Is This Photographer Right to Be Ashamed About His Past Work?

Every photographer has a journey, but should any of us be ashamed of how it started?

In a recent post on Reddit, a photographer shared how he first got involved with professional photography: he produced adult entertainment. Struggling to find a photographer up to the standard he wanted, he took to doing both the production and stills himself. After some time, he left the business and walked away from photography. Years later, he’s now looking to reenter the industry but feels ashamed of his past work. The Reddit poster deleted thousands of images, only keeping what he considered to be artistic. Is he right to be ashamed? More so, was it a good decision to erase years of work?

Adult Entertainment Isn’t Inherently Unethical

I understand why this photographer feels ashamed. The adult industry carries with it a lot of poor practices and a terrible reputation for mistreating the performers working within it. But that does not mean the production of such content is, by definition, unethical. People should have the creative freedom to produce the kind of content they wish, while keeping in line with laws and ethics. Amongst that freedom should be the right for photographers to work – and get paid – without judgment or smearing from other people in the industry. As long as they professionally conduct themselves and do not behave like creeps, then I see no issue with this type of work.

“We all have images we are not proud of, but it doesn’t mean we should pretend they never happened.”

Deleting Your Photos Is a Big No!

Moving on to the question of whether or not the photographer was right to delete his photos, for me, it’s a hard no. Sure, the guy is married now, and having thousands of explicit images on your computer may not be the best look, but he has good reason to have them. I believe every photographer should keep their history, no matter the kind of content they created. The ability to go back and see the progression of your journey is one of the most powerful things a photographer can have. We all have images we are not proud of, but it doesn’t mean we should pretend they never happened.

I remember in my early days of street photography; I would take pictures of homeless people. Back then I thought I was edgy and making a statement, but in reality, I was taking advantage of another persons’ downfall. Although I would never share those images today, I still keep them saved with plenty of other regretful images I’ve taken. Because they’re part of my story, they’re a reminder of how I’ve evolved – I will never erase that.

“To anybody that is carrying shame or regret, own it, overcome it, and move forward.”

Sadly, the photographer can’t go back and reclaim his photographs. The damage is done, and his past work is nothing but a memory. He’s looking to work with models and has no portfolio to get people interested in working with him. A lesson learned, I hope. He will have to start again from day one; find friends to work with, try to convince a new model to shoot with him, etc. It’s not the worst news in the world, but when you’ve spent years building your portfolio, it can be challenging to motivate yourself and start fresh.

A Final Thought

We all do things in our professional life that we wish had gone down differently. It’s an essential part of learning, and any photographer who doesn’t have regrets is unlikely to have evolved much in their career. I hope this photographer comes to peace with his past. I hope he reignites his career and creates work he is proud of too. To anybody carrying shame or regret, own it, overcome it, and move forward.

What do you think? Is he right to feel ashamed? Would you have deleted thousands of images? Let us know in the comments below.

Image by Kleyberth Medina. Sourced on Behance. Used with Creative Commons permission.