Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What Kind of Disgusting Person Does This?

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.)