I am not aware of any creative practice that doesn’t have its dark side or should I say practitioners within the darkest corners of life. Sexual assault, paedophilia and sexist bullying are just some of the practices that we know take place and that have destroyed the lives of those abused and the careers of those discovered to be practitioners of such vile crimes.

It often takes time for such crimes to be revealed and in the meantime creative work is completed and shared. The abuser is exalted, rewarded and revered whilst the victim suffers silently. Over the last decade there has been no shortage of recognised names charged with such abuse. Some have faced prison sentences, others have cheated the courts through death but all have faced public humiliation. The theatre, television, film and music industries and art world have all seen prominent figures within their communities revealed as the people they really are or were aside from their successful careers. Photography has been no different.

Your knowledge of who these people are within the photo world will depend upon your geographic location, level of engagement with the medium and areas of interest. There is no doubt that social media has had a role in sharing these stories and that is a good thing when such accusations are founded upon rigorous journalism or criminal investigation. It is the platform where I have seen the most accusations against numerous photographers and photo world participants.

However, the names often mean little to me if I have not met those mentioned or if I am unaware of their work. You may be the same. Of course I am as disgusted as anyone else would be and should be when I hear of such behaviour but no one can remember everything they hear or read or know of every photographer. And yet not knowing or forgetting seems to be seen by some as a validation of the abuser. This is of course ridiculous, offensive and borderline libelous in the UK but it raises another issue that I have heard, seen and read debated elsewhere.

Is it possible to still enjoy the music of Michael Jackson? The films produced by Harvey Weinstein? Or films featuring Kevin Spacey? The comedy of Bill Cosby? Is it possible to admire the photography of Mario Testino, Bruce Weber or Terry Richardson? After the truth about these people has been revealed or their behaviour questioned? For me the answer is no. I know that there are others within the photo community that have also been revealed as sexual predators, bullies and abusers. I just can’t remember all of them. Can you remember the valid controversy concerning the photographer David Hamilton, the historic photographic practices of Guy Bourdin or the criminal conviction of Barry Lategan? Are you even aware of these?

This thought process also forces me to consider the complicated concept of redemption. Can a prisoner who has served their time be accepted back into society? Can someone who has been found guilty of sexual harassment ever be accepted as being either remorseful or safe to work amongst others again? These are personal subjective decisions for each of us to make, decisions that may be impacted upon by our own personal experiences and our connections to the offences or people involved. What I do know is that we cannot attack people who make decisions we do not agree with. I don’t and I would hope that others felt the same within a democratic society. Lack of knowledge or memory, or a different opinion concerning redemption does not automatically make you complicent or accepting of a crime. That is subjective opinion not fact.

This raises the issue of cancelling and the potential or not of uncancelling. Social media has a long memory and once cancelled there are many online warriors who continue to remind others of the reasons for cancellations and to ensure that new cancellations take place. As always with social media this can have both a negative and positive aspect. If strict, rigorous, legal professional publishing etiquette is followed then good can come from such exposure, light is shone into the dark corners. However, when this is not the case and accusations are subjective and ill-informed then bullying becomes the norm and the negative impact of such outcry can lead to devastating outcomes for those unfairly or inappropriately named. Social media at its worst.

I am sure that nothing I have said here is new or revelatory. I am certainly not defending the actions of those that have committed crimes. I chose to write this article to clearly identify where I stand on such issues. And as I always say, you don’t have to agree with me but at least you can see that what we do and say here always comes from a good place.

Dr.Grant Scott
After fifteen years art directing photography books and magazines such as Elle and Tatler, Scott began to work as a photographer for a number of advertising and editorial clients in 2000. Alongside his photographic career Scott has art directed numerous advertising campaigns, worked as a creative director at Sotheby’s, art directed foto8magazine, founded his own photographic gallery, edited Professional Photographer magazine and launched his own title for photographers and filmmakers Hungry Eye. He founded the United Nations of Photography in 2012, and is now a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, and a BBC Radio contributor. Scott is the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019), and What Does Photography Mean To You? (Bluecoat Press 2020). His photography has been published in At Home With The Makers of Style (Thames & Hudson 2006) and Crash Happy: A Night at The Bangers (Cafe Royal Books 2012). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was premiered in 2018.

Scott’s book Inside Vogue HouseOne building, seven magazines, sixty years of stories, Orphans Publishing, is now on sale.

© Grant Scott 2024

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Last Update: 05/23/2024