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Sunday, 8 November 2015

Who's going to deal with the problem of sexual harassment?

So then. Aritry Das has named Manik Katyal, editor of Emaho Magazine as a harasser and sexual predator on Facebook. And following her outing, many other photographers described their experiences on the blog below.

I don't know if having a blog focussed only on Katyal is a good thing - but I can understand the frustration, resentment and rage (that in India has been going on for years and years) that must be felt at seeing Katyal gladhanding it at places like Paris Photo, Fabrica, Kassel, ISSP, New York, Tokyo after being a serial harasser in India for so many years. He's not loved by many in India, and there is a sense of gobsmacked disbelief that he was so successful in other parts of the world. How come the Europeans are so dumb! Let's put it that way.

Katyal has been communicating with women in a similar way in Europe and other parts of Asia for many years. You're a woman, you're on Facebook. The proposition is likely to come. Very few people in Europe are at present willing to put their names forward publically, though many, many do so privately or in public gatherings.

The problem is while Katyal was known by many to be a sleazebag of the first order, in Europe, people (writers, editors, curators, festival directors etc) were promoting him and saying he was a great guy - including me. I apologise for that. Which only increased the reluctance of people in India, or South Korea, or Japan to come forward.

We're all connected in other words. We have a responsibility to who we like on Facebook, who we Share and all the rest of it. The problem is social media and photography culture is based on being positive. When things go bad, there's no easy way to take it back. And even if there is, if you have said this person's great and then it turns out they are not, the easy thing to do is pretend you didn't say it. The easiest thing is to ignore the problem.

This is not a problem that should be ignored. But at the moment, apart from a few organisations, this is something random individuals are trying to tackle on an isolated international basis.

But surely this is something the big photographic organisations and festivals should be dealing with. And this would help in people feeling the need to have social media witch-hunts - these are not good.

Photographic organisations need to take some responsibility for their actions and their influence (which they are always happy to proclaim in good times). They need to put policies in place that have some kind of strategy that can make it unacceptable for people to use portfolio reviews, workshops or lectures as opportunities to hit on the female (or male) participants.

And there should be an organisation that oversees this, something that has the ability to deal, on an globally institutional level, with the kind of opportunistic harassment and exploitation that the above case exemplifies.

At the weekend there was a really successful conference in London called Women in Photography. This wasn't about the issues mentioned above, it was about representation of women in photography and it sounds like it was brilliant. But there should be an organisation that does deal with and advocate on the issues mentioned above. It shouldn't be down to random individuals or random blogs. It needs something more.

So I'll throw this out there. Who's going to deal with this? I'm not. Who is?

Or, maybe it's not really a problem. And we can just ignore it.


Anonymous said...

Went to school with him, always been a creep right from those days. And that he has gone away with molesting several women because none of them came forward, specially later on as they were either new or his myth was huge. Being fairly well off he could travel to festivals around the world with just having the weight of one magazine and nothing of his own photographic output. With the numbers of social media likes he literally bought his credibility. The myth was built and the west lapped it up. On another note buying credibility through social media numbers has become a norm and even the known faces in our circuit are doing it, one of whom was a major part of a photo festivsl recently. Perhaps another monster is being born.

colin pantall said...

Absolutely - how social media was used (and is still being used), the relationship between surface reputation and a reluctance to speak, and the ultimate connectedness of it all shows photography to be just another area where neo-colonial patriarchal hierarchies hold sway.

It is complete bullshit!

And while the stored up anger has resulted in a social media hate campaign (which is not really a good thing - but I understand why it happened and the necessity of naming a name - and the bravery in doing this) that appears to be limited to India, it should be understood that this is an international problem that goes beyond just one person.

We are all responsible for it in other words, and if we don't recognise this - and our own stupidity and failures, then we are worth nothing. We can't pretend that we aren't part of the problem - when we helped create the problem.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, I wonder how far this lind of idea could go. I mean, a body regulating the way relationships are conducted in photo reviews? Why not the same for the local supermarket? Or for meeting at the pub? Or for any place men and women are going to meet?
There is, in a way such a system in place, at least in the West. It's called the law. Use it. Learn to be confident in it.

eva said...

Thank you for talking about this. It is a difficult and unpleasant subject matter, names dropping and public hate campaigns are unpleasant as well, but, as you point out, Colin, understandable. It takes guts to come out in the open.

This is by far not something limited to India. Abuse of ones position in the industry is happening, manipulating behavior is happening.

I think the least we can and should do, if we are in the knowing and 100% sure (and not go by "I've heard.. XY has said"!), is to stop working or collaborating with that person, and be honest to whom asks us directly for advice or feedback if working for them or not.

It is not always easy to stand up, but if I do not stand up for myself, why should others?

Rob Godden said...

Thanks for putting this out there. Having worked as an NGO professional for most of my career I know that similar issues arise at international conferences in that sector. It is relatively simple for organisers to implement anti-sexual harassment guidelines, make these known to participants, and set up a confidential reporting mechanism for anyone wishing to complain. There are existing examples of this practice which can be used by festival organisers as a starting point.

Anonymous said...

I know Manik a little and like everyone else, was quick to categorize him as a creep when I first met him / starting getting flirtatious messages from him. I've met him on a number of occassions after that at photo events/festivals. I made it very clear to him from the beginning that it was never going to happen, and that his position meant nothing to me. He quickly stopped chatting me up and we could finally have normal conversations. I've had this discussion with a lot of people in the industry before and I always said 'He's not a bad guy, he's just an idiot.' It's mostly because I never really felt threatened by his advances, I just thought he was just another stupid Indian male who wouldn't shut up. I was shocked to learn that he physically molested some women. And he's surely not the only one. Sure, he's being targeted because of his hypocritical self-defense tactic of setting up an anti-harassment cell, and he's being targeted by (some) women who didn't have the guts to tell him off to his face because they were more interested in protecting their own careers. If they were so offended by his messages, they wouldn't have laughed it off at the time. If nobody agreed to take his bullshit and told him off straight up, maybe he would have stopped trying his stunts with others. Obviously he kept going because on some level he thought it worked. I think it's great that this subject has been put on the table, but public shaming and bullying on social media is herd mentality, and is far from solving the problem.

Anonymous said...

I saw my UK-based photographer girlfriend receive a variety of salacious messages from Katyal earlier this year. In between come-ons were promises to connect her to various "powers" in the industry. This messaging continued even after she politely mentioned she had a boyfriend, up to the point when she blocked him from Facebook.

Over the course of a month, I casually mentioned this incident to three different female friends in London and was quite taken aback when they all quickly said "yeah, something similar happened to me too". At this stage, it'd be quicker and easier for me to make a list of all my female friends who have NOT been harrassed by this individual.

Anonymous said...

Every photographer with an up to date understanding of decent behaviour ought to withdraw their work from the magazine immediately.

Anonymous said...

If we are discussing putting rules of conduct in place for communication between sexes at foto festivals then we also have to start discussing public shaming and hate campaigns.

Two things here make me extremly uneasy: the alleged behaviour of Mr Katyal

And the way it was made public on social media.

It seems he acted absolutly stupid and idiotic and had it comming but if we want to live in a decent society were man and women respect each other I think its a bit hypocritical to accept public shaming where you can just destroy the life of someone by claiming something about him.

Maybe it is justified in this case, but who is going to decide it? If we accept this on a general basis we are right back in the middle ages and putting people on a burning stack.

This is by no means intended to justify his behaviour. A clear No should mean No of course. But I think its a necessary comment.

Anonymous said...

I'm very happy this subject is finally being talked about, not only because I was personally subjected to Manik's utter sleaziness, but also because it's an overdue discussion to be had about an epidemic in this profession in general. Manik is a small part of the problem - he is the one being talked about now - but this behavior has been common practice across the industry for so many years. Starting from my professor in college, to editors at portfolio reviews when i was starting out, to photographers and editors at international photo festivals. As a female photographer, it's always something I have to be aware of when dealing with my male counterparts. For a long time I thought of it as something that 'comes with the territory'. i just had to work around it and not allow it to get in the way of my hard work and talent.

i feel that a lot of discussions around photography are stale, repetitive, defeatist and they victimize photographers at their core: Is photojournalism dead, digital or film, what's it like being a woman photographer!! I just can't take anymore of these discussions that absolutely go no where. This discussion however does what all others don't - it cuts to the jugular with no shortcuts. I would really like to see the young generation of female photographers (and males if they are subjected to this behavior as well..i'm actually curious if they are or if this one sided) read this and know this behavior is never acceptable and they should know it's about their work - is and will always be about their work. There are no shortcuts in this profession and hard work is the only way forward. It may take you time to get there, but when you do you will always have your self respect in hand and you will be so proud of your achievement. Manik is a perfect example. He came out of nowhere and became a perceived star of this 'photo world' and look where he is now. I put a stop to his nonsense immediately, but from what I've been reading, some women were worried about his potential influence on their career.

Thank you Colin and everyone else who is talking openly about this.

colin pantall said...

I agree the social media trial is unfortunate and ugly and that what is needed is a system that makes this kind of behaviour unacceptable. One of the reasons that social media has been resorted to is because there is no institutional solution - and hundreds of women around the world are talking about the problem. And being ignored. Completely. And that provides opportunity and shelter. Institutions need to lead. And they are not doing so, so are part of the problem.

Other institutions do address the problem as I have mentioned. I work in a university and although there are problems in academic circles (as mentioned above), I know that if somebody systematically propositioned students and offered good grades for sex on a serial basis, they would be out of a job oh-so-quick.

That is what should be addressed. Absolutely. So get in touch with your big photographic organisations and ask what they are doing. And do it publically so if there is no answer, or a negative answer, people are aware that these organisations don't take the problem seriously.

Stan B. said...

If social media is the only venue listening and acting, then so be it until the others catch up. It's a helluva lot better than continued silence and inaction. It may get "ugly," but certainly no uglier than what's been allowed to happen unimpeded...

There's certainly a sizable enough number of women in positions of power in the arts today (well, more than people of color), it's time for them to coalesce, form coalitions and act to change this abuse. Yes, I know it will take a concerted effort from everyone responsible, but let's not kid anyone- they will have to take the lead: first, on educating everyone to the extent and prevalence of this abuse, secondly, on establishing the necessary norms and sanctions for prevention, identification and accountability.

Anonymous said...

Yes, he came on to me via facebook as well. Commenting on my looks and asking if I was single. All the comments just seemed like efforts to see how far he can push me to flirt back. I had to be aggressive right at the onset and then the he focused on talking photography but it came up again and he had to be reminded, to be put back in his place. After those two occasions, he stuck to photo conversations but I had to be defiant for it, twice. I can only imagine what a young woman would do? Probably feel pressured into his influence and be taken advantage of. I applaud your post!

Anonymous said...

So one of the scumbags has been named now. How convenient he's from India. Who has the guts to name the european festival organizer(s) and editor(s) of european photography magazine(s) who "invited" countless women to their hotel rooms?

Stan B. said...

Great point, Anonymous #?- I'm sure they come in all sizes and colors, and the big ones definitely need to be outed as well, not just the low hanging fruit...

Anonymous said...

In an industry where people like Terry Richardson and such are glorified it is expected that some curators, gallerists and so on would behave in the same manner.

Anonymous said...

There are quite a few troubling aspects to this episode. "He's not loved by many in India, and there is a sense of gobsmacked disbelief that he was so successful in other parts of the world. How come the Europeans are so dumb!" Is that really true that he is not really loved by many in India? Just check the number of people who willingly collaborated with him. That includes co-directpr of a festival this guy has organised, who incidentally also happens to be a woman. Did she not know what was going on? Many Indian photographers benefited professionally through his contacts and network to get assignments. Some of them knew what was going on for months if not for years, but chose to keep quiet, just to advance their careers. We are talking about serious professional and ethical hypocrisy here. That leads to another point. There is an implication that Indians can be dumb but not Europeans. Where is that coming from? I also have a very serious objection to some people essentializing this as an Indian man thing. No. This is not about an Indian man. This is about a man who has sexually harassed. He can be from any part of the world. This smacks of a recent british documentary India's Daughter by Leslie Udwin trying to portray Indian men as rapists.

colin pantall said...

That last comment - about dumbness. I think it's the other way round.

It's not an Indian Man thing. But it is an abuse thing, and it is a man thing and it is about somebody operating in places where there is no recognition the problem exists and no recourse for those who experience the problem. Where you have no recognition or recourse (as in photography, as on the Paris or Tokyo metros, as for maids in gulf states, as blah blah blah) you have more abuse.