Last year, in early 2019, before all hell swept over the Earth, I was working as a photographer.
Seeking to refresh my portfolio, I contacted a model on Instagram who was a striking looking Black male. He had close to 20,000 followers. He agreed to a “trade for print” (TFP) which is just a term for a barter arrangement where a model and photographer work for free in a mutually beneficial arrangement.
I thought about how I might shoot this person, and I found a start-up clothing company that was just gearing up. The designer founder, a middle-aged white, who had 20 years of experience in fashion, had just moved from New York. He made rugby shirts, well-tailored trousers and other prep clothes that were locally manufactured in downtown Los Angeles to high quality standards.
I contacted the designer and drove down to his perfectly decorated art deco apartment in Hancock Park where he had selected and neatly folded jackets, pants, and shirts to photograph. Again, the arrangement was just to “tag” his products on Instagram and he would get credit and some free advertising and I would have loaner clothes for my model.
The model came over to my house. I shot him in the clothes as he stood in my backyard, and in a chair in my living room. And then he left. And all was fine. The Black guy with the green eyes in the colorful shirts looked wonderful. (I have erased his face to protect his identity.)
I felt some compassion for the model, who was, of course, also pursuing acting. I gave him a couple of leads of directors or producers I knew and said he should follow them online. He sent me texts of thanks. And that was the end.
Then the designer saw the gratis, no charge, promo photos.
And for whatever reason, he hated, despised, and was completely revolted by the good-looking young Black male. He gave no reasons, but it seemed that he preferred a “preppy, All-American” (WASPY) male. He was aghast at the free photographs and not at all appreciative of the pro-bono work. He told me he wished that I never put this Black man in his clothes.
A day later the model contacted me and asked why the designer had (unknown to me) blocked him on Instagram. I had no answer. My heart broke because I could not understand why. I could only guess racial animosity. But could not prove it. Why the hostility directed against this dark-skinned man? He had done nothing wrong other than wear the designer’s clothes!
I had, in my initiative, promoted a new clothing line, and an upcoming model, and all I had were some very fine photos. It had cost me nothing, except for the gasoline driving 30 miles roundtrip to Hancock Park.
Then a few months ago, about a year after the shoot, the model, whom I hadn’t communicated with, sent me a DM on Instagram. It read something like this:
“You do not have the right to TFP my name to promote your friend’s clothing company! You are OLD! Why don’t you go fuck your Chinese boyfriend!”
I didn’t answer. The attack was completely unprovoked. It did not matter to the model that he got free, edited, professional photographs that he could use to promote himself. And that my “friend” was not a friend at all, just a brand I found on Instagram. I guessed that the pandemic had made him just a bit more crazy as it had all of us.
Today, out of curiosity, I went to see whatever happened to that promising start-up company that made the very colorful rugby shirts and high-quality khakis.
I couldn’t see it. The clothing company designer had blocked me on Instagram.
I’m recounting this story because I had the best of intentions all around in producing this small shoot. Everyone was treated fairly, courteously, respectfully. Nobody was mistreated in any way.
I found an alternative way to look at the website of the designer’s IG page. He has one Black model in every single photo. And dozens of boxes of “Black Lives Matter” and all sort of salutes to racial justice and racial equality.
Of course, it’s past May 25, 2020. George Floyd is dead. Black Lives Matter. Everyone must show social media empathy for the cause. The company that sells the $200 khakis makes sure that its’ images are on the appropriate side of compassion.
I see the kind posts this year. I remember the mean actions of last year.
Today, in fashion, we salute Black Lives.
What about next year?