You Just Found Out Your Subject Is a Bully. Do You Shoot? Or Cancel?

Last week, photographer Jennifer McKendrick of Indiana County, Pennsylvania discovered that four high school seniors that she was scheduled to shoot for their yearbook had been bullying a fellow student on Facebook. So McKendrick sent e-mails to the students canceling the shoots. She explained why, attached screen shots of the bullying comments they had made–and cc’d the students’ parents.

The next day, she uploaded a post to her blog titled “i won’t photograph ugly people” explaining what she had done, and why. She summed it up by quoting from her earlier Facebook post (which is viewable only by her FB friends): “I do not want them to represent my business and I am beside myself at how MEAN and CRUEL they were on that page.”

In her blog post, she added, “I mean how I could spend 2 hours with someone during our session trying to take beautiful photos of them knowing they could do such UGLY things.”

McKendrick obviously struck a nerve. Her blog was inundated with comments, mostly praising her for standing up to bullies, and news media all over the world have picked up the story. Not all of the reaction has been favorable, though. Today McKendrick felt compelled to post a follow-up defending herself against criticism for calling the teenagers “ugly,” and denying accusations that she was stalking clients, and that she had canceled the shoots (and announced it) as a publicity stunt.

The incident certainly raises provocative questions. Photographers often don’t know (and can’t know) what lurks in the hearts and minds of their subjects and clients.  But if you happen to learn something about the actions of a subject that strikes you as morally objectionable, what is the best way to handle it? Should you stand on principle and cancel the shoot? Put on a professional face and go through with it no matter what?  Or are there other ways to reconcile an internal conflict about an objectionable subject?

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