What would you do if one of the proudest photographs in your archive suddenly took on a very dark association? In 2004 I sold an image of a parkour athlete to Adidas to launch a new line of trainers. That athlete is now a convicted sex offender.
This photograph was one of my first commercial sales, depicting a tiny figure leaping through the air. That figure is completely anonymous, known only to myself and the small number of people involved in the parkour scene at the time.
I worked closely with this athlete for three years before our friendship and professional relationship came to an end in 2006. He went on to become a fitness and glamour photographer, bringing him into close contact with people — women in particular — one of whom he touched inappropriately. In 2016 he was sentenced to two years in prison.
A few months ago, I indulged in some nostalgia, digging out a few photographs from my early career to post on Instagram. It wasn't until I was looking through my shots of this person that I realized that I didn't know how I felt about these images. I'm incredibly proud of the photos and they represent a period of my career that was full of discovery, experimentation, and adventure; both parkour and photography were completely new to me and we felt like pioneers creating something fresh and exciting. Knowing what he's done has completely changed my perception of the photographs that we created together.
I knew immediately that I didn't want to republish the photographs on my social media. Even though he's unidentifiable in many of the shots, I would always know what he represents and that sits uncomfortably with me. The photographs portray him as a powerful, capable athlete. They venerate him, celebrate his performance of physical skill, and create a spectacle of his ego. Because of what he has done, I don't want to present him in that context, even if I'm the only person that knows who he is.
This led me also to wonder whether I should remove him from my archive and, after a few months of reflection, I've decided to leave him there. Letting him sit in the past feels very different to re-publishing him on social media. He's a part of my history — albeit not a pretty one, almost like a scar — that has led me to where I am today. I don't want to celebrate him, but at the same time, I don't feel the need to erase him. I don't want to pretend that he didn't exist, perhaps because of a feeling that it's not by hiding these issues that we overcome them. I'm not proud of my past friendship with this person, but I take valuable lessons from it.
At the same time, I feel a little self-conscious worrying about the images given that there is a victim whose life was completely changed — potentially ruined — as a result of this person's actions. All of the recent revelations that have driven the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are about power relations, not just between the abuser and the abused, but of how those stories are told and who has a voice.
For me, it's a reminder of the complexities of the power that we hold as photographers, both in the relationship we have when working with our subjects, but also in how we decide to present the resulting imagery. Have I made the right choices? I hope so, but either way, it's good to keep the conversation going and share my decisions.