So you’ve been hanging out with your photographer friend a bit too much and decided to allow him to take a few quick photos of you. You know, for your new profile pic. Up it goes on Facebook and Instagram and you get all the likes and it’s all pretty swell. Skip to a few years later and you find out this photographer friend of yours has gone ahead and printed this image of you and sold it without so much as a mention or request for permission from you. When you confront him he reckons he can do what he likes with his photos. He has rights to his photos, which is fair enough but then why does it make you feel so uncomfortable? Well that’s because you also have rights to your image, likeness, personality, dignity, privacy and reputation and those rights have been completely ignored.
Smart phones and social media have made everyone and their little sister a photographer and that’s great for many reasons. Creative career opportunities are constantly being launched through Instagram, but what about the moral implications? People aren’t informed and are crossing all sorts of lines.
As an actress my image is a carefully curated brand. If I agree to be photographed it’s because I believe it will benefit my personal brand and if the photographer makes money off my image I should be reimbursed accordingly. Makes sense right? Well apparently not.
Photography is an art form and many photographers don’t bother making sure that they legally own the work they publish or make money from. It’s one thing when a photo is taken in a public space but it’s a completely different thing if it’s in a private setting. It becomes an actual photo shoot and therefore a fee should be paid upfront or a percentage of the profit should be paid to the model once it’s sold. Either way some kind of mutually beneficial agreement should be made between the photographer and the model.
I have learnt the hard way how important it is to state clearly in writing how that image can be used in the future. Once money has been made from your image and your bare body is now hanging in someone’s house without your consent it feels all kinds of creepy.
This recently happened to me and I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it. The photographer is my friend and we work in the same industry so I confronted him but we reached no resolution. He believes he’s free to do what he likes with his image and I believe he needs to get me to sign a release before he can sell it or at the very least ask for my consent. We collaborated and created something beautiful together that has now been sold. If it was a collaboration surely both parties should benefit from the sale? Why do photographers feel that they own it all with no obligations to the person in the photograph?
I spoke to many friends and photographers who each had a different opinion. None of which were really informed opinions though, in fact most people had no idea. I decided to adult hard and find myself a lawyer so I could get to the bottom of this predicament with hard facts and laws. After telling my lawyer the whole debacle he agreed that I have a strong case against this so-called friend of mine and that I should press charges. I told him I really didn’t feel like fighting. We have so many mutual friends and work in the same field. I didn’t want to make a fuss. My lawyer told me that sounded a lot like rape culture. His words not mine, but it did make me analyze the comparison more thoroughly. Let me be clear in that I’m not using the R word flippantly. I am not claiming to understand the gravity of that kind of situation but I do know what an imbalance of power feels like. I know what it feels like to be completely taken advantage of by a friend and not want to take further legal action in order to protect my social and professional relationship with our mutual friends and colleagues. I even chose to excuse myself from a casting for a big local commercial once I found out this photographer was involved. I didn’t feel like any more murky power play between us and there’s something very wrong with that. The imbalance of power is intimidating and overwhelming leaving me feeling defeated.
All I’m saying is take heed. We live in strange times where our image can be captured and sold before we even realize there was a photographer in the room. This is especially valid for actors and models. Get yourselves simple release forms that clearly state what you are and are not comfortable with and get that photographer to sign before the shoot. A photo shoot is a collaboration, meaning a combined effort to create something beautiful. Therefore there should be combined reward when someone is willing to pay for that beauty, unless agreed otherwise.
It’s about raising awareness about people’s rights to privacy and dignity. It’s about fairness in creative collaboration. It’s a moral and ethical issue that needs to be discussed right now and considered before every photo shoot. Know your rights because if you felt taken advantage of, chances are you were.