Who is she?
I remember asking that one day. It’s not a question I ask anymore, but sometimes I wonder if other photographers do.
Three years ago, I decided to jumpstart my career by joining photographer communities. After a long hiatus due to my Nikon film camera failing, I came back to the industry eager to spread my wings. I began to join forums, groups, and any location where photographers mingled. It was an exciting time for me; I was so innocent to the whole idea of networking with likeminded artists. I was going to hang with the best of them, share my work with others, and receive constructive critique. Things were different compared to the early 2000’s. Back then, Deviantart and other forums were the places to be for this. I figured things would be the same just different web platform.
Man … was I in for a rude awakening.
No longer was the community about the art, it became a popularity contest. Arrogant professionals who slapped at the amateurs. Amateurs who couldn’t take critique. Professionals who enjoyed giving unsolicited critiques. And personalities of every type fighting for recognition. There were bullies, copycats, and even petty rivalries. It was hard to believe that the community had turned into this … war zone of sorts. Gone was the time where it was just an art form. Or maybe I was just not lurking in the right places.
I did what I could to try and reach out to others. It didn’t kick off well. Maybe it was because I wasn’t a big name. Maybe it was because I wasn’t creating stunning lifestyle imagery that was all the rage. I don’t know. Being a new face meant nobody pays you much attention. That’s what made it so easy to sit, listen, and read. I picked up fast on the lingo with photographers. Business tips, lens talk, the difference between clean and matte, and a ton of other things.
I even began to learn about the big time names in the industry. Names that weren’t exactly famous to me but famous because of their huge following. Sue who? Jasmine who? These photographers were the superstars; people who turned their business into something more. Often I’d hear wonderful stories of how these people changed or inspired them to do better. It was wonderful looking at photographers share work and say that it was all because of this person or that.
But sometimes … there were people who enjoyed ripping these successful pros down. How dare these successful entrepreneurs be successful. People loved pointing out how they were imperfect and undeserving of their fame. Because what better way to feel better about yourself than to tear another down.
One name came up quite a bit in one group with a mass of female photographers. It was a name that would go on to be the most repeated name since joining the community. A popular photographer respected and renowned for her takes on children and maternity. Beautiful hand-crafted artwork.
Who is she?
A question I asked one day in a community where her name came up often.
The worst person to have ever walked this earth, they said. Someone who was arrogant and didn’t care much for her fans, they told me. Someone who didn’t deserve recognition and cheated to get where she is, they rambled. On and on they went about this person in a thread in a Facebook group…and I all I could think was Wow.
Never mind the fact that stories shared were usually second-hand or third-hand accounts. For these few, the stories were all they needed to hear to confirm their views. Looking back, I think some of the animosity was born of pure jealousy and desire to see another fail. Uncertain of what to think, I kept my thoughts neutral and head low. If the stories were true then christ almighty, but there was never any evidence save for the gossip. What did I know? If people said she was a bad person, then she must be, right?
One day, I saw a notification stating that someone reported my post. Reported? By who?
I couldn’t believe it. My thread tossed into the fire because I was venting? I was furious. I couldn’t believe that the stories were true as they said! You’re thinking that was the moment I went down in history to hate this woman for the rest of my life. Well, almost. I could have walked away thinking this person was just a bully.
… but I tend to dig deep rather than assume the worst.
Curious, I went ahead and messaged her to ask why. A polite, simple request to just try and understand the reasoning behind the report since I knew she did it. She could have ignored me. Told me to fuck off like so many claimed she does. Read the message and never reply leaving me left to wonder for years. None of that happened. Instead, she asked how did it happen, apologized for the confusion, then went to report the bug. We shared a few more words until it faded off and life went on with the matter addressed and fixed. It turned out that it was not my post but another post within the thread. For some reason, because I was the thread owner, I was able to see the notification. An error in the system that was now repaired so that it never happened again. Little did I know that this was only beginning.
In a community where I often felt alone, she made me feel welcomed. Over time we would go on to have more conversations whether initiated by either her or me. Our paths would cross a few more times until we finally just friended each other and went on from there. She was amazing. I remember her excited about coming to Philadelphia to meet me. Me? Why? Because she liked me, she said. Terribly anti-social and shy me couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to meet me, and yet she did. When we finally met, she was funny, real, genuine, took pictures of my son, then went home to share them. It was a great experience and the first of many to come.
For the last four years, I’ve been her friend. And for four years I’ve watched and seen everything thrown at this woman. Tons of massive praise from her admirers and the occasional pebble thrower from haters. From the other side, it’s actually kind of weird how far some people will go to discredit someone. People who go out of their way to even lie about her just to paint her in a terrible light. I began to notice that the loudest criers were the same ones who loved imitating her work. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want their work to look like someone else’s. Maybe it’s me, but I wouldn’t take it as a compliment if someone said my work looked like another. The whole point is to set yourself apart from the rest. But… that’s a whole other issue in itself … for another time.
Who is she?
She is a friend who in a time of need listened when I vented, chatted when bored and laughed at things that amused us. She worried over me when I struggled with postpartum depression. Nagged me when I didn’t get it handled. Not afraid to be upfront about her feelings and never sugar coats bullshit when she sees it. Last month, I spent my nights awake for long hours trying to soothe a colicky newborn. I vented about this often. This woman went out of her way to gift me a brand new sofa that I had a place to rest while soothing him.
I cannot begin to understand a person when they tell me she is cruel. It just does NOT compute when someone claims she’s horrid, arrogant, or worse. Having endured and suffered cruelty in my life, she’s the farthest thing from it. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think she’s perfect. She makes mistakes and bleeds like the rest of us; nobody is perfect. But sometimes it’s hard to be human when the world expects you to be a “perfect industry leader”. I don’t envy her situation. I don’t think it’s fair, either. But as a friend, I can do my best to try and clear up her name whenever people work hard to smear it.
Because I’m her friend, not a follower.
A person with an agenda can misconstrue a simple misunderstanding and make far worse than it is. I went into a situation expecting to come across a savage individual. I instead made an unlikely acquaintance who is someone I’m proud to call a friend.
So who is she?
I don’t know. Why don’t you find out yourself? No, seriously. Find out yourself.