I am stunned that my letter to Jacqueline made the rounds it did. I am a small, local portrait photographer in Los Angeles. I normally get about 400 or so unique visitors a month. Since writing my letter, I have had over 150,000 new visitors! I am happy to have struck a nerve and I am so appreciative of the comments, tweets, emails, and the stories you shared with me. While most of the commentary has been positive and supportive, there are some fair criticisms I think deserve some attention.
I am a big believer that one should own their sh*t. I am human, I make mistakes. It happens. I believe it’s important to own it, apologize and hopefully walk away with some new nugget of wisdom. Hopefully.
So here’s the catch. I want, but I also want to clarify. And when I clarify, I don’t want it to in any way diminish the quality of the apology. A tall order. I don’t know the best way to do this other than address the main criticisms bit by bit.
First off. There was no other email in-between the two that I sent to Jacqueline. Those four screen shots were the extent of our communication. I sent her two in a row. That’s it.
Also, “minority babies” and “photogs”. These words totally irritated the crap out of me too, but I was trying to stay on point so I avoided bringing it up. However, I’m starting to think that “Minority Babies” sounds like a cool name for a punk band. Just a thought.
Next, some of you sympathize with Jacqueline. You thought she was being “nice” and “polite”. You said she was just doing her job. I wholeheartedly disagree with you. Just because Jacqueline worded her emails more sweetly, nicely and professionally, does not mean that she was being sweet, nice or professional. Actually it was the opposite. Context matters.
I could meander for quite a while around how culpable people are when they are doing dirty deeds in the name of their company, country, church or otherwise. But in a nutshell, I hold Jacqueline responsible for her part in this. I hold her responsible for contributing to a practice that is essentially theft. In a way, it’s worse than theft, because the approach is so sneaky and “polite”. If you’re going to try and steal from me, tie me up and lock me in the closet. Don’t bring me flowers and kiss me while you’re picking my pockets. Even if you are just the employee of one of these corporations, your actions are perpetuating this crap. Not only is this nothing to be proud of, it does not free you from responsibility. So if Fit Pregnancy is the mastermind burglar, Jacqueline and all of the assistant editors like her are holding the bag. They are not innocent. And I want them to think twice when they are asked to do this again.
Another common criticism I got was that my letter was rude and unprofessional. Can’t argue. Next.
Some of you said I should have just written back with a polite, “no, thank you” and then let it be. Seriously? I should have just said, “no thank you” and moved on? Again, however sweet and polite Jacqueline was in her initial email, she was still trying to take advantage of me and of others with less experience. “No, Thank you” wouldn’t give her pause. She would just continue to go onto the next photographer. The request was a ridiculous and insulting one and my response reflected that. Was Jacqueline more refined? Probably. Was she any less insulting and unprofessional than I? No way.
Where I did go wrong and what I am regretful for. Jacqueline, I shouldn’t have directed my rant to you so specifically. So personally. I should not have been so snarky and changed your name over and over. Bad form. As cathartic as it was in the moment, it was wrong and I’m sorry for it. I’m going to share something with you. It’s not meant to be an excuse but just a little something so that you might understand. Your email was, simply, the straw that broke the camel’s back. I am approached with “offers” like yours, more often than anyone should. In my newer, more naive and vulnerable days, I’ve been taken advantage of by editors like you. When your message came in, all I could think of was the poor unsuspecting next photographer you were going to manipulate into giving away free product. I snapped. But you, Jacqueline, are just one of many. My rant was written to you directly. I should have clearly written that you were just a metaphor for the slew of editors and other “professionals” out there doing this all the time. I am sorry for making it personal.
I get fired up. Sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. It’s in my DNA. I love my job. I love my clients. I love my many many friends in this business. It takes years of hard work to master this art and everything that goes along with it. It takes even more time and persistence for the artistic mind to grasp the business end of things. Just because we love our jobs does not mean that we should be meant to feel guilty when we ask to be paid for them. We work hard. We have families to feed and retirements to save for. If Fit Pregnancy can’t afford to pay their photographers, then their business model is faulty. Photography is, after all, one of their most crucial elements. But here’s the kicker. AMI’s revenues “decreased slightly” to 85 million dollars in the 3rd quarter of last year. This is not a situation of a company trying to keep their costs down. This is immoral and unethical on a much deeper level. Besides writing this letter to Jacqueline in such a personal way, I think the ends justified the means. I’m glad that my letter blew up and became part of a bigger conversation. Because a bigger conversation needs to be had. Do you hear me, WalMart?
Still no word from Fit Pregnancy or AMI, by the way.