Stories From Set: This Shouldn’t Happen to Any Photo Assistant

Stories From Set are the stories of photographer Alyssa Meadows and others about the pains of being a woman on the modern photography set. This series is 100% endorsed by the Phoblographer in an effort to convey a critical message.

If they’re not careful, female photo assistants can find themselves in dangerous situations working on location. Central to this story is working with someone who suffers from a TBI (traumatic brain injury) that affects emotional responses and impulse control. The experience with this photographer was both highly inappropriate and totally explained by his injury. So, this one needs both sensitivity and honesty. Without his TBI, these behaviors would be egregiously unacceptable. While my particular situation was safe, explainable, and understandable, this is not an isolated incident. This speaks to the concerns women have when working on location, and the risks involved when working with someone new.

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Stories from Set: How a Sexist Comment Derailed a Perfect Photo Shoot

Stories from Set are the stories of photographer Alyssa Meadows and others about the pains of being a woman on the modern photography set. This series is 100% endorsed by the Phoblographer in an effort to convey a critical message.

There is a perpetual dance around the sexism where you’re walking on eggshells while trying to stand up for your rights as an individual. All versions of these situations on a photoshoot are entirely unacceptable and damaging to all parties involved. I would argue that nothing is harder to handle diplomatically than when a sexist experience transpires between your paying clients to one another. As previously accounted in Stories from Set: When Clients Sexualize Each Other During Your Shoot, we witnessed a similar situation develop on another shoot.

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Stories From Set: I’m a Photographer and a Woman. And I Don’t Want Kids

Stories from Set are the stories of photographer Alyssa Meadows and others about the pains of being a woman on the modern photography set. This series is 100% endorsed by the Phoblographer in an effort to convey a critical message.

Working on set can be challenging in a multitude of ways, from demanding clients, high-profile talent, tech, equipment, and doing undesirable or frustrating things. We sometimes forget that navigating what we can discuss on set and how can be just as difficult. Frequently we’re thrown together in a mishmash of producers, other assistants, or photographers we barely know. We’re stuck contending with how to work closely together. We try to collaborate, create conversation, and find ways to connect with each other in the span of a few hours. It can often feel like walking through a minefield, unsure if what you’re saying will land well. If you’ve been in this game long enough, you learn the art of the quick connection, or how to thicken skin and work insulated and unaffected by this social quicksand.

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Stories from Set: The Sexist Double Standard on a Photo Set

Stories from Set are the stories of photographer Alyssa Meadows and others about the pains of being a woman on the modern photography set. This series is 100% endorsed by the Phoblographer in an effort to convey a critical message.

The photo assistant life is pretty iconic, right? You get to have all the fun of the shoot without the pressure of being the photographer, dealing with the client, managing post-production, etc. Essentially, all the pros without the cons. Sure, it also means being the go-for and putting your own ego/feelings aside. That comes with the territory and something I usually don’t mind. That said, when awful, sexist treatment comes into the equation, maintaining the balancing act of being a team player while also taking care of yourself becomes difficult. As discussed in previous articles from this series, frequently, the source of the problem is client-oriented. It’s a rock and a hard place situation when trying to figure out how to mitigate it. What’s even worse is when it’s a case of friendly fire – a most unexpected betrayal within the ranks in the pursuit of making powerful pictures.

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Stories from Set: When Clients Sexualize Each Other During Your Shoot

“You’re just trying to lift her legs up higher to make her skirt shorter, aren’t you?”

It’s amazing how quickly what seems like a perfectly comfortable, fun environment turns into hostile territory for women. The cause: men making what they think are innocuous comments, like this one. It started off as a typical enough day, with reasonable enough expectations. I needed to help the photographer I was assisting set up for studio portraits. That was one of my two primary responsibilities: the other was keep the clients happy (one of his regulars, a law firm). This was a simple enough task, which ultimately proved to be much more demanding than it should have been. People like to dismiss the importance of microaggressions. These exist in all forms, and for the course of this discussion, we’ll be talking about the ones women face with regularity.

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Stories From Set: Being a Woman on a Photo Shoot

In a normal place of work, there wouldn’t be nearly as much thought required and energy invested in determining how to respond to something like this.

“Well, If I had a body like hers, I wouldn’t mind,” the client told the photographer I was working for as a photo editor. We were photographing a law firm, creating new headshots as well as capturing full body images, and the lawyer in question who just came in for his session was disappointed to discover the latter aspect of the shoot. Thankfully, I was sitting with my back to the both of them or they might have seen the murderous look of rage that instantly donned my face. I might have withered the man right then and there with my deadly stare. Continue reading…