**Trigger Warning: The following contains talk of sexual assault and rape.**
I see it almost daily. Photographers posting in groups asking for advice on how to attract LGBTQ clients or wanting to know what language to use or photographers saying that they "love gay people" or that want more diversity in this industry. But when push comes to shove, these same photographers retreat to their white, straight, cisgendered, detail driven, magazine worthy worlds and label those of us that call them out "hypersensitive." Same could be said for boudoir photographers who say that they see their job as one that empowers women, but in reality they are just interested in creating overly sexed images designed only for the male gaze, all while leaving their client to figure out what that says about them. And I've had enough.
Right now the photography world is exploding with women coming forward to report accounts of sexual assault and rape by well known, established male photographers. These incidents are happening at photography workshops, conferences, and conventions, at private mentoring, online and at wedding industry events by men in positions of power. And there are countless others who have yet to come forward because they know that naming their attacker could bankrupt their business.
When I scroll through facebook, time and time again I see women saying something wrong is happening and those who reply ask for proof, dismiss it, discredit her, defend the accused, or just straight up ignore her. We don't want our worlds disrupted, we don't want to believe people we care about our admire are capable of these things, until it happens to us. And it happens in every area of life I participate in, so often so it feels even normal to me. I have caught myself so many times questioning what someone says instead of immediately saying "how can I help? Thank you for bring this to my attention. I believe you." And it is something I am working on daily to undo that mindset because I want to be the first person to say "I believe you."
As a wedding photographer who largely serves the LGBTQ+ community, I am ever trying to put myself in the shoes of those who are different than me. Our community is full of people and experiences I can't relate to or understand and I know that I ever need to grow in how I treat others. When a friend and client mentioned to me that her wedding photographer didn't blog her wedding (and she was the only wedding that photographer didn't blog all year) and that she felt it was because they were her only queer wedding, I shared that with a photography group I am in hoping that others would see how this made a client feel.
When people tell me "this thing happened to me" I try to always believe them. To not question it. Not doubt it. Not dismiss it. Not lessen it. Just believe them. And to be better at that everyday.
And yet, the photographers around me see this as being hypersensitive. I was met with excuse after excuse as to why a photographer shouldn't have to blog that wedding...it wasn't their best work, didn't match their style of weddings they like to book, didn't have enough details, etc. Only one photographer actually empathized with the couple and said that she hadn't considered how something like that might be perceived by the client. Everyone was so quick to say that this person was overreacting, that I was overreacting. And yet, these were the same photographers who were so quick to want to shoot an LGBTQ wedding when someone posted a referral. They would say how much they loved love and believed in gay marriage, but yet didn't believe that love needed to be shared equally or that a queer clients feelings mattered.
A client recently shared a story with me about how she had done a boudoir session with another local photographer and how she was really upset about the whole experience. The photographer required her to have her hair and makeup professionally done, pushed this woman into wearing some of their in house lingerie collection and spent a lot of the session coaching her into poses that were super sexual and not anything she felt comfortable with. She objected to everything. She wanted to be natural (the photographer said natural makeup didn't photograph well), she said she wanted the photos to be feminine and strong (the photographer kept telling her how her husband was going to love these suggestive, masturbation-y, orgasm faced photos), she said she wanted the photos not retouched and then deliver her 50 photoshopped images where this sweet woman said she looked amazing but nothing like herself. She emailed the photographer and said the photos looked great, but could she get the skin smoothing, retouched details removed, as she really wanted to see herself when she looked at the photos. And for serious, the photographer replied "no, this is my art and this is how I saw and captured you and therefore is final. You look beautiful this way." Needless to say my sweet client was devastated, and felt as though who she was, wasn't right.
When photographers don't believe their clients and think that they know more of whats best for any given person, it reinforces the idea that women/folxs aren't to be believed. That we don't know ourselves. When we cant hear that we are doing something that makes someone feel uncomfortable or feels wrong or hurts someone and won't change our behavior, we are saying that we are right and that their lived experience is wrong. That our art means more than their feelings.
So go ahead and call me hypersensitive. Tell me I am making a big deal out of something. Cause damn right I am. And all the "I love gay people" and "I'm pro women" in the world doesn't mean anything if you are dismissing those same people when they are bringing problems to your attention. You can't be "all about #loveislove" if you don't believe an openly queer woman when she brings something to your attention. You can't say you are an advocate when you aren't believing women and folxs who are coming forward with stories of abuse. You cant call your work empowering to women when you are saying that they are only beautiful the way you want to photograph them. We have to do better, photographers. We have to do more than say the right sounding things and use hashtags. We have to be better people. And I won't stop being hypersensitive...because I know I will spend my whole life learning to be better and you should too.