(The following is excerpted from Best Business Practices for Photographers, Second Edition, by Black Star photographer John Harrington.)
Early in my career, when I was approached by my photo agency, Black Star, to be represented by them, I was overwhelmed with excitement.
A confluence of circumstances, including their regular photographer being on a long-term assignment out of town and their losing local assignments because of this, coupled with the quality of my work and my ability to begin working for them more so than “one here, one there” assignments, immediately meant I was the obvious choice for them.
When I shared this exciting news with two of my closest friends and (I thought) confidants, one of them, behind my back, actually called the agency to try to bump me and take that position.
The photographer’s representative called me and said, “Hey, we really want to work with you, but why would [the photographer] call us and tell us they heard we were looking for another photographer and offer to be that photographer?”
My next opportunity to address this with my “friend” was when he came over to my photo department’s photo lab, where I was processing all his film for free (with my supervisor’s permission). After loading the E-6 processor and turning on the lights in the darkroom, I asked about it.
The response I got was, “Hey, we’re all going to be in competition someday, so it’s fair game.”
It took all of my willpower not to flip the top of the processor open and ruin the film I was processing for free, but I did not. Although I did alter what I disclosed to this person from that day forward, I do continue to answer questions about how to price an assignment for this person from time to time. Yet I’ve never forgotten that backstabbing experience. But, I did everything I could to take the high road, and I do not regret doing so.
Do I consider that photographer my enemy? No, I do not.
Dictionary.com defines an enemy as “a person who feels hatred for, fosters harmful designs against, or engages in antagonistic activities against another; an adversary or opponent.”
Frankly, I don’t know any people toward whom expending that much energy is worthwhile. Having hateful feelings toward a person is an enormous waste of energy that can become all-consuming, and that energy can be better expended by doing something good.
The Best Revenge
Sometimes, just ignoring a person who you think you might want to hate is the best solution. I am not suggesting you don’t experience anger about things, but anger subsides naturally. Hate usually festers if left unresolved. And sometimes simply leading your life along a path of success is the best, most unintended form of revenge.
William Somerset Maugham was an English playwright who had one of the broadest audiences in the West. He was also, in the early part of the 20th century, reported to be the highest-paid playwright.
He once said, “The common idea that success spoils people by making them vain, egotistic, and self-complacent is erroneous; on the contrary, it makes them, for the most part, humble, tolerant and kind. Failure makes people bitter and cruel.”
To that end, live up to Maugham’s sentiment. On the rare occasion when you encounter someone for whom a negative karmic bank account is a way of life and who sees nothing wrong with backstabbing you, instead of engaging this person, getting enraged, or flying off the handle, take the high road.