That’s a bold statement. Why would I make such a bold claim? Because I just sat through the most painful 1 1/2 hours of listening to a speaker at a photo convention lay out one insult after another and who I believe to be marketing the most dangerous message one can attempt to deliver. Marketing the importance of authenticity when you are completely inauthentic.
About 4 years ago, upon hearing of some of his success as a business manager, I contacted this speaker and invited him to lunch while he was visiting NYC. It didn’t take long for me to feel his abrasive style was not a fit for me. But more important was his claim that “the last thing the photo industry needs is a middle-aged man on the speaking circuit”. He went on to compare me to another well known and respected speaker saying, “they’ve already got so and so. The last thing the photo industry needs is another _______.”
Several months later, he announced the formation of his own photography business consulting practice. Coincidence? And yes, he’s a middle-aged man.
Not one to hold sour grapes, I went to hear him speak today, open-minded and hopeful. A couple people had mentioned recently that we seemed to express some similar business philosophies. While I found the program overall to be completely discombobulated, early on there were a couple nuggets of wisdom that resonated with me. But then it all went down hill.
First there was a tirade about how the print judges at the convention couldn’t tell a good photograph from a bad one. Knowing several of the judges I’m sure they would have been deeply insulted.
Then there was the comment that if he were looking for a photographer and found one with more than 20 years of experience he would want to find one that knew how to use modern day equipment. WOOOWW! Did I hear that right? Because I’ve been in business 30 years means I don’t know how to use modern equipment? But wait…there’s a bigger issue here. Isn’t the essence of this program supposed to be that WHO you are is more important than WHAT you do? If so, than what the hell does whether I know how to use modern equipment have to do with it? A complete breakdown in the authenticity of his program in my opinion. Oh, by the way, I’m quite capable of using modern equipment. But he is right about one thing. Who I am IS more important than what I do. That’s why I’ve had and continue to have a thriving photography business (20% increase in my 29th year last year).
It got worse when an attendee asked why all but one of the members of his team are women. His reply was that the industry is becoming all women because men don’t have the empathy to be effective photographers of people. In fact, according to him, 80% of the attendees at the convention are women. He went on to say that if it was to him it would be 90%. I thought my lid would blow off. You have got to be kidding. Now mind you, this is a middle-aged MAN who consults/coaches young women on their photography businesses. I guess he is far superior than all other men and somehow has mustered up more empathy than the rest of us men in order to guide women in building their businesses. Yet another demonstration of inauthenticity.
The irony is just an hour before while on break there was a young dad playing with a baby about 6 months old. From across the terrace, this baby locked eye contact with me and wouldn’t let loose. Babies and children have always been drawn to me. That’s why I love photographing kids and have been successful at it. Must be that they see some ‘empathy’ in me. Even as a man. To say nothing of the fact, if I want to get really frank, I am blessed with a career as a photographer that is probably more successful than 95% of the photographers in the room. Even as a middle aged man in business more than 20 years.
While I was personally insulted by his comments, my concern was the negative effect such inaccurate statements can have by being put into a room full of photographers eager to learn and who were being misled. An authentic and responsible speaker takes their role very seriously.
The accurate answer as to why the photo industry has become dominated by woman, particularly young women, is it is increasingly difficult to sustain a family on the business of photography. Certainly not impossible and I fortunately coach many that do. But it’s fair to say it’s more challenging than it used to be. If you’re going to buy into social stereotypes, therefore it is increasingly more difficult for a man to support his family as a photographer. So the industry is showing a trend towards part timers and women. Let me clarify. I personally don’t buy into social stereotypes. I know plenty of women supporting their entire family as photographers. And as I said, plenty of men support their families as well.
What concerns me most is the effect this misleading information and inauthentic behavior could have on our industry. How do you say that the last thing the photo industry needs is a middle-aged man teaching and then launch a consulting practice to do just that? Here’s what really gets me. I find it incredibly offensive when people call themselves “coaches” but aren’t trained as coaches. You have a right to call yourself a consultant or a mentor. These are appropriate titles when dispensing vast, accumulated knowledge. Make no mistake, I give this guy credit for that. He has considerable business experience. But to call a handful of young photographers that he has taught and refer to them as “coaches” is frighteningly irresponsible. Apparently a select few people that go through his program become “coaches” to other photographers. One young lady “coach” (he put several on display as a platform to sell his services) is going into her third year as a photographer. I’m sure she’s lovely but with just three years experience and likely no professional coach training, a coach she is not.
What’s concerning is that photographers may not make the comparison to our own industry and buy into this nonsense he’s selling. Like the photography industry, coaching is an uncertified professional. Anyone can hang up a shingle and call themselves a professional photographer. Same in the coaching industry. Photographers should take the same offense to just anyone calling themselves a coach as they do about anyone with a camera calling themselves a professional photographer. It’s not authentic.
As you can tell I am really fired up about this. Nothing irks me more than inauthentically selling a message of authenticity. It’s a marketing ploy. It sends people down the wrong road. To say things like there’s no room for men in the portrait photography business is irresponsible to the industry as a whole. To offer coaching services without proper professional training is potentially damaging and out of integrity of what it means to be a professional. I’ve invested tens of thousands of dollars in training as a coach and know the importance of holding someones growth in high regard and the power of responsible communication.
I simply can’t stand by and risk the damage to an industry that has supported me so well that could be done from such irresponsible rhetoric.