In the last week, wedding photographer communities have been abuzz with allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and rape committed by male wedding photographers against their peers in the industry. As we have seen throughout the #metoo movement, each time a powerful man becomes the focus of sexual assault allegations, it empowers others to come forward and share their stories. The exposure of the actions of Aziz Ansari this past week has been no different, and as a result many in the wedding photography community have felt empowered to speak up about the things that have happened to them.
The stories are upsetting, but not surprising. While the male photographers in this industry may not be household names like Kevin Spacey or Al Franken, several have risen to a rock star status in their field, and are seen as celebrities within the photography world. They have won awards, been widely published, and have thousands upon thousands of Instagram followers. But just as your love of House of Cards doesn’t excuse Kevin Spacey’s actions, their photography skill doesn’t excuse theirs.
Much like Hollywood, the photography world relies heavily on social networking and connections to advance one’s career, and less tenured photographers are often sold workshops and conferences as a way to build those connections and advance their business, and more often than not these workshops and conferences are led by these men. This itself is a product of a sexist industry. Workshops and conferences bring fame and recognition, but few individuals have the personal funds to run these events. Many rely heavily on funding by sponsors, similar to FujiFilm and Nikon, both of whom have demonstrated that they are not here to support female photographers and continue to prop up men who are seen as rock star photographers.
It’s not unusual that a man who has been told he’s untouchable, that he is a celebrity, and that he is at the top of his field, thinks he can have whatever he wants by whatever means he feels is necessary, but it is reprehensible, and it is time our industry stopped being quiet about it.
Many of these conferences and workshops are held over the course of many days and can vary from hundreds of people at a hotel conference center to just a dozen people camping out or sharing an Airbnb. In either case, the situation is the same — male photographers are using their position of power to make unwanted sexual advances toward the attendees of their workshops. These advances can fall under the lines of harassment (saying unwanted things of a sexual nature), sexual assault (forcing attendees to commit sexual acts or touching them against their will), or rape (unwanted sexual intercourse). It’s not unusual that a man who has been told he’s untouchable, that he is a celebrity, and that he is at the top of his field, thinks he can have whatever he wants by whatever means he feels is necessary, but it is reprehensible, and it is time our industry stopped being quiet about it.
The problem is there is no reporting structure in place for those who have suffered at the hands of these men that they trusted to help them build their careers. There is no safe way for them to speak up and share their story without the risk of legal, verbal, or physical retribution. Hell, there is no way for any woman to come out and name her attacker without this fear. As much as Law & Order: SVU has tried to tell us that the legal system cares, we all know that’s not the case. If you have anything less than a direct DNA match you might as well expect that your attacker will get away with it and, who knows, become the President of the United States. Even if there is DNA, it may sit in a backlog for decades, and worse, if there is a conviction, rich white men like Brock Turner often find themselves with laughably short prison sentences. Even we here at Catalyst Wedding Co. are bound by the constraints of a legal system that is not here to protect victims. Were we to name names and point fingers, the libel and slander threats alone would probably bankrupt us, and I imagine that this has a lot to do with why other publications who have been informed about these incidents have yet to come forward with any statements.
So given this totally broken world we live in, the best thing I can do is to bring light to this situation. The perpetrators are only part of the problem. Those who know about these incidents but shrug them off and say it’s none of their business perpetuate a culture where men can abuse their power. Corporate sponsors who continue to fund perpetrator’s projects are not only complicit in the problem, they prop up these men with money. This has been going on for far too long, and now we are speaking out.
We are here for you, and we believe you.
Jen Siomacco is the CEO and Creative Director of Catalyst Wedding Co. She works to mesh together her love of feminism, love stories, equality and design into the layout and brand of Catalyst while she sits on her couch and snuggles up with her SUPER lazy cats.