Most photographers are generous with their knowledge and support others. Unfortunately, this does not apply to everyone. Why a toxic minority gives all photographers a bad name and how to deal with them.
We have all met them. In the comment section of an article, on an internet forum, in camera clubs, or at work, toxic photographers are an unwelcome reality.
Much of the toxic behavior we see online is often racist, sexist, or homophobic, and sometimes ageism comes into play as well. For all reasonable people, this kind of behavior is always undesirable. Unfortunately, there are people with attitudes that should never have been acceptable, and certainly not now in the 21st century. For example, articles on this site that highlight misogyny in the industry always draw a lot of trolling comments. Fstoppers gets good at stamping it out. Still, it’s a difficult balance between allowing discussion of opposing viewpoints and removing a platform of hate-mongers. The same inconvenience occurs in many online groups, especially those where moderators and administrators do not trample on it.
However, photographers are not only confronted with prejudices against people with recognized protection status. All people can be victims of wickedness, and not just online.
The examples below all happened, but I’ve changed the names and situations slightly to protect the victims. I’m sure many readers will recognize at least one of these circumstances that happened to them or someone they know.
A few years ago, Mo, a novice photographer, mentioned to me that he took online advice on how to photograph a local event that he attends regularly. He wanted to take his camera with him for the first time and then share the pictures with the people he met there. On the camera forum where Mo posted the question, it was met with a tirade of anger from some professional photographers, who said if he had to ask that question, he shouldn’t photograph the event. Mo didn’t do it professionally, just to please the others. He came to me and I showed him the simple things he could do to get better shots, which he did. Those angry pros still lurk on the forums, pouncing on novices asking simple questions.
At a photo club not far from me, the chairman, a professional photographer named Tony, always judged the photos. Ali was a member and a top photographer. Ali wanted to start making money from her work but never won the competitions. Consequently, Ali’s confidence was shaken by being consistently ignored for first place. Ali’s friend Pete, who won regularly, noticed this.
They each submitted their pictures to the competition for a month. But this time their entries bore each other’s names. Pete’s submission of Ali’s photo won. Both Pete and Ali left the club. Today Ali is a successful professional photographer. Tony has lost his presidency at the AGM and has been forgotten.
At another club, Gordon judges the photos in the competitions. He is a competent photographer, but constantly belittles the work of the contestants. Gordon recently destroyed a young boy’s confidence with a harsh and unfair criticism of his work. As a result, the boy stopped taking photos, and the club is losing members.
Jo is a fabulous photographer and works in a studio. Amber, the studio’s executive director, does not thank Jo for her work, never encourages her, and constantly taunts her in front of others. Amber repeatedly told Jo that she was no good. Even when instructions from Amber were wrong, she blamed Jo for her own mistakes. The bullying even led to the manager infiltrating Jo over a long period of time towards the studio owner and then dooming her. This led to Jo suffering from depression.
Luckily, a client noticed Jo’s work and offered her work at a photo agency. The studio’s reputation has since plummeted and it is now struggling to recruit or retain staff. Their bad reputation caused them to lose customers as well.
Tam was a member of an online photo forum. As soon as Tam gave advice, posted a photo, or helped someone, Steph, a longtime group member, would contradict derogatory comments or simply rephrase the advice Tam had already given. Steph then took credit for finding solutions that Tam had already given. Everyone knew this was happening, but nobody did anything. Tam left and is now helping photographers elsewhere. Steph is now an admin of the group and attacks other victims. Meanwhile, more established members have also left this toxic forum.
Daniel is a professional photographer with an exaggerated notion of his worth. He picks on others online, especially those who are more successful than him. Daniel claims superior knowledge due to his long career and delights in disparaging the authors of photography articles. He also offers unsolicited low-quality critiques of others’ photographs. He does this in a subtle way, making sure not to choose the same person or website over and over again. However, Daniel doesn’t realize that others in the industry are mocking him. He also loses job opportunities due to his behavior.
We all know situations like this and people who are not happy unless they make life difficult for others. We’ve also read comments from those who spit bile and think they’re essential members of a community because they’re often the loudest and so stand out. Because they dominate the environment in which they operate, it fuels their ego and their already overblown and delusional self-esteem.
So what can we do to eradicate this horrific behavior? The good news is that, as you can see from the examples above, Newton’s third law seems to come into play: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So when they mistreat others, that comes back to bite them in other ways.
It’s also worth noting that despite their noise, they’re in the minority. Articles here, for example, have thousands or tens of thousands of readers. Someone could write a long, snarky comment. However, they may represent 0.005% or less of this article’s readership. You might get a handful of likes for your comment, but those supporters are still a tiny minority compared to the kinder people out there.
But there are still victims of abuse. Regardless of how the world almost always treats the perpetrators, these victims need support. Unfortunately, most people hide and do not stand up for the abused. But when you do, it can make a world of difference. If you are in a position where you have a responsibility to stop this abuse, then please act on that responsibility.
If you see people being attacked, do whatever you can to support them. be nice to them Whether it’s private or public in an online comment, just a few words of support can make a world of difference. Then report it. Who you tell it to depends on the situation, whether it’s a senior manager, an internet forum admin team, or even the police. Taking a stand against bullies and showing that their behavior is unacceptable in a civilized society is the only way to defeat them.
If you are a victim of this type of abuse, report it as well. Alternatively tell a friend. If you need help, ask for it. But ultimately, sometimes the only thing you can do is walk away and find kinder people around.