Photo Intern Humiliated By Photographer; Forced to Tickle Model’s Feet (VIDEO)

We've all, no doubt, had an unpaid internship (or two) in our lives and while they can be a rewarding experience, there are some people out there who seek to take advantage of the lowly struggling intern.

Consider the case of Sophia, a photo intern who says she was humiliated by "a fashion and beauty photographer" in downtown Manhattan who she identifies only as "A."

Among the abuses Sophia cites in the short video below are getting repeatedly called "Alex" by the photographer, and being forced to tickle a model's feet to generate a "happy" expression.

Ok, we've heard worse horror stories than this but it did get us wondering who this photographer is. Anyone want to hazard a guess in the comments on the identity of "A"?

(Via A Photography Blog.)

40 Responses to “Photo Intern Humiliated By Photographer; Forced to Tickle Model’s Feet (VIDEO)”

  1. Kevin Murray Says:

    Why speculate on who the “a” photog was? Or give space on your website to this kind of paparazzi journalism! Let’s keep the line moving folks.. Nothing here to see.

  2. rjg Says:

    It astounds me how often photographers continue to exploit their own employees to make a buck.

  3. A Lavine Says:

    Why would a Cornell University Graduate (with a degree in English and Sociology) take an UNPAID photography internship?

  4. mike Says:

    Oh poor “Alex”..Assistants have to do much much worse every day. This is not news.

  5. David Says:

    While it certainly sounds like “A” is both wacky and rude, there’s something to admire about any small business operator who can get 5 people to work for free. If they’re all as overqualified as Sophia obviously is, “A” is clearly doing something right…

  6. mik Says:

    Wah wah wah – jeez if you think that is so bad you best get out of assisting because there will be worse.
    Grow up brat.

  7. T Says:

    Poor Alex. Grow up kid, or go back inside those Ivy League walls till you do. You asked for the unpaid job, then you cry because the photographer didn’t coddle you like you wanted. Let’s all throw you a pity party. Sounds like you were worth exactly what she paid you… squat.

  8. Yger Says:

    Wow, such a deep male voice!

  9. Andrea Says:

    I’m really surprised by the comments here. Yeah, it’s not the worst situation that I’ve known an assistant to find herself in. I myself have experienced worse. But come on people! As photographers we sit around and whine about not being appreciated, respected, compensated fairly, but then it’s okay for us to turn around and treat others that way??? “A” is doing something right by getting so many people to work for her for free? Then so are the magazines and other clients who are getting photographers to work for free, right? Sorry, but that’s just wrong and exploitive and bad logic. Anyone who does it or praises another photographer for doing it only perpetuates the cycle of disrespect and has no grounds on which to complain about how they or their work is used/stolen/treated/perceived.
    I’m all for the unpaid internship. The compensation comes in many forms besides financial, and I was happy to take such positions when I was studying. I formed fantastic relationships with people who were my mentors and are now my colleagues. But I was also treated with respect and as a valuable part of a team. I will have unpaid interns over the course of my career, and I will make it a point to make sure they get as much out of the internship from me as I do from their time and effort.
    And in general, I make a point of knowing a person’s name, how they pronounce it (my own name can be pronounced 2 or 3 different ways, so I am sensitive to this fact), if they have nicknames they like to go by, etc., whether that person is a client, an intern, or the guy who works at the corner store. That’s just common decency. Who does anyone think they are to just rename a person because they are artsy and eccentric and think others will excuse it on those grounds?
    It doesn’t have to be the worst case ever to be wrong. Please, let’s support and respect one another.

  10. Js Says:


  11. Brook Says:

    I think you were lucky she called you Alex. I wouldn’t have called you back at all. And to top it off going online to complain? Either quit or stay but shut up about it. If tickling a models feet is the worst thing you ever have to do I feel totally sorry for you.
    If nothing else, it’s the “poor” little entitled rich kids that are ruining our industry.

  12. Paul Byun Says:

    Annie Leibovitz.
    This sort of crappy quality video wouldn’t have made it to this kind of blog without a “catch” to it.

  13. Ann Says:

    Only Annie Leibovitz could have 5 slaves working for free AND be that neurotic.

  14. ken Says:

    too much speculation that it’s Annie.
    is she considered fashion and beauty photographer?

  15. CK Dexter Haven Says:

    She IS an idiot. What misplaced sense of ‘entitlement’ does she imagine gives her the right to be indignant about this situation? She harps on the fact that it was an unpaid internship. She knew this going in. If that’s a point of contention, you don’t accept it. Obviously, she was lured by the other potential benefits – which she doesn’t mention, of course. Tickling a model’s feet is hardly offensive. I don’t think this child understands what demands are related to this industry. What was she- a Lit major? She should have studied clues. She hasn’t got one. Grow up Sophia. Travel a little bit on your daddy’s dime. Visit Guatemala or Bolivia or Brazil and see how people live. Learn what “exploitation” really means. Then, come home and get a job where you pay your own rent. All of it, ‘unsubsidized.’ Then, maybe you’ll have a basis/foundation for complaints.
    This ‘news story’ is as offensive as this girl’s attitude.

  16. Lindsay Beyerstein Says:

    Why all this hate for Sophia? Her boss refused to even call her by her real name. That’s degrading. Then she browbeat her into touching a model in a way that made her uncomfortable. That’s not cool. Then the boss sent her a verbally abusive email after she quit. Also not cool.
    Sure, worse things happen all the time. But so what? Sophia’s not claiming to be the biggest victim in the whole world. She’s not suing, she’s not pressing charges, she’s not even revealing her boss’s name. She’s just telling her own story. We’re all tuning in because it’s unusual and salacious enough to be juicy gossip. And that’s all the leverage an unpaid intern ever has over a famous boss. Team Sophia!

  17. Lindsay Beyerstein Says:

    Also, keep in mind that Sophia recorded the clip as an entry in a “worst internship story” contest sponsored by Macy’s. It’s perfect for that context. They’re not looking for “the time I was sold into indentured servitude in a sweat shop in Cameroon.” They’re looking for offbeat anecdotes that will entertain the general public, not horror that will shock grizzled photo industry veterans.

  18. Brian Smith Says:

    I would have been tickled to have a gig like that at that age. Oh wait, the gig is the tickler – not ticklee… well that’s still cool. Wait until you become a photographer, Alex. This story rates about a 0.001 on the humiliation scale.

  19. steve anderson Says:

    I’m surprised at PDN for posting this.
    This is reality TV style marketing.
    It seems to have novalidation what so ever and does nothing for our industry.
    But Alex got her 15 minutes.

  20. Steven Says:

    Is PDN really this desperate? This is really crap and a waste of time. Continue publishing this kind of nonsense and I’ll get a subscription to the National Enquirer instead. Are you people on drugs?

  21. nolitaphoto Says:

    Yes CK , she is an idiot, when I moved to NYC over 10 years ago I assisted a great deal of photographers, paid, unpaid, I mopped flors, was fired on the set for setting the gaffer tape a little short to the edge of the seamless, and sent home because the photographer did not liked my shoes, I once walked some client’s dog.I was called all different names, “Sonny” Sweetheart” “Blueyes” Xenobi” it took about a year until a photographer called me on the set by my name, and thats still photography, I was a intern on a couple of film shots, you have to do everything you are asked to do, cleaning half a street for garbage or sitting on a parking spot 12 hours, tickling the model feet would have been a promotion. I discover professional photographers in NY are under a great deal of stress you can be gone in a week so it is a charged environment and that is the nature of the animal that is why its so hard and tough , it took me about a year before I was able to handle film from a shoot, as for you, Sophia, your ego is bigger than the photographer you mention A or B or whatever, and the choice of delivery with a testimonial on camera reality style its so lame,outdated,overly done and vulgar that make me feel the fees at your college have been waisted,here you go your 15 seconds of fame !

  22. Andrew Raimist Says:

    Unpaid intern with some valid concerns and some professionals tell her to suck it brat. I recently worked two days as a Production Assistant and Photographer. I was paid $50 for a day. I thought that was low for a production company based in NYC, but I didn’t complain or argue. I worked and I learned and I’m glad I did it. People need to treat one another with a basic level of respect. I feel sickened by the comments suggesting that ‘A’ had to be doing many things right to have 5 unpaid interns.

  23. Sophia Says:

    Hi All,
    This is Sophia. I had no idea my video had been posted on PDN until I got a Facebook message tonight about it. I’m complimented, thanks. As Lindsay Beyerstein said earlier, I posted the video on YouTube last week in order to enter a contest where contestants tell their “Worst Work/Intern Experience” for a grand prize of $500 to Macy’s. I don’t really give a shit about this video, and didn’t when I made it. I was just hoping to win an easy $500 worth of clothes (I still am hoping to win, actually).
    The amount of attention some of you have given my video reveals way more about the nature of this industry than the video itself does. I don’t see any other recent post with close to 21 comments. Some of the comments here are pretty great, like, “Tickling feet is a promotion,” or “Go travel on your daddies dime […] Find out what exploitation actually is.” I get it, people. Interns are meant to be picked on. I mean, many of you just can’t seem to resist.
    Personally I think it’s a waste of attention, time and energy. I’d rather read 21 passionate comments about a lot of other things on this blog, not about my quick attempt to make shopping money. But hey, I’m not going to start lecturing you all. Continue with your good ol’ fashioned, intern-bashing fun which has sadly become some kind of tradition in the photography/fashion world.

  24. Bill Says:

    I would like to start this comment off by saying that the majority of comments here make me ashamed to be a photographer. In short, you people suck.
    I have never interned for anyone, nor does my photography require an intern, but I still see quite clearly that the behavior of the photographer was offensive, unprofessional, and degrading.
    No other industry would put up with management or supervisors refusing to call their interns by their name (Which for the record is in my mind one of the most severe forms of disrespect) and writing nasty letters after that intern has left to pursue another option. Yet photographers are piling on a young woman because its not the worst they’ve heard of? You people are ridiculous…just because you have heard of worse behavior does not make it acceptable. Didn’t we learn that in grade school?
    The good news is the majority of photographers who post bitchy, whiny comments on a blog post tend to be mediocre, talentless failures who have no business in the industry to begin with. To the one of you on here who is actually succeeding, please shut up, grow up, and stop making our industry look like a bunch of backwards Neanderthals.

  25. Gary Bowen Says:

    ….. the romantic sentimental side to fashion photography was put to rest when I read Michael Gross’s MODEL: The ugly business of beautiful women. It very quickly silenced the ‘glamour’ notion the industry that it so successfully portrays itself to be. Sad.

  26. Former Photo Assistant Says:

    Photographer’s like “A” set a bad precedent for the photography profession. Assistant learn how to behave as a photographer by example. Maybe that’s why photography profession has such a bad reputation. Mutual respect is always in fashion.

  27. Fran Janik Says:

    This is silly. If the photographer in question is making the assistant do something that she does not like then she should quit. Quite frankly from my own experience assisting Annie Lebowitz many years ago, Annie does a lot worse to her assistants. She hit my friend Bruce Rabinowitz in the face when I asked him to take a meter reading with one of her cameras during a photo shoot of Stevie Nicks for Rolling Stone Magazine in the 80’s. Get a life young lady.

  28. Sophia Says:

    P.S. Rereading what I wrote earlier, I’d just like to add:
    It’s true, I only made the video to hopefully get the most out of an unfortunate situation (and win the contest), but I don’t want to belittle my experience. I consider it unprofessional and strange to treat an unpaid intern who is there to learn with blatant disrespect. It’s the same kind of petty drama you see on reality TV, and it saddens me. I still love photography, obviously, and something like this wouldn’t change that.

  29. Leigh Says:

    Dear Bill, “I would like to start this comment off by saying that the majority of comments here make me ashamed to be a photographer”. Why so?
    The only reason to be ashamed is if your own work is substandard. It’s nothing to do with any other photographer or the comments they might make.
    What we have here is a rather precious young kid trying to win $500 of clothing money and (if the story is totally true – and we’ll never know) a professional photographer who has some difficulty relating to other people and exhibits some odd behaviour.
    We don’t even know if person “A” has a name that starts with Z.
    Not really newsworthy at all. Just about everything else is built on innuendo, supposition and personal criticism.

  30. Tony Hart Says:

    Any employer that can’t find the good manners to treat their employees with basic human civility is quite clearly an asshole. If the girl’s name is Sophia call her Sophia. It’s pretty straightforward and downright rude to think it’s acceptable to do otherwise.
    Being someone’s boss comes after basic manners. Whoever this photographer is they sound like a royal jackass and the fact that people are pointing out that internships often include hard work and little reward by way of excuse for this kind of behaviour is both shocking and disheartening.

  31. aj Says:

    there are laws regarding “internships”. it is prohibited for an employer to use free labor for jobs that would otherwise require payment. sue the A.

  32. Jon Says:

    Sounds like “A” was grooming Sophia for a lesbian relationship.

  33. Andreas Says:

    I have a question here… Why do we even assume that the allegations in this video are true? I did not look for more of Sophia’s videos, so I do not know if there is actual proof of her allegations. Are we discounting the fact that she may have just made it up as part of some school project???
    Regardless, have I told you about the time I encountered Big-foot having tea with the Dalai Lama and Richard Nixon, in Manhattan? It was a couple of years ago. I am going to create a utube video and post it on line.
    — A.

  34. Paul Guba Says:

    When I started out I refused to work for free. It is an invitation for abuse, if you have no value in the eyes of a coworker/employer then you will be treated as such. An assistant is the lowest paid person on any production and if you cannot or believe it not necessary to pay them perhaps you need to reconsider your business model. If someone brings value to your production then they need to be compensated. Abuse is not compensation.
    As far as the comments are concerned. Abuse is a cycle those that are abused may often abuse another individual as it is rationalized by the abuser that it is acceptable behavior. Rather than criticize those that say it is OK to do these types of things and worse, consider that there is a long standing culture within the industry that condones this type of behavior. Until people like this young women point out that this is unacceptable the cycle will continue.
    Some of the most miserable, egocentric, abusive people I have worked for have been photographers I have assisted. It is equally true that some of the most kind, generous, and caring people I have worked for have been photographers I have assisted. I choose who I worked for a second time. As I became more secure in the business of photography, it became unlikely that I would work for the first group I mentioned.

  35. steve anderson Says:

    Just to correct my link below, I have reposted.
    I’m surprised at PDN for posting this.
    This is reality TV style marketing.
    It seems to have no validation what so ever and does nothing for our industry.
    But Alex got her 15 minutes.

  36. steve anderson Says:

    Re-posting just to make a correction in my link below
    I’m surprised at PDN for posting this.
    This is reality TV style marketing.
    It seems to have no validation what so ever and does nothing for our industry.
    But Alex got her 15 minutes.

  37. Intern Says:

    Haha i think i know who this is. Its gotta to be Andrea Blanch. I interned for her as well. This really is not so bad. Check her out at
    Sophia did I guess right?

  38. yawns Says:

    sophia this is just other interns dont flatter yrsf

  39. pseudonym Says:

    I work for A and I also worked for her when this happened. Sophia is not really telling the whole story. While A did frequently call her Alex, It was not malicious, she could not remember the right name. When we did the shoot where she tickled the model’s feet, she didn’t seem too upset about it, in fact we all joked about it. she was fired a about month after the incident because she was supposed to come into work for two days and took it off to take two interviews. something that does not require two days off. There were two shootings going on and she did not fulfill her obligations. It’s fun to work for A even of she is a little eccentric. Also, sophia was an upper east side brat who A only hired as a favor to someone else.

  40. Valsunsandy Says:

    good start