Take the High Road with Backstabbing Colleagues


(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?”

Fair Game

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.


6 Responses to “Take the High Road with Backstabbing Colleagues”

  1. Great post. Despite your negative experience I see that you rose above. When I was younger and used to hear the cliché that the best revenge was living well, I thought it was just that--a cliché. Now that I am a little older I realize that the best revenge is not just living well, but not even thinking about revenge. You then focus on what is good and furthermore, it drives the other person batcrazy that you aren't thinking about them, which can be a source of humor later. Thanks for sharing your story. Appreciated.

  2. Another great and very relevant (at least to me) photography post regarding the business end of it.

    I agree, you've got to take the high road, once you of course protect yourself as much as possible.

    Earlier this year two new photography friends invited me to join them in a photography business they were just starting to conceptualize. Long story short, a few months after that everything dissolved and I learned more about their ethically questionable business practices and was glad to not be associated with them anymore, even though they deceived me into releasing the business domain name to them.

    This experience has not soured me on partnering or working freelance with local photography colleagues. I am just now much more careful about who I associate with having gained valuable experience earlier this year.

    Mr. Harrington, way to resist not opening the top of the processor!

  3. You made the best move: showing you're more mature.
    thanks for the article

  4. Thanks John. Fortunately I have never been a victim of this kind of malice (that I know of), but I'll be sure to remember this should it ever happen. Thanks again.

  5. man I'm not sure I could have taken the high road on that one. I'm pretty sure I would have never spoken to that person before. I'm impressed.

  6. i work in a firm dat i am 2nd in command to my boss.this position alone makes me privy to almost all management decisions before the rest of the staff,i can tell you for free ,dis has brought untold antagonism from my colleagues despite the fact dat i show them love by covering up when necessary by trying not to give queries (even when they truly deserve it),by not deducting from their salaries as penalty for wrong doing e.t.c.this has been a source of worry for me for a while now,but thanks to you,i will make use of your approach by simply ignoring them.

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