Updated: May 1, 2022
*Trigger Warning: The topic of sexual assault is referenced.*
In the past, I've been pretty open with you all about how I got into photography, why I switched from modeling to photography, and Why I Prefer Photographing Women. One thing I really haven't talked so much about is how important safety is to me in photography and why.
My Mission Statement: "I create an environment for women to feel safe, beautiful, confident, and empowered."
I've grown very comfortable in my work, and safety really hasn't been something I've thought about too much lately. I'm not saying I've thrown caution to the wind, but even though safety is at the foreground of everything I create, its importance and my why over the past few months, especially with the pandemic and chaos of the world, kind of slipped away.
These past few weeks, I've really had both beautiful and stark reminders of why I picked the mission statement I did. And I'd like to share some of those experiences that I've had that initially inspired me to add safety into my mission.
I'm hoping this post will not only serve as some insight into me as an artist but also maybe help women be warned of potentially dangerous situations and red flags with their shoots, and some very green flags that let them know they are working with the right person for their needs. If you do not read any other part of this post, please at least take a look at this list of Red Flags that I've learned mean you should walk away from a shoot.
My Personal Experience - It Wasn't a Good One
When I was a young model, I ended up in a bad situation that almost made me run away from this industry for good. I was 18 and desperate to build a strong modeling portfolio. I was shooting with a ton of new photographers, trying to gain experience, and in one particular photoshoot, I didn't put myself in the best situation.
I met with a photographer who claimed to specialize in boudoir and swimsuit modeling. Having just walked the runway at Denver Fashion Week in a swimsuit, I felt prepared for this shoot and ignored some very blatant red flags. The first red flag was that the photographer was very insistent on me coming to the shoot alone. We were planning on doing the shoot outdoors, not at a studio, at what I thought would be a relatively public location. Once we met at our very public meeting spot, the photographer convinced me he had just the coolest spot not too far in the mountains that we should go shoot at, and kept saying how much easier it would be if we just took one car. Flag number two. Ladies, do not get into a vehicle with someone you do not know well. If a photographer wants to go to a separate location and you do not feel comfortable, listen to your gut and either take a separate vehicle or leave. There is no shame in leaving a situation where something doesn't feel right. Once we got to the "super cool location", I immediately realized flag number three: no cell service. I brushed it off, and we started shooting when I noticed flag number four. There is a huge difference between a photographer hyping you up and making you feel good about yourself and a photographer saying things that straight up make you feel uncomfortable. Stating hypersexualized comments throughout your shoot and blatantly objectifying your subject is not hyping them up. Explicit comments do not have a place in photoshoots. Not only that but he kept pressuring me to shoot images I did not want to shoot, for example, nudity and explicit poses, which I firmly said no to. I consider myself very lucky, because about 20 minutes into the photo shoot, I got very vocal about wanting to go home and not feeling comfortable. The photographer was very driven about wanting to stay out and keep shooting, but luckily a nearby fisherman overheard the conversation and walked over to check if everything was okay. The photographer took me back, and after a few "missed turns" and a few hours (yes, hours) of getting lost on a drive that should have only taken 20 minutes, I made it back to my vehicle and home. I am so thankful I made it clear to the photographer while in the car that I was carrying pepper spray, otherwise, I don't know how the situation would have ended, but it felt like a lifetime. Unfortunately, it didn't end there. A few days later, I posted a photo from a shoot that I did with a different photographer, and that's when the harassing messages and phone calls started. This man was furious that I had shot with another photographer, was calling me every name in the book, and treating me like property. Thank goodness for the block button. Just because you've worked with a certain photographer, that does not mean they are the only photographer you are allowed to work with.
After my experience, I was so scared of shooting with male photographers. I felt dirty and didn't want to be anywhere near the camera. I just wanted to put the experience behind me. A few months later, a model reached out to me saying he'd posted some images of me on his social media and wanted to know my experience working with him. I was very forward about my experience and how sour it had turned. The model told me she'd heard many stories from other girls that were similar, and many even worse. It was clear that this wasn't this man's first time using a photoshoot as an in to lure in young women. To this day, I am thankful nothing physical happened to me in that situation.
My situation happened almost a decade ago, and since then, I have found so many amazing creatives who foster safe environments and inclusivity. Thinking back on my situation, it almost feels like it happened to someone else. But being in this industry, it is such a tightly woven community that when something happens, it impacts all of us. About five years ago, a model and friend of mine came forward about a photographer having physically assaulted her on a shoot. Hearing this absolutely made my heart sink. I had worked with this photographer, I had modeled for this photographer. How could something like this happen? Immediately, it brought me back to my experience. In 2019, I found this video by Jessica Kobeissi that I think very well highlights some of the terrifying things that models experience regarding assault in the industry. And it absolutely shattered my heart. This issue is far more common than I ever imagined. Although creating a comfortable space for women and models was already a normal practice, this is the moment where I knew I needed to add it into my mission and make my intention for a safe environment clear.
Fast forward to this week. This past week, it was brought to my attention that a photographer in my state, Montana, was secretly selling their client's private boudoir images on explicit websites for profit. The models never signed any sort of rights to do this away, it is highly illegal, and is extremely violating. I'm honestly crying trying to type this right now because I do not even have the words. When you are in front of the camera, it is so extremely vulnerable. And the thought that these things happen during and after shoots is so heartbreaking and dehumanizing. It breaks my heart for the young girls either trying to make it in the modeling industry, trying to have their senior pictures taken, trying to create something for their significant others, or just trying to find the beauty in themselves. These horrible acts change and scar people. I wish I had the words.
Red Flags Checklist:
Will not allow you to bring another person to the shoot
Insists on taking only one vehicle
Takes you somewhere without cell service
Makes explicit, uncomfortable comments while you are shooting
Pressures you to do things you don't feel comfortable doing
Touches you in any way, shape, or form
Gets mad at you for shooting with other photographers
Threaten to leverage your career against you or to ruin your reputation
Doesn't have you sign a contract OR puts sketchy things into the contract you do sign
Asks you to send them explicit photos of yourself before they will work with you
You've heard things from other models - Do Your Research!
Makes you feel uncomfortable in any way
There Is Good
Wow. This post took a much darker turn than I had intended. That being said, not every photographer is bad. In fact, the vast majority are good ones, and please don't let the bad ones scare you away! There is so much beauty and light and happiness that stems from photography! I'm not kidding when I say a good photoshoot can change your life. It can make you feel so confident in your skin, allows you to see a strength and beauty you never knew you had, and a good photoshoot can absolutely feed your creativity and ego in the best, healthiest way.
I don't want to take away from the weight of what I have said before, and this post isn't meant to be about me and why you should trust me, because there are so many amazing photographers that provide safe, inspiring environments. That being said, I'm just going to leave you with a quick list of things that I think are good signs that you are working with the right photographer.
A Good Photographer:
Encourages you to let someone else know you are with them and where you are
Listen to your needs and accommodates them
Fosters open communication
Ask your permission before changing a plan
Does not touch you
Makes sure to ask frequently if you are comfortable and okay
Never pressures you to shoot something you aren't comfortable with
Encourages you to grow and does not gatekeep you
Gives you good vibes - Trust your gut (:
I know this post was a lot, but hopefully, it has given you some insight into why safety in the photography industry is so important to me, as well as some insight into whether you are working with a photographer who fosters a safe environment or not.
Warm regards, Katherine
If you (or someone you know) are ever in a bad situation, please do not hesitate to leave or contact the authorities.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255