With safety in mind: A student photojournalist reacts to reports of sexual harassment in industry


Arden camera selfie

Arden Barnes

A few weeks ago, I got an email saying my portfolio had not made it through the initial round of judging for the 2018 Eddie Adams Workshop.

According to its website, the workshop is “an intense four-day gathering of top photography professionals, along with 100 carefully selected students.” A friend of mine, also an aspiring female photojournalist, received the same email. We were both somewhere between unhappy and heartbroken, but we had each other to lean on.

That same friend sent me an article yesterday titled ‘Photojournalism’s moment of reckoning’ with the message “In case you’re ever feeling shitty about being turned down by Eddie Adams.”

The article was a special report published by the Columbia Journalism Review on July 16 detailing multiple accounts of sexual harassment within the photojournalism industry, some of which were between young photographers and mentors at the Eddie Adams Workshop.

I honestly wasn’t surprised by the report.

In a male-dominated industry and with more cases of sexual harassment being shared due to the #MeToo movement, the events detailed in the article are not surprising, but they are extremely concerning.

I’ve been lucky I have received nothing but support and helpful guidance in my search for mentors in the field so far. Currently, I am completing an internship that allows me to document my hometown. My typical outfit is dark pants and loose-fitting, solid-color shirts. This is not a statement in style but a practical decision. 

When I wore a dress one day, I heard the statement, “Wow! You look like a girl!” The speaker meant no harm and I took no offense; however, it does shed light on the fact that I dress in a masculine way. After reading the article, I second-guessed the reason behind it– is it for practicality or for safety?

My internship has also given me unmatched access to some of the best photojournalists in the world. I’ve gotten variations of the advice, “It’s a vicious world out there. It’s important you surround yourself with people who believe in you, and make sure to protect yourself from predatory behavior. The good news is there are more good mentors than not” from almost every female photojournalist I’ve met.

This is because we understand that the industry is male dominated and that we absolutely have to be supportive of one another.

That being said, the advice given was true in that there are more good mentors than not. That should not discount the idea of protecting yourself by staying smart, being observant (as all good photojournalists are) and watching out for your fellow photographers. 

The article urges photojournalists in institutions and places of power to begin the change in the industry, to begin to remove those who abuse their positions and to acknowledge that something in the industry has gone awry.

Until those changes are made, I will continue to apply to workshops and programs with my future, but also my safety, in mind.