The Politics of Fashion Photography, Part 6

Keeping Cool… Or Walking on Eggs

Your probably asking what I mean by the above phrase. In fact it means many things pertaining to the “Biz”. It can mean keeping your nose out of trouble, keeping your distance when you really want to get involved in a model’s problem with her agency, boyfriend, client etc. It can mean, don’t say too much when with the team, as in many cases they are transient and when shit happens, it gets around faster than the speed of light. It can mean, using the utter most diplomacy when speaking with a repugnant agent at an agency, who really doesn’t know her “A” from a hole in the ground. Not losing your temper, even though the top of your head is about to explode. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be enthusiastic about what your doing, but always remembering that what ever you do, will permanently engraved in the memories of those with whom you work with.

I mention these things for many reasons, but the main one, is that I am always aware of how easily one can blow it, if you are not always in check of your demeanour. One must always remember that your one bad day might be the only day that people will judge you by and no matter what anyone else says about you, it will be that one day that you will leave with others to share with everyone who mentions your name.

Once a while back, I was working for a very prestigious fashion magazine in Paris. The stylist working with me was having what I would call, her bad day. Now, I was really excited about this shoot. The location, the styling, model, hair and make-up were excellent. So, I shared my excitement with the team. The more excited I would get, the more hostile the stylist became until, I finally couldn’t handle her attitude any longer and spurted out, “…Why do you do what you do if you hate it so much. You looked bored, disinterested and totally detached. Why don’t you just get a day job!” She looked at me utterly shocked by what I said, kind of rolled her eyes and continued her negativity until I finally said, “Look, I cannot have you on the set if you continue to project your disdain of the positive energy around you. I would feel much better if you just dressed the model and get off the set, once she is done.”

Well not only did she get off of the set, she said, “Fuck You, I’m Leaving!!!” Now that really put a major dent in to the day, as without her and her assistant, we could not continue the shoot and the Editor in Chief of the magazine would most definitely not be pleased. I got on the phone to the E&C and told her what transpired. After about an hour or so, another stylist, with the same clothing showed up to the shoot and we continued for the rest of the day and the following day as well. The bad news is this… About two years later, that stylist ended up working for a magazine I would have liked to work for. As she was close to the E&C of that magazine, just the mentioning of my name was enough to get an adamant NO F’ing Way!

That is just one of many stories I could share with you regarding the importance of keeping your head cool, even if you feel that your actions were justified. Another no no, is giving models advice, especially if that model asks you the classic question; “Is my Agency good?” Trust me, you do not want to go there. If the agency gets wind of the fact that you either bad mouthed them, or even worse, suggested another agency, you will probably be black listed until all of the employees of that agency are long gone and a new generation of booker’s have taken their place.

The Politic of Fashion Photography is akin to walking on egg shells with spiked golf shoes.

Continued in Part 7

About Benjamin Kanarek
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Fashion and Beauty Photographer. Some of the magazines I have shot for include: VOGUE (China, Portugal, Brazil, Italia, Paris and South America & Mexico editions), RG VOGUE Brazil, Harper’s BAZAAR (China, en Español & Latin America, Hong Kong, Italy editions), L’Officiel Paris, ELLE (Spain, Portugal and Greece editions), Madame Figaro (France), Cosmopolitan (France and Italy editions), Glamour (France), Votre Beauté, Jardin des Modes, Dépêche Mode, New York Daily News, Fashion District News, New York Times Magazine, W (British edition), WWD, Fashion Magazine (Canada), Flare (Canada), Oyster, Tank, WestEast…
  • Robert Qi

    Thank you so much for sharing!

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  • Wise words, we all need to hear from time to time. Not easy sharing them, but thanks for the excellent reminder…

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  • This is hardly unique to “fashion photography.” In my former life as a freelance corporate communications producer, I had plenty of opportunity to observe how the game is played in the executive board rooms of the Billionaire Boys Club. If you have any aspirations of climbing the management ladder of a Fortune 500 you learn the rules of communication: you don’t piss people off, even when they deserve it; you don’t bring your personal problems to work; you keep your personal opinions to yourself; you don’t gossip about somebody else’s rotten attitude in the break room; and you network network network, which means above all maintaining good relationships with the people you’re already working with.

    Congress follows Robert’s Rules of Order, not because they’re a bunch of antiquated stuffed shirts, but because it provides a formula for how to vehemently disagree with somebody today in a manner that allows you to cooperate with him tomorrow.

    I also worked as an actor/director in theatre for a lot of years; it’s a collaborative art form, and its pecking order varies–I’m directing you in this show; you may be directing me tomorrow. Asserting power needlessly when I have it is likely to bite me in the ass later when I don’t.

    Every major institution, particularly if it involves the generation of money, is based on a management hierarchy that gets smaller in numbers at the top in inverse proportion to the amount of influence wielded by the few who occupy the big offices. And it’s pretty hard to predict today who that’s going to be tomorrow, so smart ladder climbers know that getting in a snit with a peer has little present upside and huge potential downside down the road.

    Heck, even a functional family understands that it’s best to hold your tongue when you’re angry because otherwise the words that come out get sandblasted into the memories of the people you care about and can sit there for years, gunny-sacked away for ammunition in a future disagreement.

    The irony is that your advice is only partially and very selectively true. Your stylist was a bitch who, in spite of her rotten attitude, now works for a company you’d like to do business with. Apparently your outburst didn’t help you, but hers apparently had no adverse affect on her career. The fashion world is full of annoying divas, both photographers and models, who can’t accommodate all of the requests they get for high-end work. Annie Leibowitz is a notorious walking disaster in her personal life, and her inability to manage her business affairs in a professional manner has her infamously in trouble with bankruptcy courts, but I just saw her starring as “famous photographer Annie Leibowitz” in a Hewlett-Packard commercial yesterday. Any one of us who follows fashion photography could name a dozen lesser-known photographers with equal or greater talent who would be far less drama (and $1000s less expense) to work with than someone with this much baggage who always runs her productions massively over budget, but I’m assuming her reputation–both the good and the bad–isn’t affecting her bookings any.

    Take your pick of examples from the corporate world who have proven to be fabulously incompetent but who continue to shuffle from company to company, precisely because–not in spite of the fact that–it’s a small universe at the top, and people who hire important people like to work with known commodities. You may have failed in your last stop–as Carly Fiorina did spectacularly at HP–but the fact that HP was willing to hire you as CEO in the first place is all the resume you need to move to the next job. I hear she’s running for Congress now. Go figure.

    The bottom line is that notoriety and historical achievement often trump talent, disposition, and manners when the good jobs–the ones people’s reputations depend on–are handed out. Following the common-sense networking rules of work-place decorum that you just handed out probably won’t ever HARM the average guy’s opportunities for advancement, but if your talent has gotten you a big enough name, bad behavior probably won’t hurt you either. John McCain’s reputation as a shoot-from-the-hip independent thinker didn’t exactly endear him to the rank-and-file Republican flock, but once he finally secured the nomination, EVERYBODY wanted to stand next to him for the photo op.

    Yes, unkind words can come back to haunt you. Unless they don’t.

  • Mic

    I have to admit, I have dipped my toes in the pool and understand this post all too well.

  • Andrew Miller

    Words of wisdom yet again Ben, so it is as true then in your world as else where “Keep your friends close – and your potential enemies closer still” 🙂

  • Benjamin Kanarek

    @:

    An old adage…”Live and Learn…”

  • Harry

    wow!!! so true. i absolutely love your “politics of fashion series.” reverence. reverence. reverence.

    did the same screw up while working as an assistant to a big photographer. was extremely rude to a stylist who is now the fashion editor of a big magazine i so wanna work with…been nearly 5 years…tch tch. learnt. the hard way.

    anyways, thx ever so much for your fantastic blog 😉 have a superb day.