Weighing in on Photographer Jason Lanier’s Sexual Assault Allegations

“When you get pregnant – not by me – when your life that you were doing with my company ends, and you become bitter, stop taking it out on me” – Jason Lanier, 50:40)

Former Sony Artisan Jason Lanier (who was dismissed for undisclosed reasons) is now facing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct from several models who have previously worked with him. To engage in this discussion, we need to break a few things down first; one is the importance of power dynamics at play in a situation like a photographer/model relationship. One woman’s video speaks to character assassination on multiple, professional levels – a fear so many of us deal with when faced with these situations.

“Character assassination (CA) is a deliberate and sustained effort to damage the reputation or credibility of an individual[1] The term could also be selectively applied to social groups and institutions. Agents of character assassinations employ a mix of open and covert methods to achieve their goals, such as raising false accusations, planting and fostering rumors, and manipulating information.” – Wikipedia

 

A Note from Editor in Chief Chris Gampat

Before publishing this story, we reached out to Jason Lanier for commentary, and we also sat on it and researched very thoroughly for more than a week. Reviews Editor Paul Ip and I thought about it until I eventually assigned this article to Feature Writer Alyssa Meadows. We take this very seriously, and we also reached out to Jason for commentary to provide both sides of the argument. It’s just the right thing to do. I have since removed all of Jason’s previously published content and our coverage of him from our website, and it is being held in our WordPress Trash bin. We will decide whether or not to republish when the air is clear.

Here’s our sequence of events:

We reached out to Jason on Friday, and he responded very promptly. We continued our conversation after he asked about the time frame–the acceptable time frame for any publication is 24 hours. I’m very used to providing deadlines that are kind to both my staff who sometimes work on weekends and those we’re contacting. As any staffer and anyone who has done business with me will tell you, I’m also very systematic about follow-ups.

Jason stated the following to us.

This approach is very odd. Typically, when a publication reaches out for commentary, a publication is provided with it in the form of quotes rather than being told that we’ll need to wait for a video. We’ve been working on putting the final touches on the story today, Monday, July 15th. Then Jason said the following in a public Facebook post:

I quote:

“There’s Always Two Sides to a Story, but sometimes only 1 side gets told- I’ve been informed that 1 or 2 major photography blogs will be posting stories on me related to the recent allegations.

I’ve notified these blogs that they should get my side of the story first before publishing their content. They have ignored this request.

As a result you will most likely see posts starting tomorrow with this content. I’m telling you now, so when you ask what my response is, you’ll know that I’m already working on it.

The blogs just want eyeballs to their sites, they aren’t concerned with the TRUTH.

My side will be coming soon. Stay tuned and thanks for your support.”

As you can see, we worked with Jason and gave him specific timeframes. We asked for his commentary, and he went ahead and said that we’re just looking for clicks.

WHEN WE RECEIVE AN UPDATE, WE WILL UPDATE THIS PIECE OR WRITE A NEW ONE COMPLETELY

The Female Perspective

The power dynamics at play in the photographer-model relationship is an essential thing for us to discuss – let’s break it down for a second.

  • Jason was a Sony Artisan and has a huge YouTube following – he is undeniably an influencer in the industry.
  • Jason’s (& any influential photographer’s) power via that influence can be held over a model’s head and can be used in manipulative or dominating ways.
  • When that power is being exerted, consent to anything becomes much less attainable – there is a threat to career, to professional success, a threat to dreams and goals and life itself when power is exerted inappropriately.
  • That power and influence can also be used as an incentive to overlook warning signs – the carrot on the stick, so to speak: travel, exposure, great imagery provide an excuse to look the other way or dismiss red flags when they crop up.
  • Non-disclosure agreements are also at play – that legal power is an additional muzzle that women have to contend with both during experiences and after the direct confrontation has ended – with situations like these, it’s never really over.
  • From what we have gathered from the videos by the women, flirtation is an expected part of the job description as a model – be cute, be pretty, be sexy, be friendly, be playful – there is a narrow line to walk when on set. As one woman who has come forward stated it, “put on your show face.”
  • One bad or critical word against a model can destroy their entire career and potential future.

The YouTube Comments from Jason’s Followers

A scroll through the YouTube comments on Jason’s video will make your stomach turn. In a world where only 2-10% of rape allegations are false, (and to be clear, the allegations against Jason are for sexual assault – I believe the statistics to be relevant in this situation and for the sake of this discussion, especially since his former intern Joyce stated in her video that Jason told her the FBI was investigating him for rape, 28:30) and seven women have come forward with videos, making the statistical chance of these allegations being false significantly lower, and yet a concerning majority of Youtube viewers are clearly in support of Jason and his character.

It’s an interesting thing to watch, to see how these viewers, the majority of whom probably do not know Mr. Lanier on a personal level, defend his honor and reputation while concurrently committing character assassination against the women accusing him. One of the women even speaks to this in her video. How does this doublethink come to exist, I’m left to wonder, and how do so many of us so frequently fail to see it? If you haven’t yet, watch the women’s videos – each makes her case consciously and carefully – they know they need to approach it like they are the ones on trial, prepared for the onslaught of the ‘where’s your evidence?!’ doubts they have been inundated with since coming forward. How is it we always seem to forget who the accused is in situations like these?

“The experiences these women speak to are deeply concerning.”

Thoughts on What the Women are Saying

I can’t speak to whether or not these allegations are true, and I will say on the whole in my eyes, we as a society have a tendency to presume innocence in men, maliciousness of women, and have a high frequency to forget that in these situations, the women are the victims, aka the ones who should be presumed innocent. Several of the women echo an all-too-often warning sounded to other women, even in ways I’ve said it myself recently – “Make sure you know who you’re working with,” “be careful who you trust.”

The experiences these women speak to are deeply concerning. Their professionalism was compromised (a model should never be put in a situation where they are there to work and discover that anything beyond professional responsibilities are expected of them). Friendliness is not an invitation for sexualization. Asking your employee to behave as your ‘platonic girlfriend’ is never a part of the job description. And the overlaps in these women’s stories if true is important to give attention to; slapping female talents’ butts is not an acceptable form of behavior; dismissing, discouraging, or shaming your employees for having romantic relationships is none of your business as the boss; the gradual evolution of escalation, accompanied with increased expectation; the change in crew from multiple people to just the two, model and photographer; expecting your model to share a bed with you, even if totally innocent in nature; expecting various levels of non-professional companionship from a professional employee.

Here are some common warning signs that you should more closely examine the photographer you’re considering working with:

  • The budget is too low’ is never a legitimate excuse to not create safe spaces for your crew. These are all young women, and when they are only working for $100 a day, as a professional you should be providing private space – encouraging them to sleep in the other bed instead of the couch where they feel more comfortable is just a strange push when you are already not providing a safe, truly separate space.
  • Not paying appropriate day rates when there are sponsorship deals in play. Ethical photographers make sure the whole crew is paid, they don’t expect you to work for free.
  • A sudden shift in the crew – it’s strange to suddenly have it become a two-person trip when it’s normally a three-person crew or larger.
  • “You don’t have to explain to people that I’m your boss” is the response when correcting the mis-assumption that your employee is your partner.
  • Revealing to the crew your personal sleeping arrangements in regards to you and your wife, as that has no relevance to your professional relationship.
  • Telling your crew that your wife has given you a ‘free pass’ to cheat back when this is your crew, not your potential fling, especially when she’s been a nude model for you.
  • Speaking extremely ill of past employees/models consistently, and showing a vengeful streak.
  • Not respecting a model’s comfort level in regards to what they are/are not willing to shoot.
  • Having minors signing non-disclosure agreements without a guardian or parent approval.
  • Not providing your crew their own separate bed, let alone being angry when they get a cot to create a separate sleeping space.
  • The consistent promise of payment with little to no follow-through; perpetual lip service.
  • Having a second mobile phone where the dialogue is completely different in nature on each.
  • Always needing models to be willing to do nudity on set every time – nudity is not required for true art or talent, especially when they are test shoots where the images serve no real professional purpose.
  • Being unwilling to pay models for nude work.

Jason’s Videos

I would also like to speak to Jason Lanier’s video that he posted on June 24th, 2019, before most of the women’s videos were even put up yet on the We Stand Together Youtube account. I do not know Jason, I cannot speak to his character on a personal level (though Jon Stynes, a workshop attendee can – he’s worked with both Jason and one of the models accusing him, and has made a video testimonial in support of all the women coming forward), and I can also tell you there are large, flashing red signs (indicators, not confirmation of allegations) I see laced throughout his testimonial.

Red Flag #1: 30 minutes in his video made to be about ‘helping other photographers learn how to protect themselves from predatory people,’ he’s only thus far painted a picture of what a ‘great guy’ he’s been, how ‘entitled’ these ‘disgruntled’ models are, and making as hard a case as I’ve ever personally seen a Youtuber make to defend himself. This post is clearly not about actually helping other photographers protect themselves, or I wouldn’t already be halfway through without a single mention of how to avoid these situations at all.

(Edit: 35 minutes in, and he’s still stuck on being accused of being a ‘pedophile’ speaking directly to Jade and Sierra, not his followers)

(Edit #2 – 39:07, he finally starts listing his tips)(Edit #3 – he’s back to defending himself by 45 minutes, and his list of tips was all of 2 points long)

Red Flag #2: False allegations don’t typically elicit hour-long videos against ‘crazy’ or ‘deluded’ people – if they are as you claim, a person wouldn’t typically waste time or energy discrediting allegations you already know all too well to be false. You would just hire a lawyer and move on. Trying this hard, especially preemptively, speaks to knowing there’s validity and that you need to begin building a case to protect yourself. We’ve seen it time and time again (all of the videos posted on the WeStandTogether Channel were posted days after Jason’s video went up.)

Reg Flag #3: There are subtle threats laced throughout his video, such as at 31:20 where he states “… it is going to cost you dearly.” He speaks not to his audience, but directly to Jade, and then brings up screenshot after screenshot of legal paperwork as he states “as we speak, we’ve already contacted legal teams, and if you think that’s bluster, I’m going to post the demand letter that we have already sent you” (while mustering the poorest performance of forced crying, in my opinion). Threats are not typically used by the victims of a situation, but rather by the aggressors to maintain power and silence victims into submission. I know it all too well first-hand – my own rapist found a way to drop the phrase ‘cease and desist’ in part of a Facebook discussion to subtly scare me from speaking while addressing me in a public forum (and it didn’t work).

Reg Flag #4: Demanding public apology. This is a common problem when fragile feelings are shattered. Retribution must be had, reparations must be made, and silencing the outspoken stand taken are all critical components for smoothing the so-easily ruffled feathers of an entitled man. He literally begs Jade in his video to stop (33:10) immediately after his threats of legal action. It’s what’s presently being demanded of me by a similar situation I’m in as the flag-raiser of a photographer who said Brock Turner wasn’t a rapist – I posted PSAs with just screenshots of his own words, and he’s demanding I take them down and publicly apologize for being wrong. It’s a classic indicator of perpetrators trying to paint themselves as victims.

Red Flag #5: Talking about how hard working he is. Hard working people are too busy actually working to talk so much about how much they work. They certainly don’t have time to make an edited (as in, the video had to take longer to shoot, as this thing is snipped and clipped to death) hour-long clip to say as much. Their actual hard work says so much more than any whiny video ever will.

Reg Flag #6: What could be interpreted as gaslighting these women to extreme degrees (37:44). His constant reaffirmation of how Ken Wheeler is manipulating them is a classic, textbook example of gaslighting, discrediting their realities and experiences, should all of this be the truth (which I, as a believer of facts and stats, and with this case having so many models sharing the same kinds of stories, trust them). If you’re not familiar with the concept of gaslighting, here’s your deep dive Cliffnotes summary.

Reg Flag #7: Calling people evil for speaking out. I don’t think this requires much more explanation. (That photographer mentioned in flag #4? He’s made the same claim of me). This is again speaking to that tendency of perpetrators trying to paint themselves as victims.

To conclude, here are the currently-available details, and I advocate strongly for digesting all of this information before drawing your own conclusions:

  • Workshop attendee Jon Stynes has also made a testimonial video as someone who has firsthand experience working with both Jason and one of the models accusing him.
  • Multiple models have accused Jason of finding reasons to touch them on set in inappropriate areas. Multiple models have also accused him of hiring them and trying to bring sexual or inappropriate interactions into it via this ‘travel companion’ role, or propositioning them for essentially a “sugaring position.”
  • He’s also accused of lying to a model he allegedly groped. He told her that Joyce, the intern of his that she knew and trusted would be present on the shoot, as well as other camera crew. Ultimately it was just the two of them. Joyce has come forward saying she was never even told about the shoot – in fact, she goes on to say he specifically told her to stay off social media that day.
  • A person commenting on one of the videos on youtube also claims to be a past workshop attendee who vouches for the women’s experiences:

We need to open and expand these dialogues, as the overarching message from many of these women is that fear of aggression or retaliation is what prevented them from feeling capable of coming forward. We as photographers need to take our responsibility seriously – a safe and inviting space to work, with an air of professionalism, should never be a question of presence, it should be a given.