The world has finally started taking action against the sexual predation experienced by females* in the entertainment industry and I, for one, have joined the collective sigh of, ‘finally.’
It may come as a surprise to some, but this is hardly a new phenomenon. The very fact that some people had the audacity to express surprise at the extent of the #metoo epidemic hitting their timelines in the last few weeks illustrates the lack of awareness outside of the victim pool. And with the topple of industry bigwigs, comes the promise of real change. The downfall of Harvey Weinstein and Terry Richardson (by their own actions) has triggered a heightened awareness of what really goes on behind the scenes to struggling and successful actors, models, celebrities.
An aspiring actor/model (for this article, let’s just say subject) is always in a vulnerable position at the beginning of their careers. They are little fish in a big pond of someone who knows someone else who can help them if they help you first. The lines of what they can and should do are not clear when the very people promising them success are willing to blur them further to achieve their own ends. Sexual assault by nature is a demonstration of power, not a desire for sex, although they are intertwined – predatory dominance is achieved by extorting the most intimate act, in exchange for a promise of money, power, fame.
The movement is not met without opposition, however. A common response is that aggressive overtures should be met with appreciation, as a compliment, even when it makes the subject feel endangered and powerless in already precarious situations. These perpetrators would do well to learn common courtesy in socializing, complimenting, and that boundaries do in fact exist. No, you will not be accused of sexual harassment for flirting. You will be accused of harassment for harassing. This includes, but is not limited to; uninvited touching, catcalling (there has never been a point to catcalling. Nobody has ever responded positively to catcalling. Ever. Nobody.), and solicitation.
In order to make these distinctions easier, and with the help of a few industry insiders, we have put together a guide of do’s and don’ts for photographers, to ensure a positive environment for everyone involved in the shoot. It is important to remember that your subject is particularly vulnerable in these situations as they will be surrounded by strangers, in various states of undress, and outside of their comfort zone. Our intention is to highlight behaviours that cross the line when it comes to appropriate behaviour in these situations. Even normal social interaction can be perceived as aggressive when there is a power dynamic at play – especially when your subject is in the nude.
DO ask permission before touching your subject (touching should ONLY be for adjusting pose, and ONLY after verbal direction is not achieving the desired effect)
DO NOT offer compliments or criticisms of the subject’s physical appearance unless it is DIRECTLY relevant to the shoot. This is a difficult one. If, say, the subject has changed in appearance since the test shots, then it is well within your rights to comment on it and if need be, cancel the shoot. BUT it is not within your rights to keep telling them they are beautiful, perfect, sexy (STAY AWAY FROM SEXY). You may say the pose or shot is beautiful, perfect, amazing, but avoid being specific in your compliments as this can be uncomfortable.
Yes, this is annoying and there was a time where compliments were just that. But unfortunately, times have changed and the seedy underbelly of the industry has been exposed. With the daily harassment women endure, and the collective blindness of men to the impact of their actions, we have to acknowledge a new boundary. As long as you keep the complimentary remarks relevant to the shoot versus the physical attributes of your subject, you are maintaining a respectful and professional atmosphere.
DO NOT coerce your subject to reveal more than they are willing to or have contractually obliged themselves to do. A famous example of this is when Hugh Hefner coerced Kim Kardashian into posing nude for Playboy. Before the shoot, she was under the impression that she would be tastefully covered and did not at all expect to be asked to pose nude. When the photographers insisted that she strip down, and she refused, Hefner called her- a crying, hysterical women- and told her it was nude or no cover. He put her career in a precarious position to force her into doing what he desired. Don’t be like Hugh.
DO NOT expect nudity just because your subject has in the past posed nude. The whole ‘but everyone has seen you in the nude anyway’ argument is moot. It means nothing. So what? That may have been without permission a la Marilyn Monroe (for those who don’t know that her nudes were bought and posted by Hugh without her knowledge or permission) and Kim Kardashian (who, lest we forget, was the victim of revenge porn). It may have been a one time only shoot. Whatever the reason, no means no. If your subject is not willing to do nudes, then any coercion you attempt is assault and solicitation. Find someone else who is willing to do those shots.
DO treat this shoot as a professional exchange. You are both professionals. Just because your subject may be new to the industry, does not mean that they are any less of a professional. Everyone started somewhere, including you. Any promise to boost their career or network them with other professionals, should be offered with no expectation of compensation. Do it because you can and genuinely want to help, because you believe in them, or- NOT. AT. ALL.
DO NOT comment on racial attributes such as lips, skin tone, butt, etc,. For many women, these are sore points whereby they feel fetishized in a predominantly white industry. To place too much value on certain aesthetics is to validate that feeling of otherness. This should loop back to my point on complimenting your subject. Don’t. This is professional environment.
DO NOT ask for your subjects’ contact details. If you want to work with them again, they have an agent you can call. If you want to have dinner with them, wait until you are in a social environment with them after the shoot. The workplace is not a dating pool, but colleagues who choose to socialize together are well within those means.
And finally, if you do or have a desire to do any of the following, you are a predator:
- expect sexual favors because you have been shooting your subject nude and are ‘just a man at the end of the day’
- expect sexual favours in exchange for a prime/coveted spot in a shoot
- expect to be allowed to touch a nude subject because it is your shoot and they belong to you
- pretend to be gay to make women feel more comfortable being nude
With the recent exposure of biased power dynamics in the industry, it is necessary to acknowledge that these types of situations exist, even if they are not perpetrated by you. The responsibility to create and maintain a standard of professionalism belongs to both subjects and photographers. As a photographer, it is in your interest to be aware that your subjects may have been victims of prior abuse in the industry, and that seemingly innocent behaviour on your part can be misconstrued. It is key to have open lines of communication, continuously ensuring the comfort of your subject and making sure their boundaries are being respected. There is a massive misconception between men and women and their ideas of what defines assault and harassment, which can only be addressed if we, as an industry, are willing to openly discuss the behaviours we exhibit, and what we expect as normal. There is no such thing as an overreaction when the safety of a fellow human being is at risk.
*while I acknowledge that women are not the only victims of sexual harassment, assault and predators, this article is inspired by specific events.
Written by Azra Gani.
Model in header photo: Lauren Roth.