A decade ago I photographed unsigned bands. It was a simple arrangement: in return for a couple of hours of their time I’d shoot a bunch of photos and work up about a dozen to use as they wanted. No money was changing hands and the only rule was they had to be unsigned. I got to work with some great people.
It was a lot of fun.
Maybe it was because my ads would appear on Gumtree. Perhaps I was developing a “reputation”. Whatever it was, the shoots took a different feel. Instead of a bunch of people larking about and capturing great shots, people had “concepts”. They stopped being fun and became work. I was being approached by people I didn’t know who would get upset when I wasn’t able to fit into their schedule.
It came to a head at a studio day. With spare time scheduled at the end of a booking, I figured I could fit about an hour in. I did my usual Gumtree ad and picked a singer OK with it being short and sweet. At the appointed time she turned up ready, willing and eager.
With her manager.
Instead of a free flowing, relaxed shoot, the whole thing took a different direction. The “manager” tried to take control, demanding her “client” was photographed this way and that. I went with the flow for a while until the studio time ended and she insisted we continued. When I said no, she demanded I paid for more time to get the shots her client deserved.
Politely I declined, explained I was doing this for fun and free. A little shouting came my way. It was nothing compared to the wrath when I explained I’d get the first pass edits out to the singer at the back end of the week. The manager wanted them in her inbox by the next morning.
For a professional photographer working on commission I’m sure this is normal. For an amateur who was enjoying being creative this was way out of order. I’d come off a great few hours working with some wonderful models into this. It jarred. It hurt. Being shouted at and called names was not the way I wanted to end my day. Keeping my calm, I asked them both to leave, made clear what would happen next and screamed blue murder in the car on the way home.
A couple or three days later, as I was working through the images, I got an email from the singer. Her manager said if I didn’t hand over all the images by the end of the week she would sue me. Because of my job I was used to hearing these kinds of threats, so it washed over me. I replied with a flippant “please let me know when and where and I’ll see you there.”
It took a month to get rid of the singer from my inbox. She got the photos I promised. I don’t know or care if she used them. In our emails I never mentioned her “manager” or rose to the threats and demands. I did what I said I would calmly and patiently. Every email started with “As originally agreed…”. I think I even changed the subject to start “WITHOUT PREJUDICE”.
Something else had happened. As I walked out of that studio I resolved never to shoot an unsigned band again. My adverts on Gumtree stopped. The profiles I had on various photography sites changed. When bands I’d shot before asked me to shoot again I said “no”. Without warning, I abandoned the unsigned band scene and never went back.
The singer didn’t break the big time, and I never saw or heard from her again. I think of it as an experience where two talents vanished from view because of the behaviour of one person.