I’m out of the hustle. I don’t want to be associated. This is why the photography industry no longer aligns with my soul. I’m sickened by it. It’s a dirty industry where the lies and child exploitation grow by the day……

The Innocent Background (You may skip this part if it bores you):

I was just about being an artist. When I began my photography business, I sat down with the local Small Business Administration and made a business plan. My business plan was to bring in half a million in revenue per year. It was easy really. 10 photography clients per week with a sale of $1,000 each (at the time, that was a no-brainer low end sale…. Demand was big for custom photography… supply of the professionals was small).

What a dream! I could do something that aligned with my soul and support my family incredibly well. I did not advertise. I simply put my website up, and between being on the front page of Google and word of mouth, I never operated at a loss, and my business was soaring the first year.

I wasn’t too far off from the half million revenue mark when the industry tanked. Okay, okay… yeah… evolve, hustle, yeah…. no problem.

Well….. hmmm…. I decided to get a safety net and finish my degree and update my resume with some new experience in my degree field, so I closed my studio in 2013 and explored.

I was coming up on a crossroads in my life regarding career, and in 2016, I had the opportunity to take a year or so and really dig into the photography industry. We cut back, I really really dove in head first. I spent at least 50-60 hours per week developing a new business plan, researching the industry, REALLY researching my market again, and updating all.

Locally, I found that I cannot compete with $100 photographers. But they aren’t your clients? yes, they aren’t my clients now, but they WERE my clients. there are some very talented photographers out there charging so little, that they are not bringing in a livable wage for the MD/DC/NoVA areas.  It’s really nice work.  It’s cheap.  That fits everyone’s budget.   Why are photographers this cheap?  It’s because there are so many women (men too, but I’m immersed in with the women and the photography industry is predominantly women at this point) that have no self-worth and are willing to work for minimum wage or even less because they have no confidence. It’s sad really. I personally waffle back and forth with the feelings of feeling bad for these women to getting angry with them. Everyone wants to scream “equal rights” but until women actually value themselves in everything they do, they will never be paid what men are paid in the workplace, especially if they are willing to take on the responsibility of owning and operating a business for a measly $10/hour.

At some point, you will ask yourself this question……Does photography still align with my soul?  

What does it take these days to bring in revenue from actual clients? From my research and experience, if I didn’t want to teach the dream to all the newbies and instead actually make money off of real photography clients, the answer was HUSTLING, and even pressure sales. I’m talking spending so much time on marketing, sales, etc., that that is the majority of your workday.  If you are good at this, you will be thrilled with your business and you will probably thrive.  That’s great for you…. but I had to be honest with myself.

I’m an artist. I’m a business woman too and keep those separated, but I’m having a really hard time with the idea of mixing my art and brand with hustling and pressure sales. It just doesn’t align anymore.

I backed up this past spring and realized – This is no longer what I want. Sure, I can evolve the business and do all that, but if my heart is not into the hustle but only into the art of it, I’m not going to be full force at 100%, so therefore, I will not make the money that I need to support my family or I will end up miserable doing things I don’t like.  (I am now moved on to my new career which I love.  I believe in the company I work for now  – they empower women to balance their lives and continue their careers and thrive.  More on that another day….  I just know that this current company aligns with my soul.)

But there are plenty of other photographers making good money.  Ehh…. yeah, there are a few for sure. Some have found a pocket in this industry and are still doing very well. Some claim to do well and their “well” is not my well. $40,000 salary does not pay the bills.   I’d have to bring in at the very least, $150,000 in revenue to give myself the salary I need in my high cost of living state…. and that would again require hustle hustle hustle more than the art of it.  Not worth it to me.  Sure, I will still photograph a few clients here and there, but I will not participate in this hustle.  It doesn’t fit with my brand, and that’s okay…. so I made other choices.

During my research, I stumbled upon something…..I asked myself were the photographers who were saying they were doing well with super high sales and success really making the money they said they were?

The Dark Side Part 1 ——- Liar Liar Pants on Fire

Recently, I talked about an incident where a photographer acted kind of weird/crazy and threatened me when I tried to discuss the current state of the industry. I could not figure out why she was so upset.  After all, she told everyone how well her business is and she even jabbed at me when I closed my studio in 2013 like I was some sort of loser….. I have never hidden the fact that my business had tanked around that time (and by tanking, I mean, went from near $400K in sales to $100K in sales in one year… that’s a HUGE drop and a warning that changes have to take place). She insisted her business was doing better than ever. Was it? I mean, she’s teaching all of these photographers in workshops, etc., she has to still have a great business, right?  Deep down, I felt if anyone is doing well, it was her.  She was cut throat business woman and knew her stuff…. right?

Discovering the Truth was Fascinating and Enlightening.

Hey, I loved those investigative and forensic accounting classes I did recently. I have a natural gift for sleuthing around. I needed to investigate. I had to know the truth. We cannot build or rebuild our businesses on lies. We need to know what is REAL out there in order to make decisions that have a foundation in reality…. And it is easy to hide reality on social media, but not on public records.

I remembered when she used to stalk my blog all the time in the early 2000s. I had 3,000  hits to that blog per day, but I only  had a few repeats that showed up daily.  I had some statcounter type program that gave me a lot of detail about the blog visitors. I remembered her address that always popped up.  She showed up on my log almost every day, sometimes twice a day. (You can confirm this a special way —  if you ever speak with someone on the phone and ask them to look at a page on your site, later, you can see exactly when they were live on the site – this was prior to the huge growth of cell phone data use).    I knew it was her despite her passive aggressive remarks that if anyone had time to look at their website stats, they weren’t busy enough and therefore must be loser photographers.  Insert huge eyeroll here.…. Loved the passive aggressive remarks… they were always comical.

Okay, well… that’s a start. I plugged in the address to find the county where she lived. I then plugged her name into the public court records for that county. What popped up? Foreclosure proceedings in 2013. Huh…. really? So the whole time she’s telling everyone that her business was doing better than ever and teaching photographers how to have a successful business, speaking for major photography associations, and even poking at me since I closed my studio, she was in the process of dealing with a potential residential foreclosure and mediation to keep the house because what, she couldn’t pay for it?  Well that’s not the sign of a thriving business, is it?

And there it was…. the truth.  Money was not pouring down from the sky.

Since then, I did the same for multiple other photographers who claimed great success and are still teaching that a photography business is this attainable dream with money raining down from the heavens….. and I found more truths.

Are you kidding me?

…..But I get it… I know why the lies exist and are getting more extreme… they are lying because their customer-based business is disappearing or has disappeared. The money they now make is on starry-eyed newbies. What if the starry-eyed newbies learn the truth, that they really don’t operate these amazing successful businesses full of these amazing photography clients that spend ridiculous amounts on their photography? Then, they will be left with no workshop attendees  – …… and no backup plan. What would a photographer of 15 years do if that is all she did to support her big family all this time and the rug is pulled out from under her and she no longer has her salary?

That is freaking scary!  So then, the claws and teeth come out if anyone should be onto the truth. These photographers are going to protect their cheese at all costs… a big “Go F yourself” to downright threats from their mouths and fingertips….. Now it all makes sense, the threats, the anger…. it’s all based on fear… fear of losing it all.

The Dark Side Part 2 ——- Desperate Enough to Exploit Children

The photography industry reeks of desperation. Photographers aren’t getting the actual photography clients they once were. The latest controversy isn’t anything new, but it has been getting worse…..

There’s a photographer (another I have known for 15 years like the one above) who has found that the money is not in taking actual photography clients but instead teaching newbies. She has developed her own algorithm. It goes like this.

  1. Find the victims.  Take advantage of moms trying desperately to get their children into modeling, offer a free session or trade or whatever…..
  2. Create the shocking image and post it. Take pictures of the young child(ren) half (or even three-quarters) naked and compose a very controversial image – for shock value. She’s talented so the images are beautiful, but highly inappropriate.  Wait, why not use of-age models?  Because they won’t garner the attention that is needed for this bait and switch.
  3. Let the freak out begin and DRIVE THAT TRAFFIC. Many onlookers freak out and make huge emotional stands against the picture and are so shocked, they share the picture everywhere which of course leads back to the photographer’s website/social media page. People start following the links back to her social media.
  4. Switch the bait. Remove the offending image and replace with tame ones. Now she plays victim that the big bullies are mad at her art…. so photographers feel sorry for her and agree with her and get outraged.
  5. Receive the money. Those who have now seen her beautiful work minus the VERY controversial images, start to enroll in her classes, workshops, etc…. and she sits back collecting the money (and even brags about it publicly after telling others to F off).
  6. Rinse and repeat.

This. This is brilliant, isn’t it? It’s a genius algorithm scheme. But at what cost?  Child exploitation?

First, let me describe some of the images. I do not want them ever linked here or anywhere, although several have been found on pedophile sites – dirtballs are collecting these images. Sure, pedophiles will even collect innocent photos, but why create erotica just for them and serve it right up to them?

  • Image 1: Three girls on a dock at night. Girls are around 11 years old. They are dressed in underwear, boots, crop tops/tube tops. They are dressed like well styled prostitutes. Man (pimp?) with back facing the camera and a walkie talkie in his back pocket (this is an attempt to depict 70s era). One girl is holding his arm and cuddled to his arm, looking at the camera with seductive type pose. Another is standing with almost a jealous look on her face looking at the man and girl, with her hip cocked to one side and hands on the hips like “Look at ME instead of her!” This photographer named the image “Choices.”
  • Image 2: Two girls (around age 11) in short shorts, crop/tube tops, in an embrace ready to kiss, one has a rolled up hundred dollar bill in her waistband. The photographer named the image “Firsts”. (let me stop right here. I have no problem with homosexuality, etc., but I will say, if a man set two underage girls up like this for a photo, he’d be called a pedophile or he would be on Dateline).
  • Image 3: Same girls as above now on the hood of a car, legs splayed out so you can just about see things you shouldn’t see….. and now the hundred dollar bill is out and in a hand like she’s ready to snort a line.  You know, this is very much normal for 11 year olds dressed and styled in expensive revealing clothing brands…. Right?

So now, by this time, these images have gone viral, and photographer is saying that these images are made to look like they are from the 70s and are depicting her childhood. Oh really? Let’s do the math with her age of 46. So she remembers being 8 years old dressed like a hooker warming herself by the prostitution fires after “daddy pimp” made his choice of girl, so she, being upset that she didn’t get chosen, takes the hundred out of her pocket and snorts a line of coke off the hood of a car?  Huh…imagine that….. for a middle class upbringing…. I’m still not sure why anyone hasn’t screamed white privilege over this, but I digress…..

I didn’t follow this photographer, but I have heard of her controversial pictures and was even asked by her and her friend a few years ago over the phone to support her online when she posted other controversial images…..but I was not interested in participating…..I figured I better look at more of her work…….

  • Image 4: Young girl… maybe 9 or 10? Spinning in a beautiful field. The lighting is gorgeous, the photographer is spot on in her technique. She’s wearing a little white dress with a winter hat on her head (it works… nice trendy look)…. and wait, WHAT IS THAT? You can see her bare rear end with little panties jammed up in her buttcrack. Wait, what? What purpose does that serve in this otherwise gorgeous image? And this has nothing to do with the 70s style, so there went that theory.
  • Image 5: Child lying in bed topless. She has a BDSM type of blindfold on. Okay. No. Time to bleach my eyes. What is this?  (and I haven’t even discussed the sex whip picture yet….)

Photographer defends it, calling it art. Mom of one  or two of the children in the images defends and calls this art. Followers of photographer defend and defend….

Since when do we defend child exploitation?

I do a little more research…… Trying to understand why this is happening? Screenshot provided of a Czech website that is considered a ‘safe place for pedophiles’ where they are sharing images. One of the images from this photographer is being shared. The person who shares it has a disclaimer in their profile “I like girls 1-10”…. *shiver* Image is of two little girls on a bridge done by this photographer… image is beautiful. The little girls are in white panties and in full embrace.  The pedos love it….

I just can’t anymore.

This is all okay with those in the photography industry?  Would the Associations make a stand against this?  Of course not…. because these people are all intertwined in this dying industry and desperate to keep making money……… sometimes it’s even like a little photography mob.  Someone has even contacted some employers of those who are standing up for the children and trying to get them fired.  (This is the problem with narcissists like these.  They think that they mean something in the real world, but the truth is, they will only make it online, not in the real world of business.)

If this is what we have become, I want NO PART OF IT.

It’s bad enough that the photography industry has become a giant joke as far as a career choice goes, now this? We are okay with exploiting children for profit?

Let’s talk about the children.

To the moms who want your children in modeling. I’m going to be blunt. I have worked with quite a few local modeling agencies over the years when I was shooting national commercial ads. There is an overabundance of white girls. White girls in modeling are a dime a dozen.  The chance of your Caucasian girl actually having a modeling career is quite slim.  The white girls all look alike to these agencies with the rare case they find one that fits a different look……. So you now have attached your daughter to erotica for pedophiles. Do you think any reputable agency is going to want a model associated with that?  Now you have reduced her chances even further.

To the photographers who are okay with using children in this way. I get it, mom consented, you feel you are legal, but does that make it right? Can the child really consent at 11 and 12 years old? Absolutely not. These children have no idea what could result from their half naked bodies going viral. There is an image of my daughter with one of our horses that went viral. She’s now 19 and it embarrasses her how it has been used really corny and ridiculous all over the internet. It went viral, I lost control of that image. I cannot take it back. I cannot wipe the internet clean of that image. Thank God she wasn’t in her underwear or lying in a bed naked with a blindfold.

What if one of these kids is assaulted in the future and wants to protect herself and has a complex about these images that are now viral, forever distributed all over the world?  What if the child’s name eventually gets attached and one of these kids gets into a good career one day where these viral images will be a detriment to that career? You have displayed these girls (and even a transgender child was involved for controversy sake) half naked bodies and sent them off merrily viral on the internet, while you collected the cash.

You all teach your children they have control of their bodies so never let someone touch it or disrespect it or even see it for that matter without their permission (did we already forget the #metoo movement?), yet you just took control of a child’s partial or in some cases mostly nude body and sent it off to the eyes of everyone worldwide, with no take backs.  The privacy of this child’s own body was taken and given away… BY YOU. 

Does this make any sense?

I’m no prude.  I have always been very liberal and free with my children.  They have independently made their own decisions regarding sexuality, alcohol, drugs…… They are adults now, and I felt a hands off approach was good for their personalities in particular, and they learned how to be independent and make wise decisions, so don’t even act like I’m clutching my pearls here.  What I’m doing is wanting everyone to respect children as human beings and not like you own them.  You don’t own them.  You are responsible for them while they are young, but you don’t own them, making decisions for them that they don’t fully understand that can impact their entire lives in a negative way.  You are supposed to be protecting them from predators, not handing them out to pedophiles and photographers that are willing to exploit them for money.

Consider this. Each and every image in this photographer’s portfolio can be explained away individually – it’s a stretch, but she has managed to do that…. but I challenge you to take all of these together, as one body of work and try to understand what it all means.

If this were a man, you would all call him a pedophile. What do you call a woman who is obsessed with and fixated on dressing/styling, posing inappropriately, and ultimately over-sexualizing underage girls? And in addition, using the resulting images to profit upon?

Why would anyone stand for this?  Yet there are many that do.

I’m out.  I will no longer participate in the hustle of photography.  I don’t want to be associated with an industry that finds any of this okay.  As the desperation to hold onto the little ‘cheese’ that’s left in the industry continues to build, you all can fight among yourselves for it.

But when I see something that is absolutely insanely wrong, I will speak up… because I once loved this industry… it used to be wonderful.  Now it’s turning ugly.

Jodie Otte is a Maryland professional photographer  and designer.