About Integrity

If you’ve followed this blog or my social media, I’m sure you already know that I am pretty transparent about wins and losses. I’ve discussed my thoughts on networking, complaining, and disappointment in the past. This time, I’d like to share a couple of anecdotes and talk about integrity—or lack thereof.

Fable performing at The Lexington in London

I pride myself on my professionalism. If you’ve hired me to do a job, I will take the job seriously and do the best that I can. In that same vein, I do my best to respect boundaries and not get overly familiar. This doesn’t mean that I’m not open to making friends, but my first priority is to make sure I understand the assignment and get all the specifics squared away. This makes it so there’s as little ambiguity as possible. I’ve taken the more casual approach, and unfortunately for me, I have been burned for it.

Years & Years at Webster Hall

Years ago, I noticed that a certain festival’s account had been liking my photos over on Instagram. The posts they liked were of artists on the festival lineup, so I tried to use that as leverage in potentially working for them. I reached out via DM and after a few exchanges, I met with someone on the team. Unfortunately for me, the festival roster had already been decided, but they were open to letting me photograph shows that were leading up to the big weekend. Being inexperienced, I took this as a relationship building opportunity and acted in good faith—I agreed and photographed three shows for them. Shortly thereafter, they announced a new festival for the fall, so I reached out in an attempt to get an early start. This time, I was told that the photographer budget had been maxed out but they’d gladly give me a pass as well as backstage access. Backstage access and access to artists for portraits was something I was trying to get into, so I accepted and made a point to do such a good job that they’d have no other choice but to hire me. I asked follow up questions, because I had already been through a bad experience with someone else due to unclear communication: should I expect a separate pass for backstage things? Would there be side stage access? Who would be my point person while I’m there? Is there a list of media contacts to arrange things like portraits? I didn’t really get answers to these questions, aside from being told that there was no stage access. Once I arrived at the festival grounds, that was when I realized I wouldn’t be able to photograph any of the headliners, despite being there courtesy of the festival itself. I wanted to maintain and build a good working relationship, so I gave the benefit of the doubt—things happen, I still got to do so much, and there was always next year, right? I’d later realize I had made a mistake.

Catfish and the Bottlemen at The Studio at Webster Hall

When I reached out about being on the summer festival team for the following year, I didn’t receive a reply, even though I was mindful of when they’d be making selections for the crew. Later on I was offered the same thing as the previous festival: a media pass. I felt like I deserved better, but I didn’t have access any other way, so I agreed. After that festival, I knew the fall one would be coming up again, so I immediately tried to start a conversation about doing more—more access, more responsibility—something. All of my attempts were ignored. I had been boxed into a “promo in exchange for tickets” situation, and I didn’t realize it. It was never communicated to me that this was all they’d be willing to offer, and with each subsequent event, it became clearer that my understanding of the relationship was different than theirs. I eventually walked away from photographing shows for them, after 4 festivals and 4 supporting shows. 

Childish Gambino at Governors Ball 2017

I felt so taken advantage of, and it took a real mental toll on me. In fact, it was the thing that ultimately led me to take a hiatus from photographing live music. Whenever I think back on this, I don’t feel like there is a path I could have taken that would have resulted in the outcome I wanted, which was to be added to the production team. There was a lack of integrity, and instead of identifying it and stepping away, I gave the benefit of the doubt and tried to be understanding of people with busy schedules. In retrospect, I should have been kinder to myself. I was also a person with a busy schedule—a full-time job on top of this freelance one I was doing—and my time wasn’t any more or less valuable than theirs. I’d like to think I’ve learned from this experience…which I suppose brings me to a more recent story.

The xx at Forest Hills Stadium

A friend was kind enough to reach out to me and ask if I’d like to photograph some shows for an arena. We discussed a rate and had a call to go over basics. This went so smoothly and I was especially grateful for the opportunity, because it had been so difficult to get any leads on work. The issues began to creep up once the discussion was out of my friend’s hands and was passed to the next department for paperwork.

I received a photography agreement, and the rate on the agreement was significantly lower than what I had quoted to my friend. I pointed out the discrepancy and was told that it would be corrected. Great! 

Unfortunately, it was not corrected. The date of my first assignment was fast approaching and I still hadn’t received a revised agreement to sign. When I followed up, I was told that the lower rate was all they had a budget for. I pushed back and they raised the rate, but not to what we had originally agreed upon, so I declined. I was willing to accept the possibility of an oversight on the paperwork, especially when the initial response to pointing out the error was to tell me it would be adjusted. I was never informed of a change to the terms in the two months between first contact and receipt of the agreement. What I initially thought was an oversight started to feel disingenuous. The insult to injury was that their increased rate was presented as a “fair medium,” despite them starting by unfairly changing the terms in the first place. If this was how things were starting, what other unforeseen things could be in my future? 

Bastille at Terminal 5

Integrity and respect matter a lot to me, both in personal and professional relationships. I often see posts that give advice of being easy to work with, and it’s solid advice—for photographers and clients alike. Being easy to work with is not code for being a doormat, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. Ultimately, you have to decide if you are making a compromise or being taken advantage of, and even though I was slow to recognize a dishonest pattern years ago, I feel proud that I am able to stand up for myself now. I hope you’re able to do the same.

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