Respect is what we owe; love, what we give. —Philip James Bailey
When one visits the Louvre, there are certain rules one must follow. Actually, there are a lot of rules one must follow. No smoking, drinking, eating, raising your voice, touching artworks, or running in the museum exhibition rooms. The museum houses some of the world’s most fantastic pieces of art and curators there are adamant that guests respect the art. They even put up signs to remind visitors how to act. They look like this:
There are times when I wish I could put a similar label on my photographs. I find it interesting that when a photographer puts any kind of identifying or security mark, such as a watermark, on their photographs people complain that the mark “interrupts the aesthetic value of the picture.” At the same time, though, those same people fail to show any respect for the photograph in the way it is treated and displayed. Comments are brutal and insulting without having any knowledge of all the photographer went through to create that image.
The Internet, and especially social media, thrives on photography. Whether professional or amateur, the Internet needs photography and video or else it quickly becomes boring. Few people realize that early editions of the Internet didn’t have photographs. The first browsers had no way to display images. Everything was text. The Mosaic browser changed all that in 1993 and the Internet has never been the same. But with all those pictures out there, we’ve lost our respect for the pictures and the medium.
Respect The Process
Photographs appeared on the Internet a full decade before digital photography became a reasonable alternative to film. Before digital photography, the path from camera to Internet was long and trying. The film had to be developed, processed, finished, and then scanned into a digital format. Scanning was unreliable and often multiple scans had to be created before a usable copy was obtained. It was the fallacies of those early scans that necessarily gave rise to tools such as Photoshop. The digital image had to receive further processing and editing to make it ready for online use. Weeks could pass before a photograph was ready.
Today, even professional cameras come wi-fi equipped so that a photographer can instantly publish a photo to Instagram or other application if they desire. Still, that immediacy does not take away from the skill, talent, and effort the photographer put into that photo. More involved photographs, such as the ones at the top of this page, can take several hours over the course of multiple days before they are ready for public exposure. Months of planning may take place before the frame is even snapped. Nothing about a professional photograph is easy or accidental.
Respect for the process shows respect for the hours of training, the multiple specializations brought to bear, the difficulty of knowing which adjustments to make and when a line has been crossed. Just because one can see a photo instantly after it is taken doesn’t mean that the photo is done. Raw images are seldom as perfect as they might appear on the back of a camera. A lot of hard work and creativity goes into almost every professional image.
Respect The People
One of the biggest disgraces of the Internet are those mean-spirited people we refer to as trolls. The problem has become so severe that Time magazine saw fit to devote a cover story to the topic. Writer, Joel Stein describes the problem thusly:
…if you need help improving your upload speeds the web is eager to help with technical details, but if you tell it you’re struggling with depression it will try to goad you into killing yourself. Psychologists call this the online disinhibition effect, in which factors like anonymity, invisibility, a lack of authority and not communicating in real time strip away the mores society spent millennia building.
Such overwhelming disregard and complete lack of respect for both the creators and subjects of photographs is why you are not allowed to comment publicly on my pages. I would love to hear kind thoughts and might even entertain technical questions. Unfortunately, opening up comments to allow for any intelligent conversation on a topic is an open invitation to trolls who, by their very definition, don’t know how to control the tongues.
I am especially likely to lose my temper when someone shows a lack of respect for a model. Disparaging the physical appearance of a young woman has caused me to block more than one person. I can tolerate questions about a pose or whether a highlight is out of gamut, but insult a model and were it possible to reach through the Internet and punch someone, I would. People who risk their self-esteem and personal identity to pose in photos don’t need anyone tell them they’re too short or their head is awkwardly shaped. Shut the fuck up.
Respect The Work
Not all that long ago I would occasionally give someone a signed print as a gift. I would carefully choose a photograph, perhaps one from a set they claimed to really like, go through the trouble of additional processing necessary to pull a print, and then sign and date them for authenticity. After all that effort, only once in the past eleven years have I seen one of those works actually hanging anywhere. Instead, they’re put in the back of closets, forgotten and unappreciated. In one instance, I found a print torn, mangled, and shoved behind a file cabinet. The recipients of those gifts not only showed disregard for the gift, but failed to show any respect for the work.
Image theft, which has been a constant problem on the Internet, also exhibits a lack of respect for the work. Doing a google search for a photograph then copying it and using it for your own purposes, whether online or in a brochure is theft and lacks respect. Failure to credit photographer in the work is another form of theft and disrespect. Cropping out the photographer’s watermark is a sign that one fails to respect the image and its source.
I would be tempted to say you wouldn’t go into the Louvre, take a picture of the Mona Lisa and then try to pass it off as your own work, but, astonishingly, I can’ t. People have so little respect even for masterworks as to think that they can claim some right to misuse whatever they see.
Respect For Everyone
Failure to show respect for others ultimately reflects back on yourself. A lack of self-respect causes a failure of respect for others. We do not value in others what we do not value in ourselves. No one is fooled. All the mean-spiritedness does not hide the self-loathing. Trolls are more transparent than they realize. Photo thieves are merely trying to make up for their own shortcomings. No one is fooled.
I don’t blame photographers who feel acrimonious about the misuse of their photos and pull back permissions. The person who posts photos on Facebook without tagging the photographer disrespects both the photo and the person who took it. After suffering that slight more than a few times a photographer has a right to say, “No more.”
I grow tired of seeing people who know absolutely nothing about photography disrespect my work. I know many other photographers feel the same. If you enjoy the pictures a photographer presents, please say something. If you don’t, there’s no need to say anything at all. Please, respectfully, keep your mouth shut.