Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Photographers are Creeps: The Negative Portrayal of Photographers in TV and Movies

Warning: this post contains spoilers. If you have not seen "Hard Candy", "Road to Perdition", and certain episodes of "The X-Files", "Dexter" and "Law and Order: SVU" you may want to stop reading this now.

Patrick Wilson's character Jeff Kohlver from "Hard Candy," a movie about a photographer who took pictures of a child being molested, but is defeated in the end by a young vigilante.

Photographers are creepy. Or, at least that’s what crime dramas want us to think. Full disclosure: I watch a lot of TV, a lot more than I care to admit. But, that is how I’ve come to notice that there is a trend, a trend years in the making. From shows like "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" and "The X-Files", to movies like "Road to Perdition", we see that where there’s a photographer, there’s a bad guy. Often times, the photographer is seen as the murderer, the rapist, the all-around creep. But, why is that? I’ve compiled a small list of examples to show you what I mean as well as a few thoughts as to why this negative portrayal of photographers keeps dominating media. 

First, let’s begin with a classic TV show, "Law and Order: SVU". In the first episode of the third season, entitled, “Or Just Look Like One,” we are given this description:

Creepy photographer portfolio alert!
“After teen model Jazmin Burgess is dumped, beaten, and raped in front of Roosevelt Hospital, Benson and Stabler investigate to find out why a sixteen-year-old girl was out alone after midnight. High levels of drugs in Jazmin's system lead them to take a look at not only the modeling agency with which Jazmin was signed, but also the photographer who was supervising her last shoot and had booted her out because she was 'too heavy'.”

Yes, this fashion photographer sounds like a jerk, I agree. But, of course, it turns out that not only was this photographer a jerk, but also a major creep with a Polaroid collection that show models with him as a way further their modeling careers. Boy, those fashion photographers can so creepy. Not convinced yet? How about an example from the show “Dexter”?

Fashion photographer Jonathan Farrow, RIP 
In episode seven of season four of "Dexter", we’re introduced to Jonathan Farrow, another fashion photographer creep. Having previously “beat” a rape charge, Farrow is now suspected of the murder of a model (come on guys, what’s with all of this violence against models?) after the Miami Police Department has come across his sickening, and creepy, portfolio of work. At one point, this guy even says, “I could make you a star. I just need to get you in my studio. Whip your clothes off, and rough you up a little bit” to one of the detectives! Turns out, the guy didn't kill her… but, he was such a creep! Of course he was a suspect!

Here’s the deal, though: there are famous fashion photographers out there with sexual abuse and rape allegations against them, and that is a large part of why fashion photographers have developed such a bad rap. More about that, later.

Now, let’s get to the weird stuff.

A scene from “Tithonus” in which the photographer is just about to claim another victim. 

Get out of the elevator!
The X-Files. In “Tithonus” (episode ten of season six), an extremely accomplished photojournalist has made a living capturing accidental deaths for decades. How does he do it? Apparently, this guy can see when someone is about to die, just by looking at them; the soon-to-be-deceased appear to be in black and white. (Don’t you just love selective color?). He spots the victim and follows them until he can meet their untimely demise with his camera. Yeah, that elevator full of discolored people… you know what’s going to happen next. This right-place-right-time-photograph-of-death reminds me of a movie…

"Road to Perdition" is the story of Tom Hanks as a gangster during the Great Depression just trying to escape this life with his young son. But, forget all that, we’re here to talk about Jude Law’s character, Harlen Maguire. Harlen Maguire is also a crime scene photographer who, as a side job, also kills people, sometimes right at the crime scene. He’s the bad guy; I mean, look at that face!

Marlen Maguire. The horror!
So, why are photographers such creeps? As mentioned above, there are cases in which a famous photographer will use his/her reputation to manipulate people into doing what they want. Don't get me wrong, these guys got what they deserved (spoiler alert: they all die), but that shouldn’t be the image that reflects all of us. I mean, why does the photojournalist also have to be the killer? 

The idea of photographing something as a souvenir or momento is almost as old as photography itself; documenting people and places, travels and milestones. Photography is a way to show other people "proof" of the things you do in your life, because, as our friend Gerry Schnauz (below) tells us, "pictures don't lie". But, somewhere between the Kodak Brownie and pocket point & shoots, documenting everyday life somehow became creepy. 

You can blame it on the paparazzi who stalk celebrities outside of their homes, or the "suspicious guy with a camera at the park". Somewhere, something just went wrong. 

But, I'm here to say: how about we all leave photographers alone, okay? Unless, you know, that one photographer really is just a creep. 


I did not include "One Hour Photo" in this post, because Robin Williams' character was not a photographer. But, I acknowledge that he is the biggest creep of all time.