Dear Aspiring Photojournalists,
Because experience provides valuable advice, this account of an encounter will serve your journey.
The backstory: In a brief email exchange (email #1, email #2, email #3, email #4, email #5, email #6) concerning an assignment I pitched, Megan Cloutier, a manager/assignment editor, deemed my 8 years as a contributor who had 100+ email communications with 12+ editors and managers, as insufficient proof of my ability to cultivate professional relations in a manner consistent with agency standards.
This was only my second pitch to Megan Cloutier. In email #5 Megan Cloutier delivered her dismissal, “I did not appreciate the tone of your previous email … your email was not a good representation of how an AE and photographer should work together.”
In reflection, I recognize the frankness of my typed words (no all caps, no exclamation markings) lacked finesse. In that moment, unbeknownst to Megan Cloutier, I had gone above and beyond to not duplicate what the assigned photog shot: I forefeit my red carpet spot to the assigned photog, then anchored in a seat to shoot one POV while the assigned photog roamed the auditorium. The tone of my email was rooted in appeal, grief and momentary burnout from facing another hurdle after selfless concessions. Tip: Find assignments that are off the radar and avoid shooting the same POV as others to dodge being labeled redundant.
My leadership approach conveys patience and empathy, not every editor grants this consideration. During 8 years as a correspondent to a daily newspaper, I didn’t attract an unfavorable review from professionals I interviewed and photographed. As lead marketing photographer for a business hotel over 8 years, I recruited and groomed photographers, and counseled when expectations fell short. No one’s perfect, everyone has a sour day and deserves to be judged by the content of their character and breadth of their performance.
In the 6 months prior to those emails with Megan Cloutier, I had over 15 pleasantly productive interactions with her colleagues Jennifer DeRosia Becker and Kenneth Wert as I pitched 30 NYC events (coverage from 26 events licensed, so far). I accepted Megan Cloutier’s inability to afford my submission the same discretion Kenneth Wert provided my NYFW coverage via WireImage, when there were agency photogs assigned to the same events.
Tip: You will encounter #CancelCulture reactions motivated by ego, so develop mechanisms to negotiate the residue and safeguard your mental health. Communication style that never employs unsavory language should bode in your favor.
Weeks later, the unusual radio silence from LatAm and the NY Desk made me question whether Megan Cloutier’s final email concealed her intent to severe my access to submit via other editors. Such slithery moves seem inconsistent with the culture of integrity and transparency represented in the agency’s contributor contract.
In spite of a track record with zero missteps, it seems Megan Cloutier needed just the misperception of tone in a single email to discredit me. Tip: Always defend the integrity evident in your work and reputation. The facts in the silver lining are indisputable, there are 14 claims Megan Cloutier couldn’t use to discredit a contributor:
She couldn’t claim … I breached an NDA for commissioned assignments.
• … I misused the agency name to acquire media credentials.
• … I have a history of using inappropriate language with editors.
• … I misrepresented the agency during commissioned assignments.
• … there’s a history of ignoring agency policy and best practices.
• … there’s a history of reports of misconduct onassignments.
• … my coverage fails to adhere to style standards.
• … I routinely submit inaccurate or fabricated captions.
• … failure to demonstrate solid news judgment.
• … I ignored constructive guidance from editors.
• … my submissions are often redundant coverage.
• … that I disparage staff or clients of the agency.
• … I involve the agency in fraudulent activity.
• … I instigated conflict with agency photographers
Was it solely the misperception of tone in one email that triggered Megan Cloutier to influence her colleagues to apparently blacklist a contributor? Time and effort she preferred not to invest in remedial dialogue. #AmyCooper showed the world how privilege can be fragile and misappropriated via one perception that could be damaging to others. Some may feel this encounter lends to the topic of inequity and privilege highlighted in Joaquin Phoenix‘s speech. Everyone is entitled to their perception, but the work of conversation reveals respectable leadership.
A tap on my shoulder during the Swizz Beatz event at the center of this experience, presented a commission to shoot a newsmaking collector’s Art Basel dinner party. Tip: Someone is always observing your style and mannerism. Trust that when misplaced judgment closes a window, doors to new opportunities await.
I remain content with my portion.