Posted by Amaranth
Shooting Goths – the new sport
Anyone would know I have nothing against photographers, in fact I spend a lot of time with them and love being part of the art we create. But this is always planned, agreed and considered art, where I am not only thought of as their subject but a valuable part of the whole process and most importantly know and have a say in what the outcome will be.
However, I’ve never been keen on people taking my photo without my knowledge, especially if I’m relaxing or enjoying myself. Being a photograph’s subject has little place in my life in those moments, these are my private moments and I should be able to choose who I share them with.
This is where paparazzi come in – celebrities and public figures have had to give up their right to a certain degree of privacy and become “public property” even in their down times. Now I ask this, have Goths now been forced to do the same?In the past few years Whitby Gothic Weekend has been attracting more and more photographers, to the point where it has started becoming a real problem. As dan_yorkshire from the talkphotography.co.uk forum says, “There are more photographers than seagulls!!”. Indeed I went through a countless number of photographer forums and the majority of them had at least one post about arranging a meetup in Whitby over the Goth Weekends. While there have always been photographers going to the festival, these days there are times when the “photographers very nearly outnumbered the Goths” as Debbie Stogden from debbiestogden-photography.co.uk admits. While pixvault from talkphotography.co.uk writes about a recent Whitby visit, “I swear the Togs outnumbered the Goths 2 to 1″. The rector of the Church on St Mary’s Hill announced shortly before November Whitby that he no longer wants people posing on and against the gravestones. This caused the first wave of uproar – among Goths, photographers, and Whitby visitors alike. While I personally don’t have a problem with people posing on or near gravestones (and have myself in the past), as long as you are careful not to ruin them or be respectful if there is anyone actually visiting them and stay away – I think they are beautiful objects and make for wonderful photographs. There are of course people who disagree with that on religious or other grounds. Indeed I think doing provocative or scantily clad shots in graveyards are in poor taste, but similarly some would think simply being Goth in a graveyard is in poor taste – so it’s all just a matter of perspective.
However I still agree with the ban. Why? Because it was getting out of hand. Myself and anyone else who tried to walk up to the Abbey just to enjoy the view was besieged by photographers, some being quite polite and actually asking to take your picture (although after the 20th time even this politeness grates on you) while others just taking pictures without asking. Some, when they are turned down, act shocked and a little nasty. Once when I was walking along the waterfront a lovely elder lady with a professional camera approached me and asked ever so nicely if she could take my picture, this time I agreed. Just then she beckoned to her male friend, and moments later I had the two of them shooting me and requesting that I pose like this, do this, look that way. I don’t ever say yes anymore. As dan_yorkshire from talkphotography.co.uk concurs, “You just need to be a bit forward in asking the models to pose for you.” I’m not sure when I stopped being someone enjoying my free time and weekend away and became some passerby’s model… As Nikon Ken noticed “A very small minority of photographers seem to be directing a few Goths as if they were paid models.” While greynolds999 from pentaxuser.com, hits the nail on the head, “It is the best time to photograph lots of willing models for free.”
Back at the Abbey crowds of photographers, mostly men, gather round a young girl (in an outfit perfectly acceptable as goth attire – but you must understand what we deem normal make some men rub their legs with glee when they are able to encounter it). As EOS-Phil from canon-fodder-forums.com puts it, “Where else can you photography girls in their underwear without getting arrested? Unless you have a long lens.” And he isn’t the only one who has this view. Technoblurb from pentaxuser.co.uk asks, “Now is it the guys in drag your getting exited about or the very strange woman with the bull whip” and greynolds999 answers, “Perhaps it’s the opportunity of photographing cleavage and stockings without getting arrested!” and goes on to say, “Actually, let’s not bother with all the heavy camera gear this time. Turn up, oggle, breakfast, oggle, beer, oggle, home.” And it’s hard to see how Technoblurb doesn’t realize how things are getting out of hand when he says, “ Great eye contact David in the “That look” shot, although I am embarrassed to admit that the first thing I spotted was the mucky lens mark in her cleavage.” But greynolds999′s comment in another thread is very telling of what an excuse their camera really is, saying it’s not really possible to get away with “asking girls to put whips in their teeth and show you their stockings if you don’t have a camera.” They then post the picture greynolds999 was referring to and fatspider adds, “And yes it was Gareth that asked her to put the whip between her teeth”. The comments under another posted image again objectifies yet another girl: gtis wrote: “i am surprised you looked at her face” fatspider answered “Face? Oh she has a face.” And when topic goes on to one of a more technical nature davidtrout urges “enough talk of software, lets look at the girls.” But trying to raise the tone slightly, greynolds999 says “This year we must take pictures of at least one man!…” Technoblurb replies “…Flanked by two scantily dressed ladies” and Father Ted adds “I took photos of a man. OK, only because he wouldn’t move far enough out of shot when I was getting a photo of his wife!!” The predatory nature of these photographers is aptly described in this comment by gtis when all he could get was the photo of the back of a latex-clad subject, “gareth and me where waiting for her to come out of the shop, i think she knew we where waiting so i just took a few shots in between people walking in front of us.” While fatspider helpfully critiques the photo by saying, “that skirt needs to be a foot shorter.” A whiby-regular who has joined the forum sheds some light on that particular situation, “I know a friend of the lady in question who has stated that no permission was given to photograph her, she kept apologising to the shop owner for your behaviour, which apparently included swarming around the door and blocking other shoppers from entering.”
While I’m not keen on these flocks of photographers watering down a weekend that’s supposed to be about Goth. People are free to enjoy themselves as they see fit, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone. And as annoying as it may be, politely refusing a courteous request for a photo isn’t the end of the world. And not all photographers who go to the festival should be tarred with the same brush, some even are horrified at their fellow photographers’ actions (as we Goths are by some of the Goths who allow and propagate this behaviour). foggy4ever from talkphotography.co.uk, is one such photographer, “one thing that I found quite shocking is up around the Church how some togs can completely take over the Goths and man handle them like they have paid for them. I don’t know if this is normal practice and I know the Goths wouldn’t do it if they didn’t mind but some poses that were being asked to do were almost glamour. I will say that all the Goths were fantastic and very helpful but some of the togs were very ignorant of others trying to take shots with some very cross mumblings.” OneTen agrees, “I agree about the Goths, they were so friendly and really happy to have their picture taken. It’s unfortunate that some photographers were abusing this by manhandling them into poses, pushing and shoving and sticking cameras up their noses. More disturbing was the posing of girls so they were displaying more cleavage, like Scott says more like a glamour shoot. On my way down the 199 steps I was behind a couple and the guy was saying that he felt grubby having witnessed the pervy photographers. Earlier in the day I’d asked a woman if I could take her picture, her husband stepped in and refused. He was complaining at why all these men wanted to photograph his 15 year-old daughter. I actually wanted a shot of his wife looking into a shop window but he wouldn’t have it. Most photographers were well behaved, polite and showed consideration but as usual a minority gave the rest of us a bad name. Maybe we should self police more.”
And Les McLean eos-magazine-forum.com, has been attempting to do just that. After visiting Whitby in April 2010 he said he “did notice some photographers were pushing things far too far, sometimes almost manhandling the subjects to get an image, with lenses a couple of inches from the face, or pointed down cleavages, some of the subjects looked quite nervous, it certainly made me feel uncomfortable.” Aiming to stop a potentially volatile situation from getting out of hand even more and representing the photographers’ point of view: “Whitby Goths have their own forum, so I joined, mentioned I was a photographer, and repeated some of the views expressed here regarding the crass behaviour of a small number of togs… What I did do was to ask them what they thought would be reasonable ‘rules of engagement’ in respect of photographing WGW.” And these were the rules they came up with, apparently to be circulated – but I’ve not seen it anywhere and this was back in 2010:
1 Before you take a photograph of anyone, please ask first.
2. Don’t assume because another photographer is shooting a particular person/group there is an open invitation to a paparazzi style shoot, with everyone and their dog getting into the act, also a group of photographers appearing as if from nowhere ‘jumping on the shot’ crowding the subject, can be very intimidating for the subject.
3.No means no, for everyone who likes having their photograph taken there’s someone who hates it, a refusal isn’t anything personal.
4.Give the subjects some respect, someone chewing a mouthful of pizza will never look dignified, no matter how good a photographer you are, and just because a person is wearing a flimsy costume, it doesn’t automatically mean he/she wants to show more flesh than already on display.
5. Don’t invade a person’s individual space, that means not pointing a lens directly up a person’s nostril or down a cleavage, unless invited to do so.
6. Consider the subjects feelings, if taking a group shot, don’t exclude the person with the least exotic costume, or concentrate on the person with the most interesting looks/costume.
7. Avoid taking individual shots of children, and if in a group shot ensure you have the parents/carers consent.
8. If possible provide contact cards, with your E-mail/web address and if the images are to be published (blog/forum/web site etc), give the subject this information, with a provision for anyone who wishes an image(s) to be removed for any reason, the image will be removed.
9. If using a DSLR with a rear screen, show the subject the images you have taken, and if the subject is unhappy with the image, delete the image.
10. Avoid taking photographs on the steps leading up to the Abbey, apart from the fact most folk are knackered climbing the steep steps, and not looking too elegant, the steps are quite narrow with steep drops, taking photographs is unsafe, both for the photographer, subject and the poor folk who have to navigate round the shoot.
Bobby Canon from talkphotograhy.co.uk raises a valid point – and one which I have raised myself before, “I myself have stated that it is a case of both Goths and photographers “feeding” off each other. So long as there is one Goth type posing, others will want to pose, and so long as one solitary photographer is seen taking photos, others will follow for their share of the action.” Whitby is also attracting a lot of people who aren’t necessarily Goths but who come to the weekend for the chance to dress up. Perhaps they feel they couldn’t dress up like this anywhere else or feel comfortable with the accepting nature of Goths. These are both great reasons and it’s nice to know people feel WGW is a safe friendly environment for them. But I do feel this again waters down the weekend and makes it less about Goth. B&Bs get filled and restaurant seats are hard to find, the streets get jam-packed during the day. Fewer then pay the money and support the bands at the event itself, the festival was at risk of closure due to lack of financial support and yet the town is full to brimming. Goth is most certainly a look and a way of dressing, but there is a whole scene, music and lifestyle beneath it and I wish those who chose the look would embrace it all.
It would seem that it’s generally these people who most enjoy their photograph being taken (I have to deduce this as paging through all the random online WGW photographer albums, I recognize very few people – and I can confidently say, I know a fair few Goths…). fatspider of pentaxuser.co.uk says of one such person, “the older couple she was with virtually pushed her in front of the camera, and she herself voluntarily leaned forward and thrust the aformentioned endowments at the camera.” So do people really just go to be photographed? davidtrout and techno-terminator from the same forum seem to think so “there were some stunning looking woman dressed up especially for us photographers” “I strongly suspect that your subjects were very happy to be photographed – that’s why they were there, all dressed up, to catch your attention.” cantona43 from ephotozine.com agrees “They love posing for the camera or they would not dress up like they do and attract attention.” So while there may indeed be some who dress up just for the photographers, the majority of people I know personally, do not. Yet as we choose to dress in the way we feel comfortable and enjoy (in an environment which is essentially where we should most be able to do so – being our festival and all), in the minds of these photographers we are effectively asking for it.
Bobby Canon goes on to say, “we will find ourselves ostracised by the Gothic community, and have many heads turned away when we approach them with camera in hand. They will, rightly or wrongly, ulimately blame us, the photographers, for spoiling what is meant to be “their” weekend. There are already a fair number of them already feel this way. We should all think long and hard about this, and instead of trying trying to analyze the situation to find out who’s feet to lay the blame at, we should all act together as a group (photographers and goths, and also fancy dress people) and try to keep the good relations we have with each other going.” Which is an applaudable view and I was completely with him until he went on to say that if photographers continue to act in an undesirable manner “we may be killing the goose that laid the golden egg.” Ultimately we are just something for them to use and gain from no matter how nice they are.
Indeed many claim to have won photography club competitions with their photos they took of people at the Goth Weekend, as whipspeed at ephotozine.com attests to. Others get published in magazines: davidtrout at pentaxuser.co.uk gets kudos for his article Pentax User magazine, others still sell their images: I’ve found stock images for sale at www.photographersdirect.com and www.istock.com and prints at www.picadore.com for as much as £123. One person in the Whitby Goth Weekend facebook group even claims to have seen a photographer charge between £8 and £600 for the images he took around St Mary’s Churchyard. Let alone the pictures being posted in all these online forums for people to study, critique or make fun of. But it’s not just the profits and kudos they gain from our image with no recompense that worries me, the people in the pictures have no say what or how their image is used. Stock photos can be used for any purpose from advertising to accompanying a news story – how would you feel if your picture suddenly popped up in less than desirable place? In UK the only rights we have to how photographs of us are used, is if the image is used in such a way that it paints us in a negative light but even that requires a court case to prove. In fact photographers are completely within their rights to take photos of people in public places without their subject’s consent, and they don’t even need a model release for use of that image. The law is unfortunately on their side in this regard (see my article on copyright). It’s no wonder mniwh from eos-magazine-forum.com is pleased when he finds out about WGW and says it’s otherwise “difficult to get willing non paid subjects”, because most models realise what they are giving up and their exact worth to their photographers.
So when the opinion of some photographers such as pentaxian450 from pentaxuser.co.uk is “when people dress and/or act outrageously and call the attention to themselves in a public place, then I act like they want the attention, so I don’t give a rat’s a$$ about a “publication form”. They become part of the news, and news are fair game for any photographer. If they’re bystanders watching the event, same goes.” you may want to consider your decision to let these people shoot you. As Arkady, a far more reasonable photographer from talkphotography.co.uk says, “These aren’t celebrities or Royalty or even politicians, so ‘monstering’ them in press-pack style is a bit OTT” and dan_yorkshire from talkphotography.co.uk noticed exactly this behaviour, “Some models had 10+ photographers around them at a time shouting for their attention.” Chris L concurs, “It really can be a scrum these days.”
It’s quite unfair that a place which has become a haven for all those who want to dress exactly how they please (whether or not that outer image is sprung from a deeper scene and whether or not you agree with the way they dress) has become a place where photographers flock to, some of which treat us no better than animals to be herded, hunted and used. Where the blame for this lies, is no longer a relevant question. The question now lies – what do we do about it?
I’m not sure what the answer is here. But what I do want to stress, is that anyone dressed up, Goth or no, should please read the opinion some of these photographers have of you and understand what little rights you have with regard to that image, and then think again if you really want to let them take that picture…