It’s true: I’m not a great business person. I’m an artist. I don’t want to trick or coerce someone into collecting my work or scheduling a wedding. I want my business model to be a partnership, to fulfill a need, to inspire a smile or a thought or a memory.
I try to be a strong businesswoman, but I’m not aggressive or impassive enough. I can’t bring my self to justify any action with an “it’s just business” attitude.
Sometimes I wonder where our business ethics have gone. I know most people are honest and hardworking. Some just aren’t. Some are willing to toss people aside to get their buck.
When we see a gross violation of human decency in business, what should we do?
Here’s the situation that has me so steamed: A photographer volunteers to be part of a group that offers infant bereavement photography for families.
I’m a volunteer for this group. We are professional photographers who volunteer to go to hospitals when a baby has died or has been stillborn. When we get a call, we drop what we’re doing and race to the family’s side. These may be the only images ever made for these families. The images are retouched and are quite beautiful and moving. We provide prints and CDs and DVD slide shows with music for the families. Each session is emotionally challenging and requires up to 15 hours of shooting, processing, retouching and creating the final presentation. It’s a labor of love. Everything is provided free of charge.
Why do we do it? Because we can. We have a skill. The gratitude we get back from the families is priceless. It’s a gift to a family that has suffered an indescribable loss. It’s a way to mend a tiny tear in our broken world. We’re not special. It’s just what we do.
We certainly don’t do it to get more business. That’s sick and cynical.
Back to this new volunteer photographer. She works during the day for a company that has contracts with hospitals to photograph all the newborns. They photograph the babies — flash, flash, here’s your pics, give me your credit card. They are very aggressive with families and hospitals. They’re making a lot of money. Fine. They aren’t taking money away from me. I’m not a “hit and run” photographer.
This woman volunteers to be part of the infant bereavement group. Before she can go out on a session alone, she has to shadow a more experienced photographer to learn procedures, learn the best way to talk to families and handle the babies.
As soon as the two photographers get to the hospital, the new volunteer — the one who works for that aggressive company — pushes the other photographer aside, declares she’s works for this other company and takes the pictures. The kicker: when she delivered the pictures the next day, she CHARGES THE FAMILY for the work!
Mind you, this is a family who’s baby has just died. They were told they were getting beautiful fine art portraits that they could cherish. For free. Instead they get regular old snapshots and they have to pay for them. They pay. They want these photographs. Only later will they feel betrayed and abused.
What kind of disgusting human being does this? What kind of person poses as a volunteer to get her foot in the door to get more business? What kind of person pretend to care about people just to get their money?
This woman lied and cheated and stole – all in the course of 10 minutes — for money?
To take money from a family with a dead baby? Seriously?
This behavior is worse than unethical — it’s repugnant. Is the economy that bad that we have to stoop to exploiting a family’s grief to earn a living?
Do I know her name? You bet I do. We know who she is and we know what she did.
So I ask again. When we see a gross violation of human decency in business, what should we do?
(The infant bereavement organization is Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. It’s a great organization and worthy of support.)
>I think that you and the other volunteers should complain LOUDLY to the hospital. What she’s doing is wrong and kind of sick.But I do have to mention that I’m really turned off by the idea of photographing dead people at all. Oddly, the only photo I have of one of my great grandfathers is of him lying in his coffin. (Maybe that’s why it creeps me out.) I think it would be better for these families to move on after such a tragedy. I think photos of a baby that the could never take home would stall the healing process.That’s not to detract from what you do. If there’s a need for it and you can do a great job for free and make people feel better, go for it.But it seriously creeps me out.
>Maria,Thanks for your note. I understand your feelings about photographing the babies after their death. Please take a look at the photos on http://www.nilmdts.org to see the kind of work we do. It might not be want you expect.The organization was started because families were desperate for these images — we didn’t suggest it. Believe me, it’s the last thing I thought I would be doing. The families tell us the images are treasured and reminds them that this person did exist.I’ll post about how this issue progresses. I can tell you that the hospital doesn’t care. We’ve gone that route.
>I should add that we ONLY work with families that request our services. We NEVER force photography on anyone.
>It’s amazing that some people can sleep at night. Can the group somehow apologize to this family with a free portrait package later or a nice gift basket?I think this is such a lovely program. I have a friend who’s first baby died at birth of Trisomy X. They took some lovely photos of him that were not creepy at all – he was sweetly wrapped in a fluffy blue blanket with just his little face showing. You couldn’t tell if they had snapped the photos just prior to his death or after. They sent birth announcements only to those of us who knew what was going to happen. It brought her such comfort to have William’s short life celebrated by close friends and family.
>What gets me the most about this is that the photographer misrepresented the organization and blatantly went against one of the basic principles that it stands for. It isn’t as though there wasn’t a briefing beforehand and an understanding of what services were provided, although maybe there was a misunderstanding considering the photographer’s background (or perhaps a hidden agenda on behalf of the other agency?).This is such a difficult time for the family requesting such services and it is a testament to human kindness and compassion that people are so generous to provide this to those seeking it, especially with as challenging as I am sure this is to do. Unfortunately, a lack of integrity on behalf of one representative can taint the group’s image overall and can reflect poorly on everyone involved, especially to those people whose only experience with the group was through working with that individual. (And word of mouth spreads fast.)I hope that the organization finds some way to make it up to the family. I am interested to see how this is handled.
>utter disgust. Complain loudly to keep her out of the photography pool. She had to have known that it was the intent to give as a FREE gift in a parents worse moment
>Wow. I am shaking my head in disbelief.The organizational development consultant in me says that Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep needs ironclad policies, including agreements that photographers will sign, stating they will not charge, etc. This can be handled easily when there are strict rules in place that prohibit it. What it can’t handle is people having so much of their own “stuff” going on that they cannot see beyond themselves to someone else’s pain. But at least the families will be protected.Damn. I am really left speechless.HG
>Wow Jeane, that story is too hard to swallow. I truly believe that any person who lives life in such a selfish and immoral way, undoubtedly lives a punished life. Maybe not visible to us, but she has to be with herself forever.On a lighter note, once again I am so inspired by what a wonderful person you are. We are all better off with people like you in the world.
>Unbelievable. What Hildy said. And a letter to the CEO. And the newspaper. And every board member AND the board member's spouse, regardless of gender.Doing nothing…not an option.Mark
>Jeane, I am touched by the work that NILMDTS does – I had no idea there was such a project – absolutely wonderful. I visited the website and the photos are precious. Thank you for donating your time and talent!I think this photographer's name should be made public – what shameful, disgusting behavior. I just wonder how in the world she got away with it – can't the organization stand behind their commitment to provide artistic and sensitive photos free of charge?
>My name is Maria K. My son is a surving twin. His twin (my first born son) passed away a few weeks after birth. It has been almost 18 years now. The nurses were kind enough to take a pic of him but it is a color polaroid and, quite frankly, creepy looking but a photo nonetheless. . as he never left the hospital. I was fortunate enough that I had brought a camera to the hospital since he was alive for a weeks and had some snapshots – but nothing family oriented like you all do. I wish the organization was around then. It would have been wonderful. I love what this service does for families. So on to the topic, Volunteer or not – she should be removed from the organization. In addition you should keep tags on her to make sure she doesn't offer her services of that kind to anyone at a fee. Lastly, if you ever need a person to assist you at these shoots, I would love to volunteer myself.
>That photographer is a very sick person. I would like to think that maybe she didn't understand fully what was going on, but unfortunately in my own life I have seen so much wrong doing in the name of greed and "success." I wish you the best of luck in handling this matter in the best way possible.The work you guys do is amazing and beautiful both visually and spiritually. Thank you.
>I had never heard about this program and was very moved by the thoughtfulness and dedication of the volunteers. The positive impact of all those who put in their time, skills and emotions overshadow the wrongdoing by that one person by far. She will have to live with herself and without doubt should not be aloud to be part of this honorable volunteer group you are a part of. Her shortfall in human decency is tragic and sad but I hope it doesn't discourage or take energy away from all your efforts!! Hats off to you for all you do! I personally have not experienced losing a baby, but I can very well understand why a photo you can hold and look at would be a welcome aid in healing this tragedy. Sincerely, Andrea McCall