Last Friday, WPPI Director Jason Groupp announced that Jasmine Star and Doug Gordon withdrew from next year’s conference in light of all the controversy surrounding allegations of plagiarism.
I advocated for this move with many others who saw their transgressions as a violation of trust that affected the entire industry. The outcome seemed proportional to the infraction, and I saw no reason to urge further action. I have no vitriol against either Jasmine or Doug, I just think we all have to own up to our mistakes, pay the piper, and move on.
The reaction ran the gamut. Supporters noted the amount of good that the two had done for the industry, while detractors bemoaned the rise of the photo “rockstar” who had “very average photography with very little background or experience in photography.” Jasmine posted a public apology on Saturday.
The rise of digital photography and the Internet has led to many opportunities within the industry that never existed. Digital Techs, for example, are highly compensated on-set labor occupying a job that didn’t exist a decade ago. Similarly, as DSLR ownership proliferated, the audience for workshops and conferences moved from the traditional professional to the photo enthusiast creating a huge opportunity for new faces in the world of education.
At Rich Clarkson’s Photography at the Summit workshop two weeks ago, I bemoaned the rise of “internet famous” photographers, and commiserated with titans like Jodi Cobb and David Alan Harvey about their relative anonymity in today’s world of photography. It’s a bit tragic that they aren’t filling 1,000 seat conferences given their significant contributions to the craft.
But you have to satisfy the needs of the audience you have and the audience you want. The “rockstar” photographers might not be great photographers, but they are master marketers and they provide inspiration for a certain segment of photographer that is disinterested in what has preceded them – a segment that the old guard wasn’t satisfying, so it’s hard to begrudge their success. And let’s face it. Being a good photographer doesn’t mean you’re a good teacher, and vice versa.
In that sense, I think it’s incorrect to refer to someone like Jasmine as a fraud. Her “creation myth” is compelling (and I mean that in a non-sarcastic way), and her rise to stardom is impressive. Her message resonates with her audience and she’s effective in marketing to and inspiring them. You can dismiss her photographic provenance, but you cannot argue her efficacy as a marketer, and that’s perhaps the main point to learn from her and other personalities like her. Taking a good photo is rarely good enough to succeed. Being successful in the photography industry is as much about networking, post-processing, and marketing as pushing the shutter button.
I don’t fancy myself as a moral center of anything let alone the photographic industry, but I will say that there is a difference between criticism and vitriol. In the midst of trying to bring to light some serious allegations of plagiarism, some commentators turned to everything from name-calling to sexist remarks. Yes, women are capable of taking pictures, and yes, people use nom de guerres. Snarky remarks about a person’s name is so 4th grade. We ought to be critical of Jasmine’s plagiarism, but not much else.
What should we make of this fracas? Was it inevitable? Should we drink a bottle of hate-orade and pop in our cynical monocle? Do we wait for the next falling “star” while we throw our hands up in resignation?
The community you deserve is the community you help build. The community of photographers is large and diverse, but it is still a community. Thus, we should strive to promote good photography and good business practices. We should try to help one another, while still calling a spade a spade. We should try to familiarize ourselves with the people who trailblazed the path of photography before us, and respect their contributions. And we should make room for different types of talents to emerge whether they are teachers, marketers or photographers. If we troll and hate, then we deserve the cesspool we build. But if we spend time in introspection and promote discourse, then the community will continue to grow and thrive. Long live people like Zack Arias and David Hobby. Long live the photographers who carved their name through 30+ years of hard work. A greater appreciation of photography by the masses benefits all of us irl. Keep it real, holmes.