When Vox revealed in late January that Patrick Witty left National Geographic, where he was deputy director of photography, after an investigation for sexual harassment, an issue that’s long been discussed in private was catapulted into the open: Photojournalism has a sexual harassment problem.
In interviews with more than 50 people, in a CJR investigation spanning more than five months, photojournalists described behavior from editors and colleagues that ranged from assault to unwanted advances to comments on their appearance or bodies when they were trying to work. And now, as the #MeToo moment has prompted change across a range of industries—from Hollywood to broadcasting to the arts—photojournalists are calling for their own moment of reckoning.
Women interviewed by CJR say two well-known photographers—Antonin Kratochvil and Christian Rodriguez—engaged in serial harassment and that VII, a prestigious collective, and the Eddie Adams Workshop ignored complaints of harassment.
Many women in the industry say the behavior is so common that they have long considered it simply one of the realities of working as a woman in the profession. They say the problem is rooted in a number of factors: The field has historically been male-dominated with a culture that glorifies macho, hyper-masculine behavior; there is an increasing reliance on freelancers, which affects accountability; workshops and other events for young photographers are often exploited by older, established photojournalists.
And women photojournalists say publications, institutions, agencies, and industry leaders have turned a blind eye. What’s the point of reporting harassment, these women say, when no one is listening? “These men are behaving badly, but there are also publications that harbor them,” says Polina V. Yamshchikov, a documentary photojournalist who lives in New York. “There is a calculus there, unconscious or not, of who is valuable and who is not in our industry.”
Women of color are particularly vulnerable targets for harassment, both because they are less likely to be included in the so-called whisper networks used by women in the industry to warn each other about harassers, and because, as an already marginalized population, they have more to lose by speaking out. “I do think that when these stories do come out, there’s more of a willingness to believe these experiences when they’re coming from a white woman, there’s more of an inclination to protect them, than there are for women of color,” says Danielle Scruggs, senior photo editor at ESPN’s The Undefeated. “That’s why there’s also just a lot more at stake, specifically being a black woman in this industry, because there are so few of us in positions of power in different newsrooms.”
To stop the abuse, women photojournalists say that the culture of indifference must end. “We have to confront some ugly realities,” says photojournalist Amanda Mustard. “It’s going to be uncomfortable, and we have to be willing to be uncomfortable to make these changes. . . The real change will come from every gatekeeper opening up, putting a protocol in place, and saying, This is a safe space. Women, tell us what’s wrong. Tell us who was doing this to you. If I’m totally honest, I don’t think many people want to do this.”
Women now fill top positions in photography departments at major publications like National Geographic, The New York Times, Time, and The Washington Post. But the field is still far from level. About 85 percent of applications to the World Press Photo Awards—among the industry’s highest honors—have come from men in recent years. A recent internal report from the Associated Press looking at its own photo department shows that just 14 percent of AP photographers are women—19 percent in the US, and 11 percent internationally. Women Photograph, an initiative started by freelance documentary photographer Daniella Zalcman last year to elevate the voices of women visual journalists, tallied the gender of the A1 lead photo bylines at eight international publications throughout 2017. At The Wall Street Journal, just 6.2 percent of the photos that appeared on A1 in 2017 were shot by women, the lowest of the papers they tracked. The highest was the San Francisco Chronicle, where 23.4 percent of the A1 photos published in 2017 were shot by women.
Institutional sexism and harassment are so prevalent in the industry that many photographers say it’s rare for male peers to even call out bad behavior when they see it. Erin Trieb, a freelance photojournalist based in Istanbul, was covering the Republican National Convention in 2008 when she was in a restaurant with a table full of male journalists, most of whom she had just met. “And one of them said something completely out of the blue like ‘Why don’t you lift your shirt up and show me your tits?’ in front of the entire table,” Trieb says. Not a single one of the other men there rebuked him.
When Anastasia Taylor-Lind was beginning her career in photojournalism, she immersed herself in books and documentaries about iconic figures like Robert Capa and James Nachtwey. The message she absorbed was that to succeed she must adapt to the ways of a male-dominated industry. She changed her physical appearance to minimize her femininity—cutting her long blond hair and dying it brown, and eschewing makeup. As she worked her way to the top of the field, Taylor-Lind learned that being a member of the club also meant putting up with sexual harassment.
Taylor-Lind eventually joined the photo agency VII, a collective owned by its members, and one of the most prestigious photo agencies in the industry. At the annual general meeting of agency members in 2014, she says she was approached by founding member Antonin Kratochvil, a well-known photojournalist who has won three World Press Photo first prizes over his long career. Taylor-Lind was wearing a long skirt, and said she stood with a group of people near a window during a break from the meeting. Without warning, Kratochvil slid his hand between her buttocks, she says, and pushed it forward until he was touching her vagina over her clothing. He held his hand there for several seconds, she says. She froze until he removed his hand and then she walked away.
“I didn’t react at all, because I had come to understand that putting up with that sort of behavior was part of the price I had to pay for, as a young woman, entering a male-dominated industry,” says Taylor-Lind. “And I also didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to be seen as, you know, the cliched hysterical woman complaining about things. I also didn’t say anything because any person that I could have [complained] to was in the room, which made them complicit.”
Photographer Tom Jamieson said Taylor-Lind told him when she returned from the meeting that Kratochvil had groped her. Taylor-Lind said Kratochvil’s behavior was well-known within the agency. The first time she met him, she says, he made a lewd comment about her breasts in front of colleagues. “This had always been done in the presence of my colleagues and friends at VII. Everyone knew about it and would say things like ‘Oh that’s just Antonin,’” says Taylor-Lind.
Kratochvil also harassed former VII member Stephanie Sinclair, according to four people she told about the incidents, including two former members of the agency. In 2008, just before Sinclair joined VII, she joined Kratochvil for coffee in New York. He told her, “I bet you like to be fucked in the ass,” and later kissed her on the mouth against her will, says Lauren Greenfield, a former member of VII. Sinclair was in the process of joining the agency at the time, which required members to vote her in, so it would have been difficult to complain about the behavior. In 2012, Sinclair was on assignment in Prague, where Kratochvil was based, and contacted him. They met for dinner and then coffee. As they were discussing her work, says Greenfield, Kratochvil used a lewd word to reference her vagina, and said “I bet [it]. . . likes to be licked,” says Greenfield. “She said she was stunned and humiliated. She said she complained to the board members and they didn’t do anything.”
Greenfield says Sinclair told her about a number of incidents involving Kratochvil in January 2016. Sinclair declined to comment to CJR due to a confidential settlement agreement that resolved a dispute between Sinclair and VII. Both women spent time as the only woman among the full members of the agency. “While I was there, it was a really hostile environment for me as a woman,” says Greenfield.
Documentary photographer Andrea Bruce says that Sinclair told her about being harassed by multiple members of VII, but particularly Kratochvil, at the time it happened, including specifically the 2008 incident. “I think at the time it was just really confusing because it was a group that she really wanted to be part of, and it put her in some difficult situations,” says Bruce. She says Sinclair told her the harassment happened in professional settings and in front of colleagues.
“And I think she was also confused. She was like, ‘Do I come across this way? Why are they doing this to me? Is it my fault? Is it something about me that’s making this happen?’” Sinclair had looked up to Kratochvil, says Bruce, which made his behavior especially difficult for her. “I think also the fact that no one else was offended by this, that it was an accepted culture, is also kind of heartbreaking to her. Within VII, and probably also within our profession in general.”
Photojournalist Newsha Tavakolian says Sinclair also told her in July 2016 about Kratochvil’s lewd remark to her in Prague. And Marcus Bleasdale, a former member of VII, says Sinclair told him in May 2015 about the incidents with Kratochvil.
Another photojournalist, who requested to remain anonymous, says Kratochvil sexually harassed her in 2005 at a photo festival at which they were both speakers. After the festival, the photographer says she stood outside the auditorium with a small group of colleagues that included Kratochvil, discussing the event. Soon after the photographer joined the group, she says Kratochvil referred to a feature of her appearance and said, “I heard many times that [these women] are crazy in bed, and they love having sex with many people at the same time. Is that true?”
The photographer says that although she did not find the remark funny, she laughed in an attempt to diffuse the situation. “I didn’t know what to say. . . and also I didn’t want to be that difficult woman,” she says. None of her colleagues intervened.
The complicity of men who witness harassment or abuse and simply look away or laugh is one of the most disheartening facets of the issue for Taylor-Lind. “As a woman in this industry, the thing that is most challenging for me is not having my vagina touched in a work environment, but it’s knowing that I exist in a community where my sense of self, and where my permission for touching my body, is not respected by my colleagues,” she says. “That’s what hurts the most, is the silence and the complicity of, not men who behave like this, but of all the ones who allow it to happen.”
In an emailed response to questions from CJR, Kratochvil says he did not harass the women. “I can sincerely tell you that all of [their] accusations are false,” he writes. “We did have some disagreements with some of my [colleagues] in my agency during my active years but nothing of this nature.” Sinclair’s invitation to see him in Prague in 2012, he adds, was proof that he had not harassed her. “If she would feel offended in any way in the past she would NOT invite me for dinner seeking professional advice,” he writes.
After CJR contacted VII, the agency removed Kratochvil’s page from its website, and his name from the agency’s list of members, where he was listed as an emeritus member. In a statement to CJR, the agency says it suspended Kratochvil’s membership and began an investigation. “The photographers of VII are committed to maintaining a safe creative inclusive environment free of harassment and intimidation. In light of new information, VII has initiated an independent investigation into the allegations against Antonin Kratochvil,” the statement reads.
The statement refers to the agency’s February 2018 newsletter, which noted that the agency had increased its diversity with a roster of 12 new members admitted last fall that included six women: “VII came under new direction in May 2017 and since then has been working hard to nurture an agency environment that is dynamic, productive and free of harassment, and one that creates more opportunities for diverse voices in the media. . . . We have also created an internal female-led reporting structure that can be used to report inappropriate behavior inside the agency, as well as out in the field, free of retaliation.” The newsletter also referred to the agency’s new code of ethics for its mentor and workshop programs.
But the agency did not address the allegations that members and the board long knew about Kratochvil’s behavior but did not take action. It also did not address the allegations that Sinclair was harassed by multiple members of the agency, not only Kratochvil.
In February 2018,Taylor-Lind exchanged online messages with VII founding member Christopher Morris about sexual harassment allegations at the agency. “With Antonin we’ve all know (sic) and heard his verbal language used,” wrote Morris. “Even in crowd presentations. And yes this has been horribly wrong.” Morris declined to comment for this story.
Photojournalists say another factor that allows harassment to flourish is the heavy reliance on freelancers, as the industry sheds jobs. Freelance photographers are dependent on editors for assignments, which makes building relationships crucial. That gives editors and well-known photographers significant power. Angering these gatekeepers could have a direct impact on a young photojournalist’s ability to make a living. “That’s such an issue for so many young journalists,” says Nicole Tung, an Istanbul-based freelance photojournalist who often covers conflict. “These are people you want to be on their good side, because you want to have commissions from them.”
For documentary photographer Sara Hylton, that power dynamic meant it was difficult to handle the unwanted advances of a well-known photo editor. Early in her career, she met with the editor, who didn’t exhibit much interest in her work. But afterward, he asked her to watch the sunset together and have drinks, and began sending her suggestive messages on WhatsApp. She tried to communicate her disinterest, but “at that point I didn’t feel confident enough to say, ‘Please stop messaging me,’” because of the potential career implications. “This happens often to people who are just getting started in the industry—they’re looking for mentors,” Hylton says. “They want to meet with people they admire, and this is really taken advantage of.”
Another photojournalist, who asked to remain anonymous, met the same editor at a photo event in New York in 2016. Though she was already a decade into her career, he invited her several times to come by his office and show him her work, she says. She made it clear she wasn’t interested. Past midnight, the two were standing in a group chatting. The woman was wearing a loose silk shirt, and the editor slid his hand inside her shirt through the sleeve, “and just started casually rubbing my back while we were all talking in a group,” she says. She immediately felt uncomfortable, and sidestepped to position herself out of the editor’s reach. “It was totally inappropriate. This was something he was comfortable doing in front of his colleagues,” she says. Had it been earlier in her career, the incident might have been harder to navigate.
But harassers aren’t always editors—sometimes they’re freelancers themselves. Photojournalists relate a long roster of established male photographers who prey on their often younger female colleagues. “There are plenty of known figures in the business who are problematic, who are predatory, but who are also themselves independent photographers,” says Zalcman. “Who is holding them accountable, to ensure there are repercussions for their behavior? Even if one photo editor says, We don’t like this person’s behavior, we don’t want to work with them, there’s probably another outlet that will.”
Two women told CJR separately that the same well-known freelance conflict photographer had harassed them. In one case, Trieb says she had to run to get away from him as he physically pursued her, trying to kiss her, at a photography festival in Perpignan, France. At another photo festival, Yamshchikov says the same photojournalist pursued her despite her demonstrated disinterest, touching her and making suggestive comments in front of a number of colleagues. When they later met for coffee so she could ask him for career advice, he tried to kiss her. Neither woman reported his behavior, partly because there was no one to report it to.
Eight women say freelance photojournalist Christian Rodriguez sexually harassed them, in many cases after offering them mentorship or a job as his assistant. The behavior described by the women ranged from unwanted sexual advances, to asking them for nude or erotic photos of themselves, or, in many cases, pressuring them to let him take nude or erotic photos of them. The women, interviewed separately, gave similar accounts of experiences from 2013 to 2018 that showed a pattern of predatory behavior by Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, an Uruguayan photographer based in Mexico City, is known for his work photographing teen mothers in Latin America. In 2015 he won first place in the Picture of the Year Latam competition, and last year delivered a TED Talk on his teen mom project. He is listed as a TED Fellow on the organization’s website. Rodriguez’s work has been published several times by National Geographic—his Teen Mom project was featured on the magazine’s website, and he has posted photos on its Instagram account. The women, most of them photojournalists in Latin America, say he repeatedly mentioned his work with National Geographic and offered to help them advance their careers as he made unwanted advances. One journalist sent a message about his behavior in late October 2017 to Sarah Leen, the director of photography at National Geographic. Leen did not reply until February of this year, saying she had not seen the message until then. That month the magazine published a spread of images about teen pregnancy taken by Rodriguez in Colombia.
In emails to CJR, Rodriguez denies the allegations, saying he did not engage in sexual harassment. He says he never pressured anyone to let him take nude photographs or to send him nude photographs of themselves, and that he was working on a project involving photographing nude women.
Many of the women who reported inappropriate behavior by Rodriguez met him as students at his workshops, while working as his assistant, or through his Instagram account. In February 2016, Lina Botero signed up for a workshop conducted by Rodriguez in Colombia. Botero, a Colombian photographer who was 25 at the time, admired Rodriguez’s work, but was shy about showing her work to the class when Rodriguez asked. But she sent him her website, and he praised her photographs. At the end of the two-day workshop, Rodriguez made a surprise announcement, she says: he would choose one student for a free, year-long mentorship to improve his or her work. The winner was Botero.
At a party that evening with workshop participants, Rodriguez, from across the room, began sending her messages on Facebook. He told her he wanted to photograph her for a new project, according to screenshots of the messages provided to CJR. “I’m working on a new phase of portraits where I’m looking for a more sensory and experimental experience,” he wrote in Spanish. He proposed that he photograph her the following day. “I want to be your tutor,” he wrote. “And help you not only to do that project together, but to follow your projects.” He suggested they meet for coffee, and then go to a hotel where they could rent a room for a few hours for him to photograph her. He wrote that the project would be reminiscent of the work of photographer Todd Hido, whose portfolio includes portraits of nude or nearly nude women in stark interiors.
“Hey hey hey. . . wait,” Botero wrote. She told him she was uncomfortable with what he was proposing, but conveyed that she was still interested in a mentorship, because, she says, “I really wanted to understand how to make a personal project, how to believe in my work, how to believe in myself.”
But each time they met to talk about her work, she says, he continued to pressure her to let him photograph her, even though she was not interested. Whenever he brought up the subject, he would also talk about how she could be a great photographer, and work as his assistant, she says. At their third meeting, at her home, he began photographing her. “I felt if I didn’t say yes I wouldn’t have the mentorship,” she says. “I felt there was something in exchange. That he was asking something, and at the time I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, so I thought to myself, OK if I make this perhaps I can be a good photographer.”
When he asked to photograph her in her bedroom, she agreed, she says, but became nervous. Then, she says, “He started to get close to me. He threw me on the bed, he said, ‘I need you to be more sensual, more sexy’ . . . He jumped on the bed, he was on top of me, making pictures. I started to become really uncomfortable. I started to cry a little bit, a little bit of tears, and I just needed to stop. So I said please get off of me.”
Botero says she asked Rodriguez to leave. She says he later apologized for making her uncomfortable, and offered to pay her. She stopped responding to his messages, and didn’t tell anyone about what happened. She felt ashamed, she says, and afraid that he could hurt her career. It hurt her confidence in her work: “I was really destroyed because I felt OK, it wasn’t about my photos, it was about me. It made me feel really bad.”
Rodriguez denied that he touched her or pressured her to let him photograph her. “I have been a mentor to many South American photographers, never in a conditioned way or assuming an exchange,” he writes in an email to CJR.
Other women describe similar experiences with Rodriguez. Many of the women were in the early stages of their careers. Twenty-five-year-old Boca Raton–based photojournalist Andrea Sarcos says she followed Rodriguez’s work on Instagram, and messaged him when she traveled to Mexico City in October 2017 to ask if they could meet. “I wholeheartedly admire your work and aspire to pursue a similar path in the near future,” she wrote. They met for coffee, she says, and he gave her a thoughtful critique of her portfolio. He told her he was looking to hire an assistant to accompany him on his travel for assignments for National Geographic, and asked if she would like the job. He also invited to her to a photo festival he was involved with, and told her he would reserve her a spot for a portfolio review there.
Then, she says, he asked if he could photograph her the next day in the rooms of an old Mexico City hotel, and implied she would be nude. Sarcos was taken aback by his request. “I was starting to feel really uncomfortable at this point,” she says. “Especially because he dangled all these things—the photo festival; National Geographic; You could be my assistant, here’s this advice.” New to the industry, she says the opportunity to work with a National Geographic photographer was enticing. “I almost felt obliged to say yes to this photoshoot, even though I did not want to do it,” she says. After consulting other photographers for advice, she told him no.
Rodriguez says he asked Sarcos to pose nude “after she showed me pictures of her naked and said that she posed as a nude model for other photographers.” Sarcos says she did not show Rodriguez any pictures of herself, but mentioned a topless photoshoot she did with female photographer friends. In a message she sent Rodriguez on WhatsApp after their meeting, she wrote: “I am not a model. I have posed in front of a camera for my good girl friends who I know very well and trust as a favor to them and something fun and comfortable for me. I just met you. It makes me very uncomfortable that you asked me to be your subject after all of your very nice offers to be your assistant, attend your festival, and the like. It made me feel as if I had to say yes as a way of owing you all you were proposing to me … I hope you never ask another professional woman in this industry who wanted to work with you as an assistant to also model for you in a sensitive shoot.” She shared with CJR screenshots of text messages that support her account.
Isadora Romero, a photojournalist in Ecuador, says she attended a workshop given by Rodriguez in Quito in May 2016. In the evening, she happened to pass the bar where Rodriguez was drinking with others, so she joined them. When they were momentarily alone, Romero says Rodriguez told her he loved her work, “and that I was exactly the kind of girl he needed for his next project. He started to come closer. I felt really uncomfortable. Then he started to say that if I worked with him he can take my projects into a magazine.”
Romero left, she says. But when she arrived home later that night, Rodriguez messaged her, asking her to come to the apartment where he was staying. She demurred, but he persisted. “Are you very sleepy?” he wrote to her, according to screenshots. “We can have a drink and it can wake you up….. And go to sleep later!!” He followed this sentence with a grinning emoticon.
“I was paralyzed, I guess because of what he had promised with my projects,” Romero says. “I did not reply again and never came back to the workshop.”
Rodriguez says he had offered all the students in the workshop help with their work. Of the invitation to late-night drinks, he wrote that he had invited her to the apartment “in the same way that [I invited] other participants.”
Federica Gonzalez, an Argentinian photographer, met Rodriguez in Buenos Aires in 2016. A friend recommended her for a job as Rodriguez’s assistant on a project teaching photography to teenage mothers, she says, and she was excited at the possibility of working with a National Geographic photographer. At a meeting for all of the prospective assistants, she found they were all women. Then Rodriguez notified Gonzalez that she was a finalist, she says, and invited her to lunch along with the other finalist, who was also a woman. He brought two bottles of wine to the meeting and encouraged them to drink, she says. Later, when he took her home, she says, he put his hand on her knee, and asked if he could come up to her apartment and take portraits of her. “I felt really, really uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say,” she says. She declined, saying there were other people in her apartment.
Gonzalez took the job, and worked for two months. At one point, she says, Rodriguez asked her if she could find women from her hometown to pose nude for him, and she declined. She says she felt uncomfortable with his behavior, but decided to bury those feelings when she says no one believed her. Gonzalez wrote to Rodriguez in December 2016 asking for feedback on some work she had just published, and spoke positively of her experience working with him.
Rodriguez denies putting a hand on Gonzalez’s knee and says he had proposed to photograph her at a later date during a “pleasant talk” while they waited to start the workshop. He says her last message to him shows that her story was inconsistent.
Carmela Perez, a model, says Rodriguez hired her for a nude photoshoot in Montevideo, Uruguay in 2013. After he began photographing her, he got onto the bed where she was posing and began touching her legs, hips, stomach, and chest without her consent, she says. He also took photos with his mobile phone in addition to his camera, she says, leading her to believe they were for personal, not professional, use. The encounter left her deeply shaken. A friend of Perez says Perez related the details to her soon after the incident. Rodriguez denies touching Perez. “My nude photos never have a sexual purpose,” he writes.
Another woman who asked that only her first name, Kirra, be published, says Rodriguez hired her in January to be his assistant on a reporting trip to the Dominican Republic. Among her duties was writing the captions for the images Rodriguez posted on Instagram, where he has 149,000 followers. Before the trip, Rodriguez told her that because of his tight budget, they might have to share a room and bed. Kirra made clear in messages to Rodriguez, which she shared with CJR, that she was not comfortable sharing a room and that she wanted their relationship to be solely professional. After they arrived, Kirra says, Rodriguez told her that the hotel where they were staying only had one available room, with one bed, which they would have to share. He then pressured her to let him take photographs of her on the bed, and became angry when she would not cooperate, she says. Because she was in a new country where she knew no one, and had little money, Kirra felt vulnerable and found it difficult to refuse Rodriguez’s demands, she says. After a few days she returned to Mexico alone, before the assignment was over. She shared text messages she exchanged with friends at the time that support her account.
Rodriguez says that Kirra had agreed to share the hotel room. “I told her repeatedly that I preferred that she would not travel in this opportunity, if she felt uncomfortable. I told [her] more than three times. I told her she could wait for another project with more budget. She insisted that she wanted to travel under those conditions.” He adds that he never pressured her to agree to be photographed, and stopped when she asked.
Sarah Pabst, a German photojournalist based in Buenos Aires, attended a workshop Rodriguez gave in 2015, during which she presented a personal project she was working on focusing on herself and her partner that included some intimate photographs. After the workshop ended, Rodriguez told her in a message he had a project in mind in which he’d like her to participate. In an email, he explained he was working on a “fictional documentary” of an online relationship, which would be “a round-trip photographic story about the exploration of sexuality in social networks.” It would work, he wrote, through an exchange of photos between the two of them. Those images, he wrote, would include “explicit” photos of “virtual ‘sex,’ tits, vagina, ass, details, etc.” It was not necessary to include her face, he wrote, and when the photographs were published, she could use a pseudonym. “I think it’s a fun idea and one of visual experimentation within certain work guidelines,” he wrote, and asked Pabst not to tell anyone about the project.
“When I read it, I froze. I couldn’t believe I was reading something like this,” says Pabst. “I remember I felt really bad. It’s so classic, when you’re a female photographer, when you think someone is interested in your work, and then you realize it’s not your work they’re interested in. So I thought, ‘Well another one of these?’ And I just ditched it.” She decided to believe it was just a “weird project,” and remained friendly with him, attending several festivals that Rodriguez organized. “He moves on this fine line between art and abuse,” she says.
Rodriguez says he asked Pabst to participate in a “photographic and artistic project” that included explicit photos because of the nature of the photos she presented at the workshop. He also questioned how she could be “harassed and vulnerable” when, he says, she occupies a privileged position as a European in South America.
Most of the women say they didn’t say anything publicly about their experiences because they felt ashamed, fearful they would be blamed, or that it would damage their careers to speak out against a well-known photographer. But in February, Argentinian photographer Violeta Capasso posted a self-portrait on Instagram. In the caption, she described her own experience with Rodriguez without identifying him by name.
She tells CJR she followed Rodriguez on Instagram because she admired his work, and often liked his photos. In 2016 he followed her back and messaged her through the platform, writing that he liked her work, was in Buenos Aires, and would like to meet. For a 21-year-old emerging photographer, this was exciting, she says. They met at the office where she was working, and over coffee Rodriguez told her he’d like to hire her as his assistant, which would include traveling with him on assignments to other countries. He also said he would like to photograph her, she says: “He wanted to photograph my moods. Like he specifically said, ‘If you are horny, I want to take horny pictures of you.’” Capasso says she was uncomfortable with that, but she decided she could say no when the time came, so she agreed. She was eager to work with a photographer whose work she so admired, she says.
“I said yes to everything because it was traveling and working as his assistant, and he wanted to start curating my work, like editing and selecting my photos,” she says. “And at that time he was working at National Geographic, he was doing the teen mothers [work] here in Buenos Aires, and I really wanted to be a part of that.”
They shook hands and parted ways, she says. The next day, he sent her two photos of himself in bed. “How are you doing? What are you doing. . .” he wrote. “The good thing about this hotel is that the bed is big!! It gets very cold here at night. . .”
Capasso said she wrote back, furious, telling him she only wanted to work with him, not to sleep with him. Rodriguez replied that she had misunderstood him, she says, writing that he sent her a selfie because she’s a millennial and he wanted to relate to her. She says she never responded, and never spoke publicly about the episode until the February Instagram post. Even that, she said, was not meant to out him, but to warn other women photographers to be careful. But other women who had been harassed by Rodriguez recognized him from the story, and she was deluged by messages from women who had had similar experiences. Gonzalez was one of them, and she wrote a Facebook post on behalf of several dozen women accusing Rodriguez of harassment and financial exploitation.
Rodriguez also saw her post, and sent Capasso a direct message through Instagram. “I first wanted to apologize for my inappropriate behavior. I did not seek to make you feel bad and my behavior was wrong,” he wrote. He then wrote that gender equality was important to him, and said he had worked to give opportunities to women photographers. In an email to CJR, Rodriguez says he sent Capasso the selfie “while I was drunk,” and says he was more than 2,500 kilometers (about 1,553 miles) away at the time. He calls it “stupid” but says he did not intend to harass Capasso.
Many of the women said they were concerned for the safety of the young and vulnerable women Rodriguez often photographs. Rodriguez tells CJR in an email, “I want to be completely clear in stating that at no time in my life have I intended to harass a woman, much less have I committed any type of sexual abuse. Just thinking that my actions made a woman feel vulnerable, has taken hours of reflection and analysis of my behavior. For this reason, I deeply regret if I offended someone and I ask a sincere apology to anyone who has felt hurt by my actions. I have made mistakes in my life that, like every human being, I would like to amend. Holding or seeking consensual sentimental relationships with some of my co-workers, was not correct.”
He writes that he works in fashion and art photography as well as photojournalism, and at the photography school in Spain where he studied, “It was common for professors to ask students to pose nude and portray classmates naked or not for my projects.”
“Some of my projects include nude or nudity photos,” he writes. “Most of the time I worked with normal people, friends and close people. I do not feel a contradiction in asking someone if I can take a nude photo. The person has the freedom to decide if he wants to be photographed or not. I have never forced anyone to be portrayed by me. I always work under consent and signing a model release. I have never pressured anyone to be photographed.”
Rodriguez was until late last year a member of Prime, a global collective of seven photographers. Prime members learned of Rodriguez’s interaction with Sarcos and quietly kicked him out in November 2017. In March, after Gonzalez’s Facebook post, Prime released a statement making public his expulsion. “Prime stands with, supports, and commends the women that are bravely speaking out about their experiences with Christian Rodriguez,” reads the statement. “While Prime is not an employer, we, as a collective of photographers who once uplifted Rodriguez and his work, regret that our association with him may have increased his perceived stature in the photo community, and contributed to his access to women in the industry. In light of these alarming new disclosures, we also now regret that we did not further publicize Rodriguez’s expulsion when it occurred.”
Journalist Alice Driver, a writer and video producer based in Mexico City, learned of Rodriguez’s conduct toward Sarcos in October. She wrote to Leen, director of photography at National Geographic, through Facebook Messenger to inform her about the complaints, because Rodriguez was using his work with the magazine as leverage in his interactions with women. Leen responded in February, the same month the magazine published Rodriguez’s images of efforts to combat teenage pregnancy in Colombia. “Thank you for sharing. Sorry I did not see this earlier,” Leen wrote, according to a screenshot of the message shared by Driver. “But I wanted to let you know that are (sic) currently dealing with this. It is very unfortunate. Also he is greatly exaggerating his relationship with us and I am saddened to hear he is characterizing it this way.”
In response to an interview request, National Geographic released this statement to CJR: “National Geographic takes seriously and addresses all complaints of sexual harassment. With regard to Christian Rodriguez, he is no longer working with us.” A staffer at the magazine who was not given permission to speak to media says editors became aware of accusations against Rodriguez in January, and stopped his photos from being posted to the magazine’s Instagram account and canceled another assignment the magazine had given him. But it was too late to pull his photos from the February issue, the staffer says. Several of the women who say Rodriguez harassed them say they had been contacted by a woman investigating Rodriguez for National Geographic.
Workshops and portfolio reviews are important events for young photographers, acting both as a recognition of talent and an opportunity to network with and learn from some of the top photographers and editors in the industry. But young photographers say many of these events are minefields for young female attendees who struggle to avoid the sexual advances and inappropriate comments by some of the established male photographers and editors who attend as faculty, and who could become valuable mentors.
The Eddie Adams Workshop is considered one of the most prestigious. For many young photojournalists, being selected to attend can feel like a prerequisite for success in the industry, and it can be a career-changing experience. But the workshop is also an example of the problems these events pose for women photographers. Six female photojournalists say they witnessed or experienced inappropriate behavior from photographers and editors participating in the workshop as instructors. Some say they were too afraid of hurting their careers to complain, and others said complaints went unanswered. All say that workshop organizers had no process for attendees to lodge complaints about inappropriate behavior. Many say that the culture of heavy drinking and late-night partying at the workshop created an unprofessional atmosphere ripe for misconduct. Participants—both faculty and students—often drink together in the evenings, and portfolio reviews are scheduled for 11:30 pm. Attendees described late-night keg stands and raucous partying.
Amanda Mustard attended EAW in 2013. But the Bangkok-based photojournalist says what should have been an exciting opportunity was a disappointment. “It ended up being more of a frat party than anything else,” she says. “The combination of machismo, rampant boozing, and creepy mentors made for a shocking level of unprofessionalism. And I felt so vulnerable as a female attendee.”
One photographer who asked not to be named attended the workshop as a volunteer in 2013. As portfolio reviews were taking place one night, an older photographer who is a long-time fixture at EAW said he wanted to show her some of his work. The portfolio reviews take place in the bar of the hotel where attendees stay, and the photographer led her a few doors down from the bar to his room, where his camera was. “He gets his camera from his bag, and he starts showing me photos of a student nude in the woods,” she says. She recognized the student as a woman who was participating in the workshop that week. “And he said, ‘And I want you to model for me now, on the bed.’” The woman says she told the photographer no, and began to leave the room. “He started pushing me down and kissing all over me. I started grappling with him, telling him no, and shoved him off of me to leave the room,” she says.
The same week, she was ecstatic when the director of photography at a major publication told her he’d love to see her work. At a party on the final night of the workshop, he slipped her his room key and told the woman, “You know where to find me.” She surmised from that interaction, she says, that the editor hadn’t been truly interested in her work.
The photographer says she told two representatives of Nikon, EAW’s main financial sponsor, about being assaulted at the workshop, and that they were aware of the nude photoshoot with the student. Nikon did not respond to CJR’s requests for comment.
Vox reported that Witty harassed multiple students at EAW where he was a coach in 2015. And in 2014, photojournalist Melissa Golden, already an established photographer, was a volunteer at the workshop when a well-known photo editor—the same editor who sent Hylton suggestive messages and made unwanted physical contact with a photographer in New York—approached her and asked her to go to the hotel room of a famous photographer. “So basically he tried to pimp me out to his buddy, which was humiliating, and disorienting,” she says. She did not immediately report the incident and does not blame the workshop for it. She did report the behavior to a long-time faculty member of the workshop last fall, when Golden saw the editor was still involved with the event as a team leader. The faculty member sent an email in January to Mirjam Evers, the workshop’s executive producer, and Alyssa Adams, co-founder and board member, relating the experience without using Golden’s name. Adams responded on January 30. “Thank you for including us in this conversation,” she wrote. “Not sure what to do with the information at this point, but thank you for being inclusive.”
In March, the editor was made a member of the workshop’s advisory council. The editor is currently listed as a member of the council on the workshop’s website, and on the faculty page.
One of the ways workshops have dealt with serial harassers is by quietly disinviting those individuals from attending their events in the future. EAW organizers did not invite Witty back to the workshop after hearing complaints about him. But Zalcman, the founder of Women Photograph, says that practice simply allows offenders to continue their abuse in other venues. “We need to come up with better community-wide ways of protecting people,” she said. “It’s great if you take measures to ban people who are being inappropriate, that’s really important, but if you’re not taking a public stand against those individuals and that behavior, then what was the point?”
Last year, the workshop for the first time required all participants to sign a code of conduct that declares a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment, including “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” It asks anyone who experiences or witnesses harassment to report it to workshop staff, and declares anyone who engages in such behavior will be asked to leave and will not be invited back. In an interview and email exchange, Adams and Evers declined to comment on why the editor was appointed to the advisory council after they received a complaint about him, or whether they had investigated the complaint. But they pointed to the new code of conduct as evidence they are working to prevent harassment. “We are very concerned for the safety and well-being of all attendees and are striving to be proactive at the workshop,” Adams writes in an email. In an interview, she defends EAW’s lack of a procedure for handling harassment complaints, but says EAW would develop one and implement it at this year’s workshop in October. She says there had been one previous case of harassment reported to workshop staff, and that it was dealt with. “In the past, when [sexual harassment] wasn’t an issue. . . people pretty much know who the support people are, they would talk to the support people. But you know, now that it’s a real issue … we have a code of conduct, and also this year we’re implementing a set of procedures,” which are still being developed. Adams says the workshop received no complaints last year, and did not anticipate receiving any going forward.
Evers adds that attendees should feel confident to report harassment without consequences to their careers. Evers says, “I would hope that people would feel comfortable enough to come to me or Alyssa, other staff members or volunteers. You know, obviously we do everything to protect women—we’re women ourselves. . . . I just think now with our code of conduct in place, they shouldn’t be worried, or worried about their careers or how it would affect them because. . . it doesn’t matter if the faculty is well-known or not. If an incident were to happen, we would take care of it.”
But some EAW alumni see the code of conduct as too little, too late, and are frustrated that workshop leaders have not responded publicly to the reports of misconduct. That silence, they say, does not give them confidence that complaints would not lead to professional blowback.
When Mustard commented on social media last year about her experience at the workshop, she soon received a request—indirectly, through a colleague—from workshop organizers asking her to censor it. “I thought why on earth would I protect them when they didn’t protect me? So I took the opportunity to email them with my honest feedback and some suggestions to keep women safer at the event,” she says. “I never got a response. Start to finish, my experience with Eddie Adams Workshop epitomizes so much of the toxic culture that hurts this industry.”
Photojournalist Justin Cook, a 2007 EAW attendee, was so disturbed by what he calls the “radio silence” from EAW on the issue that he emailed and wrote the workshop an open letter on Facebook. In the letter he asked leaders to publicly condemn harassment, outline the steps they are taking to review their selection process for faculty, and ban harassers from the event. “I am appalled by the rampant tales of sexual harassment, sexual coercion, assault and abuses of power that women photographers are experiencing, generally, in our industry, and specifically at our industry conferences,” he wrote. “We demand that the culture of silence and corporate policies that enable predatory behavior be changed. Men have to be that change, and that starts with holding our organizations accountable, and, if they fail to provide a safe learning environment for young photographers, to boycott these conferences, seminars and workshops.”
Cook says a board member wrote him a Facebook message suggesting they have a conversation, but never followed up, and ignored Cook’s Facebook friend request. Evers and Adams declined to comment on why they had not responded to Mustard or Cook. Cook and photojournalist Daniel Sircar wrote a similar open letter, addressed to “workshops, conferences, and leading organizations in photojournalism” and invited male photojournalists to sign it. Nearly 450 people, including some women, signed the letter.
In February, after they began that effort, Jim Colton, a board member at EAW, wrote in a blog post that he was angered and saddened by the allegations against Witty, urged men to speak out against such behavior, and urged people in the industry to react swiftly to such allegations. But he pushed back against the idea that harassment is pervasive in the industry, and wrote that he was concerned that such allegations will lead people to believe that all photo editors are abusers. He criticized people for “calling out people on social media by name at the organizations that these offenders worked for or participated in, and demanding a statement and threatening to boycott them,” an apparent reference to the open letter. That is “tantamount to cyber bullying which is harassment of its own kind. So harassing organizations that the offenders worked for or workshops they participated in, is your solution? Really?” he wrote. He added that the letter was “symbolic at best and condescending at worst.”
“And regarding the Eddie Adams Workshop,” he wrote, “where one of these offenses was alleged to have taken place; I have been a team editor and most recently the moderator for the last 27 consecutive years. And I can unequivocally state that the faculty there is, was, and always will be committed to, not only the advancement of our craft, but to insuring the safety of all who attend.”
EAW alumnus Carter McCall, who attended in 2015, posted the Vox story on Witty in the private Facebook group for EAW 2015 alumni hoping to “get a discussion going,” he says. “Board members are in that group, and I thought maybe we can have a conversation about this or some kind of official response from the Eddie Adams Workshop, and that just didn’t happen.” He posted several articles and even tagged board members in his posts, but they did not respond, he says. He called the institutional silence—not just of EAW but of other institutions as well—disappointing. “When these issues arise … you look to those standard bearers for guidance,” he says. “And there just hasn’t been any. There hasn’t been a frank discussion like has happened in other industries.”
The effects of sexual harassment are wide-ranging, pushing some women out of the field and causing others to stop attending photo festivals, workshops, or networking events. Some women say they stopped seeking out mentors because they experienced so much harassment when they did, even as they described a dearth of female mentors in the field. Others say they’re disgusted by the hypocrisy of working in a field that claims to shine a light on abuses or wrongdoing in the world, while protecting predators in their own industry.
“Everyone’s threshold for trauma is different, and some traumas are preventable,” says photojournalist Melissa Golden. “I would hate to think that we are losing incredible talent in photojournalism because we deemed certain women not tough enough to put up with sexual harassment. We’ve got to stop blaming the women, and blame the harassers and demand better behavior and better treatment.”
And many also express frustration that the onus is on women to end the problem by reporting their harassers. The reason so few women speak out about the abuse is that their complaints often have no effect except to harm themselves, says Zalcman. “You would inflict meaningful professional harm on yourself with no ramifications for the person you were trying to expose.”
A New York photo editor says she was harassed and bullied for years by her manager, forcing her to eventually leave the company. She reported his behavior twice—once to a manager, then again to human resources during her exit interview, to no effect. “The manager, instead of saying, ‘We need to report this,’ it was like, ‘Well let’s try to think of ways you can make up with him,’” she says. “Even as an editor and even when I used proper channels to report things, nothing happened.”
In lieu of official action, some photojournalists have spoken out online about their issues with harassment. But without support from gatekeepers, it can leave them vulnerable.
A New York–based photojournalist who asked to remain anonymous says she recently named two harassers in a private online forum. “I was fed up with the fact that we were protecting these guys. We all knew who the predators were in our industry, and we just whisper their names, but it just continues if we keep whispering their names,” she says. “I’m not advocating that we gather our pitchforks and torches and go knock down [their] doors, but I’m just arguing that we at the very least be outspoken and use their names, because anonymity equals protection. Why are we protecting these guys? Why are their reputations and their careers more important than the safety of my colleagues and the advancement of my friends in this industry?” A friend later warned her that word of her post had reached, and upset, well-known people in the industry, and she was worried about negative consequences.
Photojournalists say change must come from institutions and those in positions of power. “Our industry has to stand up and make statements about the people who have behaved this way,” says Bleasdale. “The agencies know who they are, they know absolutely who. . . has behaved inappropriately in the past and who is still behaving inappropriately. But they stay quiet, hoping this is all going to pass them by, hoping they can get by it without have to suffer the public shame of representing people like this.”
Agencies need to do an “audit” of the photographers they represent, and remove those who abuse their positions, he said, particularly those in positions of power, such as teaching workshops. “Agencies. . . have a responsibility to the people who have been abused by these people, to say We recognize that something has gone wrong here, and we’re making a bold statement here to say enough is enough,” says Bleasdale. “And only then can they be trusted to outline ways and methods in which future engagements with other photographers in our industry can happen. You can’t put down a code of practice, as many agencies are starting to do, when these photographers are still in your agency.”
Until such changes are made, Mustard says women will be left to deal with the consequences. “The burden of this issue should fall on those who have power to fix it,” she says. “But it is and will continue to be on women, so long as the culture of silence continues and gatekeepers don’t have the courage to look in the mirror. For every gatekeeper that isn’t willing to be uncomfortable enough to make a change, there’s a woman who’s paying the price for that instead.”
TOP IMAGE: Image: Darrel Frost.