On July 22, 2019, model Sunnaya Nash posted screenshots to her Instagram of DMs between herself and the fashion photographer, Marcus Hyde. Captioned “Ur fave male photographers are grimey,” Nash exposed Hyde’s attempt to solicit nude photographs in exchange for a professional shoot, which Nash declined to provide. The post quickly went viral, and was reposted to Diet Prada’s account, who additionally called on a number of celebrities that worked with him, including Kim Kardashian and Ariana Grande, to come out against Hyde. The next day, on July 23rd, Haley Bowman also exposed photographer Timur Emek’s sexual abuse towards her, with other models coming forward about their own experiences with Emek. Both photographers quickly deleted their social media presence, and they have been effectively blacklisted from the fashion world.
Though their reputations are ruined for now, the recent outrage over their behavior brought to light how prevalent these issues are in the fashion community, as multiple models have come forward over social media with their similar experiences. Even before the outrage this summer, Mario Testino was accused of similar behavior in 2017, and Terry Richardson had a notorious reputation for years before he was finally exiled from the industry that same year. Although the rate of acceptability with this behavior in the professional world has declined, due in large part to the #MeToo Movement, there are still not nearly enough resources in place to prevent models from being subjected to the power dynamics of the photographer/model relationship. As with any contract job, it can be difficult to stand up as an individual when going up against a much more powerful individual or organization.
While some of these photographers have harnessed their social media presence to attempt to take advantage of models, the power of social media in fighting against these same powers have proved to be more powerful. Models and industry professionals are shedding light on the difficult conditions that can be endured on the job, and try to provide support to their peers. Under the handle @shitmodelmgmt, an anonymous model not only posts memes to the account (with over 151,000 followers), but in March 2018, the account posted a “Blacklist” of photographers, agents, designers, and stylists who have been accused of abuse in the past. Citing a growing number of threats, the account took down the list, but continues to offer helpful resources, including information for models working as independent contractors and a list of recommended agencies. And since breaking their stories on Hyde and Emek, Diet Prada has continued to solicit reports in the industry “by using our platform and you dedicated dieters to spread this message and end this abuse.”
“I work with a lot of the big names, models who are making $20K, $50K, $100K on jobs and those jobs have clients on set, all sorts of people so it likely isn’t happening to them now. However, I would say about 90% of them have stories from their career where they have been taken advantage of, felt uncomfortable, [or] showed up somewhere where they realized it was not legit.”
But outside the empowerment of social media, there are ways models can protect themselves from being taken advantage of, with an increasing number of industry organizations also in place to support those who may come across unfortunate and abusive situations. We spoke with model Tanya Angelique and senior producer Devon Welstead, who provided some key factors for models to keep in mind when working with photographers, as well as other industry professionals.
Firstly, do your research- “Research your craft, your knowledge will be your power…Agencies can help, but it is up to you to do a lot of the work on your own and work your way up,” says Angelique. When working with a new photographer “look at the reviews on Yelp for photographers, many of them have pages.” Welstead echoes models learning as much as they can before a shoot, “any notable photographer will have a website with their portfolio and client list. If they do not have a website, I would advise requesting a portfolio or work samples to ensure the photographer’s work/aesthetic is in line with your career path. Always reverse image search on Google if there is any doubt that the work a photographer is presenting is not actually their own. It will become apparent very quickly if their name is not associated. [Also], look for them on Instagram … look at their following, look at the photos they post, look at the comments. If they don’t have a website OR Instagram, I do think that’s a red flag. A photographer will want to promote their work. Also, it won’t be beneficial to YOU if their work is not on display—what do they bring to the table if their images are not out there?” In that same vein, Welstead also acknowledges the dangers of finding photographers through Instagram “I think with … all of these various social media platforms, everyone can say they’re a photographer. But not everyone knows how this is supposed to work, or has the transparency into photoshoots and what happens on set. I think the more research someone can do, the better. The more informed, the better.”A point of divergence comes when discussing shooting locations. While Angelique emphasizes never shooting at photographer’s homes, Welstead cites this as a normal practice. However, both agree on the importance of having someone else accompanying you during the shoot, whether it is a friend, stylist, lighting assistant, or literally anyone else.
Agencies are not always out for your best interests – both Angelique and Welstead agree that while agencies can be helpful in obtaining jobs, they often do not look out for the models. “Agencies dabble in tons of unprofessional contact. Consider a support group like Model Alliance, and Model Grocery,” says Angelique. If a model is trying to find a reputable agency, “start with digitals on a phone and those to agencies on Models.com.” But as the agency is for profit first, this can often result in them taking advantage of models monetarily as well: “Many models will work and work before they see a dime, because an agent will say it’s compensation for building your book, or for their hours upfront. This can be typical for your first 1-2 test shoots, but not a paid gig. Standard cut for an agent is 20% of your total fee and they shouldn’t be taking more than that, ever. Not being represented by an agency is okay—as long as you know the standards for the industry and negotiate for yourself” says Welstead.
Keep records of EVERYTHING – this is especially useful for models who do not have agency representation. When a model finds themself in an uncomfortable position “they should put it in writing (text, email, anything), to somebody else, at the time it is occurring. You have much more credibility if you have proof you were uncomfortable at the time and in the moment, not after the fact,” says Welstead. Having a contract before a shoot is also vital. Talent contracts can be drawn up independently by a lawyer in as little as an hour, or can drafted by shoot producers. We listed these key elements of a contract:
- Client name
- Photographer name
- Your name
- Date of job
- Compensation rate
- Usage that has been agreed upon
- Usage term (How long the photos can be used)
- Usage territory (Worldwide, North America, etc.)
- Cancellation policy – if canceled within 24 hours you should receive a “kill fee.” Typically 50% of your fee, at the very least 25%. This is because you could have taken other work or booked another job had you known ahead of time.
Finally, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself – this can feel impossible in the midst of an already uncomfortable situation, but it is important to acknowledge your own power—photographers need to know they can be held accountable as well. “If you are uncomfortable, say no! Keep your eyes open and trust your instincts if it feels weird. Speak up always, tell others, and report any funny business and abuse,” says Angelique. And don’t be afraid to keep your photographer at a distance: “make your social pages professional. Don’t be too friendly, keep it business, use email to contact.”
Repercussions can be a very real fear, but Welstead asserts that speaking out “will not ruin your career. I can guarantee that. If a photographer says ‘if you don’t do X, I will make sure you don’t get work,’ they are not legitimate. Even if it is a big name photographer who says that, it just simply isn’t true … I think there is a perception that it is weak or ‘too demanding’ to ask for things on set. A photographer should want to get the best result out of you as a model. They should want you to be comfortable and be yourself so that they can capture something authentic and natural.”
Although the rate of acceptability with this behavior in the professional world has declined, due in large part to the #MeToo Movement, there are still not nearly enough resources in place to prevent models from being subjected to the power dynamics of the photographer/model relationship.
Even at the writing of this article, Cardi B recently revealed in a September 2019 interview with WE TV’s The Untold Story of Hip Hop that a photographer exposed himself to her during a magazine shoot. Although she immediately left the shoot, when she told the magazine owner about the situation, their response was apathetic, and the photographer was not punished. As more of these stories come to light, it is increasingly apparent that no one is immune from this treatment, no matter their star power. For Welstead, who has worked with a number of professionals across the industry, “I work with a lot of the big names, models who are making $20K, $50K, $100K on jobs and those jobs have clients on set, all sorts of people so it likely isn’t happening to them now. However, I would say about 90% of them have stories from their career where they have been taken advantage of, felt uncomfortable, [or] showed up somewhere where they realized it was not legit.”
Nearly two years ago, Shit Model Management posted to their Instagram stories: “Models: Be brave. Be bold. Fuck the consequences. Name your abuser. Tell your stories. It’s over for these pieces of shit that abuse their power.” What has certainly changed is the rate of accountability in these situations. In addition to the virality that social media offers to these controversies, advocacy organizations such as Model Alliance work to enforce safe and fair work situations for models at all levels of the fashion industry. By creating a reckoning for the degrading behavior of choice fashion world professionals, it will improve conditions in this demanding industry—and empower models as working professionals.