We’ve all heard about them, a lot of us have experienced them and most people are worried about them, so today we’re going to talk about creepy photographers. We’re going to talk about how you might be one without even knowing it, some basic things you should just understand, both as a human being and a photographer, and we’re going to rant a bit about how much creepy photographers suck for both us photographers, and for everyone else. By we i of course mean me. Well, until we get to the comment section where I’m hope we can debate this in a lively and honest manner.

What is a creepy photographer?

Creepy is a broad word, so lets drill down a bit and get this defined properly. By creepy photographers I mean two specific groups of people. The first is the intentionally creepy ones, the photographers every parent fears their child might run into, the stalkers of modelmayhem, the guy with the “art project” that involves a lot of you being nude and very little art, the middle aged man who has another career and a “boudoir” or “glamour” “studio” in his basement, and the photographer who is more focused on complimenting your ass than making images. Basically I’m talking about any and everyone who uses photography as a way to get into close proximity with nude people, pick up chicks/hunks or live out some sexual desire.

The other kind is the “are you one of these?” kind, the photographer who isn’t aware that they’re being creepy, who has the best of intentions and might just be failing a bit with the social-skills. While these aren’t intentionally hurting every other photographer, and creeping out innocent people, they’re still doing both, and it needs to stop.

Why do creepy photographers suck?

First and foremost because they’re being creeps towards their subjects. In a simplistic sense they’re taking a situation where the subject is often vulnerable, either due to lack-of-clothes, or simply due to personal intimidation, and forcing their sexuality on the subject. There is a reason we don’t usually allow say… teachers to do that to their students, doctors to their patients or police officers to their subjects. That is because as that teacher, doctor, police officer or in this case photographer, they’re in a position of authority and power, and whether they like it or not, forcing their sexuality on someone from that position is abusing that position. And even if their intentions are super noble and pure and the 400 other excuses one can come up with (boys will be boys, I can’t control my emotions and she was flirting with me comes to mind), they are still making sexual advances from a position of authority and power, even if they try not to. The situation in a shoot, particularly a portrait session, boudoir session or other one on one photography session is one with a completely skewed power-balance, you simply can’t get around that. I’m not going to go into a debate about why, or whether, it is ethically wrong to abuse that position of power in order to achieve  sexual gratification, it should be obvious to anyone. If you want to argue this point, lets duke it out in the comments section.

Secondly, they’re hurting every single one of us. As a male photographer, I have to deal with a shitload of suspicion and mistrust, and that sucks. Now don’t get me wrong, I completely understand, and even encourage this, due to the ridiculous amount of creepy photographers, or as they’re endearingly called GWCs, but it sure as hell frustrates me. I meet a lot of people I want to photograph simply because I would love to have their face in my portfolio, think they’re perfect for an idea for an image I have, or just because. Since I’m not at all interested in boudoir photography, aren’t really doing any nude art stuff, and have a body of work I can show people, I can usually get around it. For someone just starting out, or wanting to do nude art, this must be orders of magnitude more annoying. This is basically both messing up the general reputation of photographers, and photography, and getting in the way of awesome images being made by awesome photographers, that sucks!

On positions of power, and abusing them.

Image of photographer pinning down female

So, up there two paragraphs ago I ranted a bit about positions of power and abusing them, we need to dig a bit into this to make it clear. In a ton of social situations the balance of power is completely unbalanced, a photography session is one of those. This isn’t implicitly a bad thing, since as the photographer I need to be able to control the situation, the final image is my responsibility and therefore I am the one deciding how to best go about creating said final image. Imagine having to argue and vote on the placement of lights, shutter speeds and backgrounds, it would end up with terrible situations and terrible images, so by necessity the photographer is in a position of power during the shoot. On top of that, a lot of people become super aware of how they look, if they are “pretty enough”, and sort of go into a tailspin around all the things they don’t like about their looks when they’re being photographed. On top of THAT having so much attention focused on you, and a very common desire to please and live up to expectations, makes for a generally insecure, obedient and submissive subject. We get around this in tons of ways, talking, smiling, building report etc. but in most situations the fact remains that the photographer is the authority, and the subject is well, the subject of said authority. Just image how you feel when you’re at the dentist, you’re anxious because the situation is intimidating, the dentist is basically the judge on whether you’re good enough, or not good enough (at maintaining dental hygiene), society tells you that you need perfect white teeth and here you are, strapped down, on your back, with 2 tons of steel shoved into your mouth and some person closely examining the worthiness of your teeth.

The thing about people and power is that it sort of infects the entire social situation. If your dentist suddenly asked you to quickly raise your arm, you probably would. The arm has nothing to do with the dentistry, it probably wouldn’t make much sense if you thought it over, but you’d probably still do it. This goes for photography sessions to. From that position of power it is WAY easier to push people past their boundaries, whether those be boundaries about flashing a big grin, or taking of the top. Now we need to listen to Peter Parker’s uncle here, with great power comes great responsibility, and as the person in power, you have a huge responsibility to your subject. It is your responsibility that you don’t push them beyond what they’ll be super happy about when they see the images, it is your responsibility to try and understand the social boundaries of your subject and respect them, because in a lot of situations you won’t be told if you’re stepping on them, you’ll just end up being a damn creep that acted in a way that was really uncomfortable to your subject. Or if you’re a nefarious fuck, you’ll end up pushing your client into a sexual or personal situation that they’ll feel like complete and utter shit about afterwards because you wanted to get your gratification. Do you really want to be that person? didn’t think so.

Adding to that already complex situation, people are different. Some people are totally cool with being nude, some people aren’t. Some people like a rude ping-pong of comments and sarcasm, some people really do not, and if you want the best image, the best memory in your clients mind, and to not be an asshat, you need to navigate this because you’re the authority, and you’re the one who can push people around on the set.

How not to be a creepy photographer

It has taken me a shitload of time to make any sort of coherent list of thoughts for this part of the post, and I’m sure it can be both added to and edited, and probably will be over time, but for now, these are my thoughts on how you avoid being a creepy photographer.

  • Take your sexuality, pack it up inside yourself and tell that fucker to stay put till you’re done with work. Nobody is claiming that anyone should be able to not get aroused, not be attracted to people or anything like that, that would be ridiculous. What you need to be able to do is keep it in till you’re done with your photography. Nobody is there to be subjected to anyones sexuality, they’re there to make images, and so should you. If you fall heads over heels in love with your subject (I’m sure it has happened), then give them a call the next day, and ask them out. The photography session is NOT the place to shove your sexuality all up in people’s face. Besides, wouldn’t you rather have somebody go out with you because they want to, and not because they’re super intimidated by the situation in which you ask them? (If the answer is no, please seek help, you need it, tho it might be a long road.)
  • Make sure you have a feel for people before the shooting starts. This is part of why the pre-shoot talk is so important, preferably on an entirely different day. This is where you feel people out, get to know what their humor, attitude etc. is like when they’re not in an intimidating situation, and that knowledge empowers you to not trample all over their boundaries once the shoot starts.
  • Put some energy into being sensitive to peoples reactions to what you do and say. We’re actually pretty good at understanding each other, us human beings, and if you devote a fraction of your attention to it, you’ll be able to recognize when you’re crossing the line with people. When you do, acknowledge it, apologize and back down. It is much better to relieve the tension by actually verbalizing that something awkward,  uncomfortable etc. just happened, that you’re aware if it and that you’re trying to avoid it happening again, than to let it just hang in the air.
  • Realize that the situation is about one thing, and that is to create an awesome image. That is why everyone is there, not to make new friends, not to blind date photographers or models and certainly not to be subjected to your sexuality. If that isn’t why you’re there, then stop photographing people and start saying hi to them instead, and ask them out for coffee.

In closing

This is something I think about a lot, and by far not something I’m done learning about, and thinking about, so really, feel free to take me to school on where I’m wrong, what I missed and what needs to be added, because I sure as hell don’t want to be a creepy photographer, and I’d really like the world to be less creepy. Comments are open, mails are read and I’m all for a good debate :)

Addendum

Thanks to the debate below, I’ve realized that I might have implicitly accused anyone of having a studio in their basement, photography as a hobby and being a middle aged man of being a creepy predator. Let’s be very clear about that, that was NOT my intention. So, first of all apologies for that failed writing, and secondly if you get that from my post, you’re getting the wrong point. Or, rather, I’ve failed to get the real point across properly.

John posted the comment “It certainly isn’t obvious to people new to the industry. New models will pick out what they want from your statement and that will be middle aged (I am actually older) , career, and basement and attach that to creep. Now you have put us all in that category. The issue is more about purpose of the shoot than location or age. The common question I hear is what are you doing with the images. That is more legitimate than where is your studio, how old are you, and do you have a career.” And he is completely right. Asking what the purpose of the shoot is, is very good advice. So thank you John for first of all pointing out an unintentional fuckup I made, and secondly for the sound advice

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