Most photographers are generous with their knowledge and supportive of others. Sadly, this is not true of everyone. Here’s why a toxic minority gives all photographers a bad name and how to deal with them.
We’ve all come across them. In the comments section of an article, in an internet forum, at camera clubs, or work, toxic photographers are an unwelcome reality.
Much of the toxic behavior we observe online is often racist, sexist, or homophobic, and sometimes, ageism comes into play too. For all reasonable people, this kind of conduct is always unwelcome. Sadly, there are those with attitudes that never should have been acceptable and certainly not now in the 21st century. For example, articles on this site highlighting misogyny within the industry always bring forth a bunch of trolling comments. Fstoppers is getting good at stamping it out. Still, it is a difficult balance between allowing discussion about opposing points of view and removing a platform from the hatemongers. The same unpleasantness happens in many online groups, especially those where moderators and admins don’t stamp down on it.
But it isn’t only the prejudice against people with recognized protected statuses that photographers face. All people can be victims of nastiness, and it isn’t just online.
The following examples all happened, but I have changed the names and situations slightly to protect the victims. I am sure many readers will recognize at least one of these circumstances that have happened to them or someone they know.
A couple of years ago, Mo, a novice photographer, mentioned to me that he had sought advice online about how to photograph a local event he regularly attended. He wanted to take his camera along for the first time and then share the pictures with the people he met there. In the camera forum where Mo had posted the question, it was met with a tirade of anger from a couple of professional photographers saying that if he had to ask that question, he should not be photographing the event. Mo was not doing it professionally, but purely as a favor for the others. He came to me, and I showed him the simple things he could do to achieve better shots, which he did. Those angry pros are still lurking in the forum and pounce on beginners asking simple questions.
At a photography club not far from me, the chairman, a professional photographer called Tony, always judged the photos. Ali was a member and a first-rate photographer. Ali wanted to start earning money from their work, yet never won the competitions. Accordingly, Ali’s confidence was knocked back by being constantly ignored for the first place. Ali’s friend Pete, who regularly won, noticed that was happening.
One month, they each entered their pictures in the competition. But, this time, their entries had the other’s name. Pete’s entry of Ali’s photo won. Both Pete and Ali left the club. Now, Ali is a successful professional photographer. Tony lost his chairmanship at the AGM and has disappeared into obscurity.
At another club, Gordon judges the photos in the competitions. He’s a competent photographer, but constantly belittles the competition participants’ work. Recently, Gordon destroyed a young boy’s confidence with a harsh and unfair critique of his work. According, the lad stopped taking photos, and the club is shedding members.
Jo is a fabulous photographer and works in a studio. Amber, the studio’s business manager, doesn’t thank Jo for her work, never encourages her, and constantly derides 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 resulted in the manager undermining Jo over a long period to the studio’s owner and then setting her up to fail. That led to Jo suffering from depression.
Fortunately, a client noticed Jo’s work and offered her work at a photo agency. Meanwhile, the studio’s reputation has plummeted, and it now has difficulty recruiting or retaining staff. Their bad name resulted in them losing clients too.
Tam was a member of an online photography forum. As soon as Tam gave advice, posted a photo, or helped anyone, Steph, a long-standing group member, would disagree, make snide comments, or just reword the advice that Tam had already said. Steph then took the credit for finding solutions that Tam had already given. Everyone knew this was happening, but nobody did anything. Tam walked away and now helps photographers elsewhere. Steph is now an admin of the group and picks on other victims. More established members have since left that toxic forum too.
Daniel is a professional photographer with an over-inflated idea of his worth. He picks on others online, especially those more successful than him. Claiming superior knowledge because of his long career, Daniel rejoices in belittling the authors of photography articles. Uninvited, he offers poor-quality critiques of others’ photographs too. He is subtle about it and is careful not always to pick on the same person or website all the while. However, Daniel doesn’t realize that others in the industry deride him. He also loses job opportunities because of his behaviour.
We’ve all come across situations like this and people who are not happy unless they make others’ lives miserable. We have also read comments from those who spout bile and think they are essential members of a community because they are often the most vociferous and so stand out. Because they dominate the environment in which they operate, this boosts their ego and their already over-inflated and delusional feeling of self-worth.
So, what can we do to stamp out this horrible behavior? The good news is that, as you can see from the above examples, Newton’s Third Law seems to come into play: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So, when they maltreat others, that comes back to bite them in another way.
It’s also worth noting that, despite their noise, they are in the minority. For example, articles here have thousands or tens of thousands of readers. Somebody might write a long, acidic comment. However, they may represent 0.005% or less of the readership of that article. They might get a handful of likes to their comment, but those supporters are still a tiny minority compared to the friendlier folk in the world.
But there are still abuse victims. Despite how the world almost always deals with the perpetrators, those victims need support. Sadly, most people hide and don’t stand up for the abused. But if you do, it can make a huge difference. If you are in a position where you have a responsibility to stop this abuse, then please act upon that responsibility.
If you see people attacked, then do all you can to support them. Be kind to them. Whether privately or publicly in an online comment, just a few words of support can make a huge difference. Then, report it. Who you tell will vary depending on the situation, whether it is a senior manager, an internet forum admin team, or even the police. Standing up to 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 kind of abuse, report it too. Alternatively, tell a friend. If you need help, then ask for it. But, ultimately, sometimes, the only thing you can do is walk away and find kinder people to be around.