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Forced to take a photo: Can turning down a shoot be considered discrimination?

While it is highly unlikely you will ever encounter legal trouble for turning down a shoot, consider this: If you are hired to shoot a client whom you determine you want nothing to do with, then turn down the shoot, could you be taken to court? In New Mexico, this has been proven to be an actual risk.

Over the past 12 years, I have been asked to be involved with a couple of situations that I turned down based upon principals - and morals:
- Two years ago, a record label that has hired me to shoot several of their heavy metal bands wanted to hire me to shoot a death metal band, whose name I will decline to list in this blog entry. This band's graphic artwork, on both their albums & shirts, is meant to shock and offend. Generally, I can handle that. I don't mind jostling folks up a bit! But in this case, the band had gone too far! This bands artwork features certain religious idols for major religion(s) cut open, splayed out, and otherwise represented in a manner that is purposely meant to reach the bottom of many people's core beliefs and offend them. As I said, jostling folks up a bit is fun - but there is absolutely no need to go this far, and I wanted nothing to do with it.

After initially declining the engagement due to being "unavailable", the label then let me know that things were running behind and the deadline could be pushed back. They requested that I list my availability - they really wanted to work with me, after having seen the images I had created for bands in similar genres. I was in a bind, unwilling to lie, but also not wanting to get myself blacklisted by a label. I again replied letting them know that I was unavailable, and unfortunately would be so for the foreseeable future. Even after this reply, I received two attempts from the band's management.

- Around 2003, a graphic designer who had utilized my images in two albums featuring beautiful photo collages of my work had requested permission & licensing for an album by another band. This band had a name that I considered to be extremely offensive. In this case, I did explain to my contact that I was unable to approve this usage for that reason. While the artist was frustrated, it was water under the bridge, and our relationship continues today.

While these are fairly simple situations, and while I feel that I reserve the right to turn down an offer of work based upon any reason, photographer Elaine Huguenin found that turning down work because you do not want to be associated with what is represented can be a costly and news-making decision. (Will's Note: Elaine declined the non-music related work for personal reasons that are not representative of my feelings or thoughts on the issues. I do, however, see that parallels can be found in the Music Photographer community.)

Here is an article discussing Elaine's situation:
New Mexico Photographer guilty of discrimination for failing to photograph ceremony, slapped with nearly $7k in legal fees

Please share your thoughts on this issue

- Will Hawkins


Hey Will, Send them to me next time, I have no morals. . jk. haha.
But yea, if you do not feel comfortable doing something because of your beliefs then you should be allowed to deny it.

As for the link you posted, I did not read the whole thing, but they should be allowed to deny that unless they had a contract with them to shoot. Its your fault if you get your self into a legal contract to shoot something without knowing all the details.

Does a "Human Rights Commission" have court powers in New Mexico? In any case, I can understand the decision (not that I agree with it) if the considerations all revolved around anti-discrimination which would seem to be the purview of this government arm. And I would expect it to be overturned once reviewed by a "real court." I think such laws are needed so that "Pro-Life" (I consider that an oxymoron) pharmacists cannot withhold properly prescribed medications at their whim and similar horrors which were big news items for a time. Of course, we all appreciate that government has no common sense and that public servants often serve only themselves and their personal views ... don't get me started on that. But in the instant case, there is clearly a need to consider the sensibilities of both parties Given how easily some folks are "offended" and the litigious nature that seems to prevail in our country, I am not surprised at such a case and cannot imagine that there is any other way than lawsuit to resolved the claims, sigh.

Dwight McCann