparation for having her own photos taken. In 2003, a serial rapist in England also assaulted a teenage victim who was being escorted by her mother. Even weirder is a recent complaint in a Model Mayhem forum by a model who alleges that she was groped by a photographer while her husband was in the room. She said it made her so uncomfortable that she and her spouse only stayed for another 45 minutes of photography before leaving.
There’s more. In 2010 a Connecticut model acknowledged that, although she claimed to have been groped by a photographer during a fetish-photography session, she and a friend returned to the photographer three days later to finish the session. Six months later, the same photographer was again accused of raping a different model during a fetish shoot which the model allowed to continue even after the photographer greeted the model and her male escort in his underwear. After taking a break from fetish photos and rape, the model and her escort then stuck around to pose for a spirited spanking session for the photographer.
This is not to make light of the attacks described above, but merely to point out that in the past 35 years, the number of models who have been violently assaulted by actual photographers can be counted on the fingers of both hands, and many of the assaults can be attributable to horrendously bad judgment by the models, often when accompanied by an escort. Although there are numerous other cases of models being assaulted by people posing as photographers, they’re not relevant to this discussion because even the most cursory background check would have exposed them as frauds.
Even a single rape or murder is both tragic and frightening, but it’s critical to keep the numbers in perspective. The world is not 100% safe, but for most of us it’s not unreasonably dangerous either. Tornados occasionally ravage the Midwest where I’m from, but people still fearlessly live there; Californians go about their business in full awareness that earthquakes and mudslides are a remote threat to their well-being. Every time I board an airplane I’m aware that it could crash, but I also know that the odds are so infinitesimally small that I choose to fly anyway, and I don’t feel compelled to insist that the airlines allow me to wear a parachute just because “I like having all my fingers and toes,” and because flying in a commercial jet “is NOT 100% SAFE” And I’m pretty sure if I announce to them that “I WILL NOT fly without a parachute! If you have a problem with that, then I will not fly with you” that I will be told to go away. By the way, those miniscule odds of crashing in a jet are still greater than the odds of being attacked by your photographer during a modeling session.
In fact, every crime study ever conducted inevitably concludes that the person most likely to attack you is someone you know very well. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, from 2000-2005 over 73% of rapes were committed by known assailants, including 38% by a friend or acquaintance, 28% by a boyfriend or husband, and 7% by another relative. Nearly 2 in every 3 female victims of violence were related to or knew their attacker. In the past two years of working with models, I haven’t heard of a single attack on a model by a photographer anywhere, but two models scheduled to work with me here in Boise, Idaho were beaten so badly by their boyfriends the day before their sessions that they had to be hospitalized. One scheduled glamour-photography customer’s husband canceled her appointment the day before because of the “terrible car wreck” she had just been in. I used to work as a domestic violence counselor—guess how many times I heard the “I had a wreck/fell down the stairs/bumped into a door knob” explanation for a battered face. You want to really flirt with danger? Tell your jealous, controlling boyfriend that you’ve just scheduled a glamour-modeling session. You have an escort to protect you from him?
The weird specificity of this paranoia is mystifying. The irony is that women who think nothing of going home with a stranger they just met in a bar or through an Internet dating service will still refuse on principle to pose for a photograph without an escort. There are documented cases of women being sexually assaulted while under sedation in their dentist’s chair; why is no one defiantly announcing on her Facebook page that “for safety reasons, I reserve the right to bring a chaperone” to the dentist’s office? What in the world is so uniquely dangerous about photographers? How did a bunch of geeks and gadget freaks ever get so scary?
The uncomfortable truth is that you simply cannot eliminate risk from your life—there’s no such thing as a zero-percent probability that nothing bad will ever happen to you, and sensible people don’t waste psychic energy trying to eradicate risks that barely register on the danger scale. An agency would be horrified and fire you on the spot if they learned that you had showed up for a job with an escort in tow, and experienced freelance models wouldn’t dream of bringing one either. This unreasonable fear is strictly a rookie Internet model phenomenon.
Why insist on bringing one then? Why brand yourself so obviously as an amateur? Let’s consider the main reasons that are usually offered.
• An escort keeps the model safe. If you brought an escort to keep you safe, then let’s call him what he is—a bodyguard. Photographers call them “Sluggos” (and frankly, as the crime statistics above suggest, you’re statistically more likely to be in danger from your escort than you are from your photographer). Sure, it’s possible that an aggressive Sluggo who physically intimidates your photographer might discourage him from engaging in behavior—say, inappropriate comments or touching—that you would find uncomfortable. If he’s really intent on harming you, however, it’s likely that a violent psychopath would do one of two things: either behave like an angel this time so that you’ll come back without the Sluggo next time; or just harm both of you. Keep yourself safe by doing what every experienced model does every time: do a background check (more about that below) and listen to your own intuition. The fact is if you felt uneasy enough about the photographer to want a bodyguard for protection, you should have avoided the shoot entirely instead of putting yourself and your escort in harm’s way. If the false sense of security you might get from bringing an escort keeps you from performing the appropriate due diligence, then the escort decision will ultimately make you less—not more—safe.
Oh, and one more thing… if your photographer is in fact a gentle soul who just wanted to shoot some good photos of you, what effect do you think your Sluggo’s menacing attitude will have on that objective?
• An escort can help the model “get in the mood.” Let’s start with the obvious—if you need an emotional “fluffer” to help you get in the mood to do your job, then you don’t know how to do your job. Being able to deliver a variety of poses and facial expressions on demand in order to execute a visual concept is modeling. The truth is, the escort you’re depending on to help deliver the emotional goods is often more likely to intimidate you than relax you.
When I got back into model photography after my long video-production layoff, I allowed a young model to bring her husband to a TFCD portfolio shoot. Frankly, he was fine, but she was a mess the entire session, full of anxiety, and constantly looking to him for reassurance. She couldn’t smile, at all, but did finally suggest that if hubby would stand behind me and “make funny faces,” she might be able to give it a try. No, we didn’t get anything worth keeping from the session. Cute kid—not a model, and, frankly, I wasn’t much of a photographer that day either. It was a good learning experience though; I did remember why we never allow boyfriends or husbands on the set.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t finished with the refresher course, because a couple months later I allowed another new model to bring her more experienced modeling friend along for company. The session was a near disaster because her more experienced but far less talented friend did not understand the concept and kept interrupting with unnecessary and counter-productive posing directions. When we had a chance to chat about it later, the model admitted that her friend had been such a huge and annoying distraction that she’s never brought an escort to any of her shoots since then.
If you want to be in the business, study and practice your craft. Your modeling performance is your responsibility, not your escort’s.
• The escort can provide transportation. Fair enough, but in this case s/he is a driver, not an escort. Your driver can drop you off and then go somewhere else to wait for your session to finish. S/he does not need to be on the set or even in the facility.
• The escort can help with the shoot. This may sound like a reasonable excuse for sneaking a Sluggo onto a set, but there are numerous reasons why it’s a bad idea, and we’ll discuss them in more detail below. The most important reason, however, is this: whatever I need on my set, including production assistance, I’ll provide. That’s my job. If I need an assistant, I’m going to use somebody I’ve already trained, know I can trust, and have on my payroll and insurance policy. Handling photographic gear is a specialty, and I don’t want untrained people touching my gear. Moreover, I don’t need a second voice directing the model and I don’t need somebody constantly jumping in front of the camera to rearrange hair, make-up, and wardrobe. If the assistants I bring to the production don’t understand proper set decorum, I can fire them; all I can do with your escort/assistant is get annoyed. And I will.
• The model is underage and needs an escort. Different story entirely, but only if we’re talking about a freelance model (agency models operate under a whole different set of policies). Underage models absolutely should be escorted, but that escort should be a parent, if for no other reason than that a minor can’t legally sign the contractual documents that may be involved. Moreover, as a former public school teacher and coach, I can appreciate more than most the value of parental involvement in a child’s activities. In fact, if you’re underage and your photographer is urging you to come to a modeling photography session alone, this is one of the few times when your creep alarm should be going off.
• The model is disabled and needs professional support. Well, of course, but in this case the “escort” really is performing a necessary service and is a functional addition to the production team, not just an idle bystander whose primary function is to get in the way as often as possible.
• Allowing an escort proves the photographer is professional. An assumption based, I suppose, on the premise that only someone who has bad intentions in mind would object to having a witness present for the inappropriate behavior he’s planning to display. Unfortunately, the logic of the premise is faulty for two reasons: first, as said before, the overwhelming majority of professional photographers don’t allow escorts; and second, the sleaze balls you’re worried about actually rely on that logic. They’re hoping that if they tell you they’re fine with your escort you’ll assume they’re okay and leave your Sluggo at home. In fact, requiring an escort actually increases the odds that the only people you work with will be exactly the kind of people you’re trying to avoid.
Look, predators target the weak and vulnerable, and if I were a sociopath using the pretext of a photo session to find victims, I’d specifically target people with a rigid escort policy because it would tell me three valuable things: 1) They’re inexperienced, 2) They’re timid and fearful, and 3) They’re likely to substitute an escort policy for the due diligence that would have exposed my photographer facade as a fraud.
If you’d prefer to hear all this from a model’s perspective, check out a very good point-by-point blog post by Rachel Jay, a professional model who serves as a mentor on Model Mayhem and forum host for Model Insider. If you’d like to know why so many photographers are adamant about not allowing escorts, here’s the short list:
• Escorts represent a danger to the photographer and crew. Hopefully, you did a background check on me before you agreed to model for me; I certainly did one on you and everyone else who had a reason to be there. The only person whose background I can’t confirm is your escort. Not only do I not know anything about him, but I can’t even confirm that he is who you say he is. In one of the interminable escort threads on Model Mayhem, a model admitted to going to a bar to pick up a beefy stranger to escort her to a shoot because her boyfriend/escort had opted out of accompanying her at the last minute and she didn’t want to lose the job. Photographers are threatened and even attacked by belligerent escorts at least as often as models are assaulted by photographers, and lots of models at group shoots report that they’ve been harassed by someone else’s escort.
Look, I don’t want to have to waste money hiring my own escort to protect me from your escort. Where does the paranoia end? If we’re going to work together, at some point we have to trust each other, and if we can’t establish any trust, we’re better off not doing the shoot.
• Escorts are a distraction. As indicated in the examples above, escorts, particularly husbands and boyfriends, tend to be a distraction for both the model and the photographer. Since the model vouched for the escort, she’s going to worry that his behavior is consistent with his recommendation. If their relationship is at all uneasy, she may unconsciously calibrate her modeling to suit his biases, looking out of the corner of her eye to gauge his reactions to whatever the photographer is asking her to do. Even if the escort is sitting quietly, the model may be preoccupied with worrying about whether he’s bored and wanting to leave, and if he’s sitting in the corner tapping his feet and singing along to his IPod, everyone’s going to be annoyed by his rudeness.
Even the presence of a benign stranger on the set whose temperament and perspective are unknown can be distracting for an inexperienced photographer who might be a budding genius overflowing with innovative concepts and technical approaches, but who doesn’t yet have a lot of confidence. We learn by doing and failing, and no one wants to fail in front of an audience, which means your genius photographer is likely going to risk flexing only a fraction of his talent on your escorted shoot. And if the escort happens to be having a bad day, his surliness can be intimidating even for an experienced photographer.
On the other hand, the escort might be a great guy who just happens to be interested in photography and can’t refrain from asking the photographer to explain the shoot’s concept and the equipment and techniques that are being used to execute it. If the photographer also shoots events, particularly weddings, he’ll be used to that. If not, it’ll take about two questions about which lens he’s using and how many megapixels the camera has before he explodes. Anybody on a set who doesn’t have a designated job is a distraction just by being there and soaking up some of the attention that would have otherwise been applied to productive work.
• Escorts represent a risk of theft. Models will occasionally suggest as a reasonable compromise that the escort can just go sit in another room, but that’s even less acceptable than having him remain on the set where the photographer can watch him. Things tend to disappear when escorts are allowed to walk around a studio unescorted. We have tens of thousands of dollars in highly “fence-able” gear stashed around the Sourcelight enclave, and we’d like for it to still be there when you and your escort are gone. You can claim, possibly quite honestly, that you didn’t know what he was doing, but I’m not going to care. You vouched for him, you insisted on bringing him, you’re responsible for him.
Even if the escort is perfectly honest, many studios are in private residences, and very few people, probably including you yourself, would be comfortable having a stranger wandering around their home alone for hours at a time.
• Escorts complicate the insurance policy. Non-essential people on a photo set can represent serious problems for the photographer’s insurance policies. If equipment is broken by someone not authorized to be there, the comprehensive insurance may not cover its repair or replacement. Liability insurance may not cover injuries to an escort who isn’t directly involved in a production, and if your Sluggo hurts somebody else, who do you think is going to bear the brunt of the lawsuit? Every time somebody walks into my studio, I assume legal responsibility for his/her well-being. Even if an injury is demonstrably the result of the victim’s own stupidity and unsafe conduct, many insurance companies will simply elect to pay the damages rather than contest the claim in court, and then they’ll simply raise the premium for the policy holder in order to recoup their losses.
• Allowing escorts doubles the “Flake” factor. Booking a shoot and then not bothering to either show up for it or call and notify the photographer that you can‘t make it is known in the Internet modeling world as Flaking. It happens so often that it’s probably the second-most hated topic on modeling-site forums. It’s insulting when someone displays so little regard for your time; it’s infuriating to find yourself waiting with a crew for a model who didn’t care enough to show up and to also be thinking about all of the other things you could have been doing; and, occasionally, it’s expensive when that crew you assembled and the site you reserved have to be paid for even though the shoot doesn’t happen. When your model insists on bringing an escort, the flake risk doubles. Now we not only have to worry about the model’s irresponsibility, but we also have to allow for the possibility that even a conscientious model won’t make it to the shoot if the escort decides at the last minute that he’d rather go to a football game than hang around a photo shoot being bored. The fewer people who have to be accounted for before a shoot can go forward, the better, and the non-essential escort who has no stake in the session is the weakest link in that chain.
Real Security Measures
If you’re now in despair because we’ve systematically destroyed the illusion that an escort is a viable security measure and you don’t have a Plan B for protecting yourself, take heart—here’s what experienced models do to maximize their own security.
• Establish a professional brand. Over and over again throughout this series of articles we’ve stressed the necessity of establishing a consistent professional brand. If you act like and present yourself as a confident, experienced professional, you attract competent photographers who only want to work with strong, competent models. If your haphazard portfolio and sloppy demeanor indicate that you’re a timid, erratic amateur who doesn’t have a firm grasp on what kind of behavior is and isn’t acceptable in the business, you will, at best, attract amateur photographers who are themselves intimidated by pros, or, at worst, predators who know that professionals will sniff them out long before they ever meet. Your first line of defense is your brand—establish a reputation as the kind of no-nonsense pro that people of marginal character just don’t want to mess with.
• Confirm the photographer’s background. Beyond checking references, a practice we’ll discuss in its own bullet below, look for other signs that the photographer is who s/he claims to be. Does s/he have a website with a proprietary, professional address? Not smugmug.com/imaphotographer/, but www.imaphotographer.com . If you do find a dedicated domain name, go to a domain registry service like Network Solutions and do a “whois” search for the website. You’ll find lots of details, like the name and phone number of the official contact person for the site and how long it’s been registered. This is one of the ways Google determines how serious a business is when it’s trying to decide where to rank it in a search result; why shouldn’t you?
Speaking of Google, do a search for the photographer, using both his personal and formal business names if they’re different, as well as any pseudonyms he might be using on modeling sites. Many models publish their own blogs these days, and you may find honest comments about your photographer—both good and bad—that you won’t find on the model/photographer networking sites. You can also check sites like Complaints Board for any reviews or complaints that have been filed (of course, the only thing you’ll find will be complaints—no one writes to a complaints board to praise a business). Unfortunately, the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) ability to monitor the activities of businesses that haven’t paid the hefty membership dues to belong is limited. You won’t find any positive reports of non-affiliated businesses and you’ll rarely find any legitimate photographers who don’t consider a BBB affiliation to be an unnecessary extortion of money paid in exchange for protecting their reputation. All that “being a member of the BBB” means is that you bought an expensive membership in a fairly non-exclusive club (here’s an article about it).
Does the photographer have a verifiable, registered phone number—not a throwaway cell—that you can look up in a phone book? A published business location? The latter may not help that much, since many serious photographers operate out of a home studio. The Sourcelight studio, for example, is in a dedicated section of our private residence, and since all of our business is by appointment and we don’t want people randomly walking in off the street, we don’t publish a street address (although we’ll certainly give it to you if you ask). Moreover, some of the biggest and most successful names in photography may not have a permanent location at all, opting instead to either shoot on location or rent studio space when needed. If you do get an address, however, drive by it and check out the neighborhood. Does it seem more likely to support a professional photography studio or a meth lab? Is there a sign up for the business?
Finally, creepy though it may sound, if you’re really concerned about your photographer’s criminal history, you can always run a background check on various sites that maintain a registry of sex offenders—CriminalCheck or Family Watchdog, for example, or just run a Google search for “sex offender registry” and the state you’re interested in. Every state maintains one, and searching them is free.
• Check the photographer’s references. Just be sure you know how to do it effectively. Don’t ask the photographer for references—why would you expect a photographer to provide you with the names and numbers of models who wouldn’t recommend him/her? Instead, go to the photographer’s online portfolios and select your own references from among the models s/he has already worked with. If the photographer provides links to some of the models but not to others, the ones who aren’t linked are the ones you should start with, especially if they have portfolios on the same site. Send the model an email introducing yourself and asking a variety of open-ended questions, like “How comfortable was it for you to work with him? Did he respect your boundaries? Did he communicate his intentions clearly and stay with the concept you’d agreed to in advance, or did you find yourself being pressured to do something unexpected when you got to the shoot?” Ask how well the session was organized and managed. Don’t ask how much the model was paid—that’s rude—but do ask if the photographer delivered whatever was agreed upon in a timely manner. If the session was TFCD, ask if the photos met the model’s expectations, based on the photographer’s portfolio. Use your judgment in processing the information you get. Polite answers without much detail won’t tell you much, and a single complaint in a sea of glowing references may just be one of those occasional, unfortunate cases of incompatible personalities or conflicting styles. Cut through the polite indifference by asking the one question no responsible model will blow off with a fluff answer: “Would you recommend that I work with this photographer?”
Unlike bringing an escort, checking references will actually enhance your reputation with professional photographers. When your portfolio comments say “I do check references,” I immediately add you to my preferred list. That tells me you’re confident, and confident models address their full, uninhibited attention to finding posing solutions to the conceptual problem we’re dealing with in the image. When I see “I reserve the right to bring an escort for my own safety,” I roll my eyes and pass on to the next portfolio because that suggests a timid and fearful model who won’t be able to concentrate on anything but her own worries. Fear doesn’t photograph well.
• Keep a “paper trail.” No matter how much you hate it, use email to document your correspondence with the photographer. Having a written, time-stamped record of your communication removes any ambiguity before, during, and after the shoot about what exactly was agreed to by all parties, and its existence helps to discourage a phony photographer with criminal intent in mind.
• Meet the photographer beforehand. Although some photographers don’t like it, and it’s not always convenient or even possible (e.g., traveling models or photographers trying to book shoots in advance of their arrival), meeting for an informal chat in a public place like a coffee shop is a good way to get a first-hand impression of your photographer. Frankly, I prefer it when possible for that reason plus one very selfish one that suits my needs—I get advance warning of the model’s Flake potential. Flaking, as discussed above, is one of the more annoying facets of the Internet modeling industry, and if the model doesn’t have the character or discipline to honor a professional appointment, I’d rather find that out by myself over a chocolate mocha in Starbucks than with a full crew and client representative standing around impatiently in a prepped studio set. Shabby photographers have been known to flake too, by the way, so feel free to use the pre-shoot meeting as your own advance Flake test as well.
Use the meeting to assess your photographer’s personality and character. Does he seem focused and on-task? Are any personal questions he asks of you or revelations he offers about himself appropriate to the purpose of your meeting? For example, questioning you about your attitude toward nudity can be very appropriate if you’re discussing a nude shoot, but questions about your sex life—or revelations about his—aren’t likely to reveal anything useful except his prurient interest in topics that are none of his business. A little personal chit-chat helps to establish the basis for the rapport you’ll need to collaborate on the set, but pushing to transform a professional relationship into an artificial friendship is a clue that the photographer doesn’t handle boundaries well. Being friendly doesn’t necessarily imply being friends, and professionals understand and effortlessly preserve the distinction.
Discuss concepts and modeling expectations. If nudity is involved, both of you should agree on the boundaries and purpose. Find out who else is going to be on the set—lighting assistants, make-up artists and stylists, client representatives if it’s a commercial shoot—and make sure you’re comfortable with the staffing. If it’s inappropriate for a model to drag non-essential personnel onto the set as escorts, it’s inappropriate for the photographer to allow non-essential people there as well.
Make a point of asking the photographer to explain how s/he manages security on the set and use the answer to form an impression of the photographer’s grasp of the issue and preparation for dealing with it. Security simply shouldn’t be an issue in a studio, but managing public interference on a location set can be complicated without a functional strategy. If the photographer waves your concern off as insignificant and tells you not to worry about it, worry.
Confirm that you’re both in agreement about the terms of compensation—the money, of course, if it’s a commercial job, or the number of photos and amount of retouching if it’s a TFCD arrangement—and get a firm commitment about the time of delivery. All of these considerations, by the way, are things you should already have discussed in emails. The pre-shoot meeting is primarily a social meet-and-greet and your terms-talk should be confirmations rather than new discussions. Finally, just to make sure the point about your own professional attitude has been made, take written notes and confirm your impressions before you leave.
• Evaluate the Forum personality. In the Working the Web article, we suggested that you minimize or at least sanitize your modeling website forum participation because its free-flowing incivility is such a seductive invitation to destroy your brand. It works both ways. Does the photographer you’re vetting maintain a regular presence in the forums? If so, is his/her participation characterized by helpful insights expressed in professional language, or does s/he come off as an aggressive, opinionated, bully? Supercilious attitudes that don’t respect the rights of other participants to express a differing opinion, and which tend to argue using caustic, personal attacks are good indicators of a bullying personality that won’t show you a lot of respect on the set either. You don’t have to be physically attacked to have a miserable experience on a photo shoot.
I once worked briefly as a scriptwriter for a small media-production company with a big client list and a passive-aggressive owner driven by a world-class inferiority complex. He hired skilled specialists and then proceeded to systematically undercut their talent in ways both subtle and overt, even to the extent of diminishing the quality of his company’s output for clients. Forcing everyone to acknowledge that he was the smartest man in the room was more important than encouraging his staff to produce the kind of excellence that made his company competitive.
During the ten years that I acted in theatre, I had occasion to work twice for a seriously emotionally flawed director who would hire the best actors he could find and then undermine them by humiliating them in rehearsal. Although he clearly knew it would diminish their performance in front of a paying audience—which would also diminish the brand equity in his theatre company—indulging his emotional instability was more important than preserving his brand. It’s mystifying, but it happens.
If you know what to look for, you can spot these people. They’re generally threatened by competence and take a respectful demeanor in others as a sign of weakness. They’re not good in groups, and tend to sabotage projects that require a collaborative effort. They lead by intimidation and ridicule, and their humor is often sarcastic and cruel. If this describes anybody you’ve encountered in a forum discussion, you’ll have little reason to expect anything different on location. Over the years, I’ve worked in a lot of creative, collaborative fields that required the ability to strike a healthy balance between a strong ego and a cooperative team spirit. Without exception, the most talented people I’ve worked with have also been the most humble and accommodating. Conversely, the biggest jerks have had the least talent. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
• Notify your backup. Do the same thing hikers and backpackers do—leave your itinerary with someone you trust. Tell him/her what you’re doing, where you’re going, and when you’re going to be there. That means the backup should have the photographer’s name, address, and phone number and the cell number of the phone you’re going to be carrying with you. When you get to the shoot, confirm the duration of the session with the photographer, and then call your backup in the photographer’s presence and tell him or her when the shoot will be over and when to expect your next phone call. If you forget to make the call when you’re working with us here at Sourcelight, we’ll suggest it, and any credible photographer will understand what you’re up to.
Of course, don’t forget to make the second call, especially if your shoot runs over. You don’t need to be interrupted by the police breaking down the door because your backup got nervous and called for help.
• Be assertive. Take charge of your part in the production. Bring your skills, a can-do attitude, and a professional demeanor, and expect nothing less than a positive working environment. However informal the setting may be, there are certain behavioral standards that apply to any photo shoot, and basic respect for the dignity and personal autonomy of all participants is at the top of the list. Every good photographer knows that the difference between a great photo and an average one is the model’s ability to shed her inhibitions and reveal something she normally keeps private. You don’t have to be nude to feel naked and vulnerable, and asking a model to reveal herself, whether physically or emotionally, implies an obligation to be respectful and supportive. If the set environment doesn’t inspire that kind of trust, you’re not going to do your best work, and you might find it impossible to work at all.
If someone on the set makes inappropriate sexual references to your body or suggests by word or action any kind of relationship beyond the job at hand, stand up, literally, and say, “Hey, I’m trying to do a job here, and I didn’t expect to hear a comment like that on a photo shoot. If that continues, I’m leaving.” Wait for the apology, and if you don’t get it, and you’re not confident that the atmosphere is going to improve, gather your things and leave immediately. Don’t finish the shoot—not now, and not three days later as the nitwits in the example above did. Any comment that demeans or offends you is grounds for a work stoppage, at least until you’ve expressed your disapproval and the air is cleared. Any comment that you take seriously as threatening is legally an assault, and if you were physically handled, the charge will include battery. Call the police and make a formal complaint. Plus, if you met the photographer on a modeling site, file your complaint with the site moderators—no modeling site wants to get a reputation as a recruiting ground for predators. Craigslist has been laboring—none too successfully—under that reputation for years.
Don’t be passive, and don’t let yourself be bullied into doing things you’re uncomfortable with or tolerating conduct you know would be wrong under any other circumstance. If you’re conducting yourself in a professional manner, you have every right to expect everyone else involved to do the same; and if the photographer allows, or even precipitates, unprofessional behavior on the set, you absolutely have the right to leave. And you should. The sooner you get over your misguided phobia that this kind of behavior is rampant throughout the industry and realize that it’s actually an aberration that the vast majority of professionals despise and condemn, the sooner you’ll start to enjoy your modeling experience.
For some specific advice on how to deal with inappropriate behavior on the set, here’s a link to a thoughtful article by Austin, Texas-based model, Damianne.
Allow me a brief personal digression, and please forgive the indulgence.
I have 30 years of riding motorcycles all over the country. I’ve been in every state but Hawaii and Alaska on a bike, and I still have trepidations every time I go through an intersection with cars waiting to cross my path. Not long after I started riding, a driver jumped out in front of me, causing me to T-bone the car, fly across the hood, and tumble over a hundred yards down a Kansas City arterial. Eventually, I came to rest with numerous minor injuries, including three cracked ribs, but I lived through every motorcyclist’s worst nightmare—the irresponsible, distracted driver who doesn’t see you. I lived because I’d already done everything possible to manage what I could control—a well-maintained motorcycle and a full suit of protective clothing, including boots, riding pants, jacket, gloves, and a full-face helmet. Even in 100-degree heat I don’t ride 3 blocks to the grocery store without the full rig. Uncomfortable? You bet, but, at least once in my bike-riding career, a life-saver. The bike and the gear were totaled, but four weeks later the insurance settlement had me back on a new bike because I like riding. My enjoyment of what I do trumps my fear of the remote chance of a disaster I’ve already experienced once.
I manage what I can; I ride sober, with quality gear, and I stay alert. Cars nose out in front of me all the time, and then slam on their brakes when they see me. I’m prepared for that—it’s routine, barely a blip on my radar. I know, because I have over a hundred thousand miles in the saddle with only one accident, that the car that doesn’t stop is the one-in-a-million disaster you can’t prepare for. I’m okay with that, but when my routine alertness begins to warp into crippling paranoia—when I can no longer approach an intersection without reading disaster in every car I meet—that’ll be the end for me. You cannot ride a motorcycle on the street without an element of risk—you can minimize it, but you can’t eliminate it, and if you can’t find a way to reconcile your fear of the fall with your enjoyment of the ride, the only way left for you to manage the risk to an acceptable level of comfort is to stop riding.
If you are, at base, afraid of strangers and uncertain of your ability to manage the routine social awkwardness of the occasional jerk, an escort will not help you become the kind of confident, professional model who can take an inappropriate comment in stride and salvage a gig. If your modeling choices are governed by fear rather than the joy of the work, you are simply in the wrong profession. Yes, there may be a sociopath with a camera out there somewhere who wants to hurt one of the million or so models who are going to step in front of a camera this year, but odds are, it’s not you. The worst thing you’re going to face is a handsy creep with a foul mouth, and he’ll deserve every bit of the humiliation you’re going to rain down on him for his unforgivably rotten behavior.
Hey, call me crazy, but in spite of the risks, I’m going to keep right on flying commercial airlines without a parachute. Crazy photographers… it’s a wonder flight attendants don’t demand escorts to protect them from us.