One of My Photography Subjects Is Now a Convicted Sex Offender

One of My Photography Subjects Is Now a Convicted Sex Offender

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.

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I would probably come to the same conclusion you did. Deleting them would be removing your work, too, but as you said, publishing them is almost a celebration of someone who was convicted. I do wonder where forgiveness comes in. If this person is released from prison, is remorseful, and is rehabilitated, maybe then you can publish the work?

Spy Black's picture

That strikes me as a fair assessment, but how does one conclude that has effectively transpired? The person was young, so hopefully learned a life's lesson. Time will tell.

I would hesitate to remove the work, as it was before you knew what he was capable of. At that point there was no evidence of wrong doing, otherwise you probably would not have photographed him..You made your decisions at that time based on the information you had.

Todd Boyer's picture

Difficult topic. On the one hand you have a convicted sex offender, and do not want to appear to "celebrate" them. On the other hand, are you going to go through all of the photos that you've shot, and do a follow up with all of the subjects to assure that they are moral upright citizens? TBH, I probably would remove the photo just to make myself feel right, and nobody else needs to be any the wiser.

Robert Nurse's picture

Since you didn't commit or play an active or any other role in the crime, it's not your problem. The work is yours to leave up or delete. Photographs of far more heinous criminals remain available for all to see. Don't sweat it.

What exactly did he do?

I think your choice is ridiculous. You do not have an image of a celebrated sexual offender; you have an image of some stranger doing parkour. You are not celebrating his crimes by re-publishing the images; you are celebrating your talents (and Adidas footwear).

I have not yet seen a Kevin Spacey movie which I have not liked. I still love K-PAX, and I'll watch it again. Am I celebrating Spacey's sexual wrongdoings by putting it in my Netflix queue? No. I still love everything I ever saw Dustin Hoffman do. I love many of the films Stallone has done. I love several of the productions with Jeff Tambor, George Takei, Richard Dreyfuss, Bill Cosby (whom i am thoroughly disgusted with), Woody Allen, (also extremely disgusting in my book)…. The list goes on and on.

But none of those horrible things they did makes the art they have produced any less good than the first time I saw them. It makes me not want to see them in another production from this point onward, because I would not want to see them back in the same situation which enabled them in the first place; places of power and privacy, surrounded by their enablers. If you see me buying the 4k Box set of “Star Trek; The Original Series,” don't accuse me of, “celebrating Takei as a sexual predator.” Nope! I will be celebrating Gene Roddenberry as a writer/producer.

We cannot define everything in this world based on the disgusting people who take part in such projects.

Bill Larkin's picture

Yes, exactly. I agree. - Your work is your work. And also the context of what he did might play a small role, I've heard of a drunk guy taking a leak alongside a car getting registered as a sex offender, does that make him a horrible human being? and does it change the quality of your photo? of course not. The world has become TOO PC these days.

Bill Reed's picture

What was the charge exactly... maybe he didn't get the right advice or have enough money... in what state? We remember accused rapist Kobe Bryant winning a little gold statue a few days ago right? #BillClinton

... Harvey in jail yet... still walking around?

Exactly. I still haven't gotten a reply to my question as to what exactly did he do. I asked because unfortunately today there are a lot of people who are wrongly convicted as sex offenders, even in the cases where the law is still against them. For example, I can fault someone for foolishly engaging in a consensual sexual relationship with a 17 year old when the age of consent is 18, but morally I have no problem with such a realtionship since I think such a law is immoral, not in accordance with biological realities and simply unrealistic. I'm tempted to call it puritanical but the Puritans, ironically, had an age of consent much lower than what you see today.

Simon Patterson's picture

This approach seems to reflect the Westerner's propensity to view each person as either a "hero" or a "villain". This is the news journalist's view of the world, which is useful to sell views/advertising for news media outlets, but not much else.

In reality, we are all people with strengths and shortcomings; almost nobody can be categorised as only a "hero" or just a "villain".

I think it is better to both celebrate people's strengths and acknowledge their shortcomings, when appropriate. In other words, it is better to see other people as humans, not caricatures.

So I see no problem with you still celebrating the fact you have great photos of this athlete, even though he has a very serious shortcoming as a sexual abuser of women.

Ben Perrin's picture

I'm not sure I understand this seemingly new mentality where people are feeling guilty for a crime that someone else has committed. People seem afraid to do anything against the grain lest they be burned at the stake with the rest of the witches. I'm not convinced that this is a healthy state of being.

gabe s's picture

I couldn't tell you the name of one parkour athlete. Unless your followers are only parkour people, I doubt 99% of people would know who he is. People do a lot worse than inappropriately touching, and are still actively making new work. Robert Downey Jr., Rip Torn, Danny Trejo all have felonies, but moved past their issues. Yea, there is a lot worse that people have done, but some random parkour guy in a photo won't make a big splash.

Show your work, be proud of your work and create new work.

Ed Sanford's picture

You are over thinking this. You are a photographer. You made a picture of a model. You are not celebrating this person in any way. You said that in most cases he was unidentifiable. There are pictures of some of the worse scoundrels in history in libraries and galleries throughout the world. Those who recorded these images are virtually unknown. Just relax and move on and keep making good pictures.

Iain Lea's picture

Sex offenders are looking for power over individuals and some seek the limelight.

You leaving the images online allows that person to still be visible... you should take away his stage!

If the images are that good then "reshoot" them with athletes that you have researched beforehand.

Even better shoot a cool series with the abused victim(s)... give them a stage and something to be proud of.

How has Adidas reacted to the news? have they removed the content? i live 5 miles from their HQ here in Germany and know numerous people there.

Do the right thing... for the victims... and your customer.

Ed Sanford's picture

I wasn't going to reply to this, but I found that I cannot contain myself. First of all, what is a sex offender? To define this is critical because that label gets placed on many people by the justice system for many different actions. I think that most of us visualize a violent rapist, child molester, or other manner of evil person. However, what about an 18 year old who meets a mature looking young woman, spends intimate time with her when she volunteers, and later discover she is a 16 year old. Then her parents find out and files charges. Guess what? That young man is on the sex offenders list for the remainder of his life. Should we permanently ban him from society, when we let felonious drug dealers off the hook after 10 years (the point at which it no longer shows up in his background check). We deify a Bill Clinton who clearly took advantage of a young intern who was only technically an adult. These things need to be thought through and not painted with the same brush. I have friends who have used other types of criminals as models. We are in no position to be social judges. We make pictures; while good judgement should be used, we are not social scientists.

Iain Lea's picture

You can adjust your moral compass to fit your views and i have bo problem with that at all.

I have my own set of morals and they will not waver from whats correct especially when its todo with sexual abuse.

zero tolerance and take away their visability and platform to society.

ps. shame the original poster got his post published and then goes quiet... cheap advertising mate!

Ed Sanford's picture

I am not adjusting the moral compass. I am trying to determine which way the needle points. If my compass points at a rapist, it says one thing. If it points to a technical but consensual situation, it says something else. Do you evaluate all laws as zero tolerance?

Iain Lea's picture

why are you intent on prolonging this thread.

sex offenders should be punished.

why dont you comment about how victims lifes and dreams are destroyed instead of pulling the thread back whether sex offenders should be punished nada nada.

do something useful this weekend and forget the offenders in the this world and give some thought to their victims.

Ed Sanford's picture

You can stop responding anytime you want to stop extending this thread. I'll bet I am 100 times tougher on crime and criminals than you will ever be. You are just unable to dissect a subtle point.... I understand that. You can have the last word if you wish....

Iain Lea's picture

no idea why you are chopping and changing your views... just following the general concensus and the way the wind blows. Either you are for it or against it! you cannot steam into my comments initally stating the accused maybe not guilty ("...First of all, what is a sex offender? To define this is critical because that label gets placed on many people by the justice system for many different actions...") and then your last comment stating you are tougher on crime and criminals than i am.

You cannot play on both sides of the conversation unless you want to be labeled an hypocrit! I will leave that decision upto you.

Pick _a_ view and stick to it.

ps. if you answer this thread again be so kind and let us all know your views concerning how society (and you?) could help sexual abuse victims more.

Ed Sanford's picture

I am not chopping or changing anything. You took a very black or white view with a photographer who took a picture of someone who turned out to be a sex offender. He wrestled with whether or not he should use that photograph in future work. He also expressed a level of concern as to whether he was doing an injustice by doing so. You basically said that he should remove those images. I think that's where we were. My only concern is that relative to sex offenses, the law handles a violent rapist in the same manner as one who has had a consensual relationship with an under aged person by placing their names on an offenders list for life. Regarding crime, I believe that criminals should be prosecuted vigorously especially for violent crimes. Moreover, victims should receive just compensation from the perpetrator as well as any social benefits for victims. Their situations clearly should be taken into consideration by the courts during sentencing. Now, I can actually play on both sides of the conversation just to stimulate discussion. My challenge to you after reading your post was that certain situations can be different. That's it. I am sorry that offended you, but it is a legitimate question. Anyway, I thought that you didn't want to keep extending this. So, again, you can have the last word.

Seems to me the intent is drawing attention to yourself. I took a picture. I am not sure what to do about another persons actions. I this and I that.....nonsense, delete the images and move on with it.

William Murray's picture

If you don't want to publish the images, then don't publish the images.

If you want to remove the images from your archive, then remove the images from your archive.

Your article seems to be framed as a legitimate question. Are you honestly going to allow the mob to determine your actions?

If you had taken a photo of Lee Harvey Oswald or some other famous criminal would you get rid of them? Not suggesting you would do a gallery show of famous felons, but photos are a record of our collective history.

Jeff Miller's picture

Deleting your work would be a shame and not necessary. We tend to think the world is watching us. In reality no one is watching. The chances of someone who sees your work on this subject will recognize this guy is a trillion to one. And if they do - who cares. Of course if you have moral issues I can't help with that. My advise is DON'T DELETE AND DON'T NOT PUBLISH YOUR WORK!