Lured by money and the promise that the photos would be kept private, many young models have posed nude for photographers. Yet, the agreement on privacy is often breached years later — and the photographs find their way to public eyes on the web.
In Singapore, this scenario has rung a death knell for the careers of many aspiring and amateur models.
Industry players estimate that more than 150 girls in Singapore have such stories to tell, yet, so far, no one has been taken to task for their actions, in large part because girls who plan to continue modelling fear being sabotaged further.
“There’s a risk if you get out there and talk about this industry because you don’t know who holds what (pictures) of you, you know?” said Dove Poh, an undergraduate who does freelance modelling on the side. “The moment you (start speaking up publicly), photographers’ computers will get ‘hacked’ and your stuff, whatever they happen to have that you may not even have seen before, will be released.”
And the victims of nude photo leaks have reason to think nothing can be done, as the images are usually downloaded and shared. The few who have tried to file police reports have been turned away and told their cases were civil disputes.
“They don’t want to talk about it; most of these girls want to let it go and hope everything disappears,” said Poh. “There’s nothing you can do, it’s out there already; all you can do is hope it dies off quietly.”
Victims can press criminal charges: criminal lawyer
That’s where many girls are mistaken, as a case can almost certainly be made out for the distribution of obscene content, says criminal lawyer Josephus Tan. The penalty: up to three months’ imprisonment, a fine or both.
“Whether or not the model and photographer had any agreement regarding the photos that were taken, if a photographer is found to have uploaded nude pictures onto the Internet, I believe an offence under this section can be made out,” he told Yahoo Singapore in an interview on the issue.
In fact, in more extreme cases where girls were molested or even convinced to perform sexual acts, criminal charges of outrage of modesty, molestation and rape can be pursued as well, said Tan.
If police decline to take on a case, however, a victim can still file a Magistrate’s Complaint against her offender, a route that would be more advantageously taken up with the assistance of a lawyer, he added.
It is also possible to proceed on civil charges, such as a breach in contract — and while many girls may not have it in black and white, Tan said a verbal contract is a valid one, too.
A civil suit would be more difficult, particularly as damages would have to be proved. Also, calculating losses and compensation is far less straightforward, said Tan, and, unlike criminal cases, civil suits must be lodged within six years of the time the incident occurs.
Both these options to seek justice then beg the next question — would enlisting the help of a lawyer be worthwhile, since most models feel they can’t afford it? Tan, who is Pro Bono Ambassador of the Singapore Law Society, said even if a model does not qualify for full legal representation, she can still seek advice at free legal clinics, widely available around Singapore.
Push for a new industry norm: contracts?
To better protect models from broken promises of photographers, some lawyers suggest the use of contracts with terms that will protect both parties.
What should these contracts include? Tan recommends getting down concrete details of the shoot, undertakings to avoid physical contact and unauthorised dissemination of pictures, and the amount of money agreed upon for the session, for instance.
He also proposed that agencies come up with contract templates that models can download and use before going for a shoot — a good idea for models Yahoo Singapore has spoken to, although girls will need to be educated on their importance and value.
Freelance model Jo Ann Chen, for instance, said it is “not so common” for models and photographers to sign releases when they do shoots.
“Not everyone (would draw up contracts) but there are still people who will do it if they are not so familiar with each other,” she said.
Beyond that, models like Chen and Poh have over the years developed their own ways of protecting themselves.
While Poh herself has never strayed beyond fashion photo shoots, the 23-year-old told Yahoo Singapore she is still careful to avoid accepting requests from any photographer she doesn’t know or trust.
She says she distinguishes the real photographers from the sleazy hobbyists by scrutinising their bodies of work. “True photographers will produce something that is different from others,” she said.
“Shoots are not done randomly, and a proper photographer will come prepared with a theme and a concept in mind… if you just want to snap some pictures for I don’t know what, then let’s not waste each other’s time.”
Giving photographers a bad name
Nude photo leaks don’t just affect models. Shockwaves from each scandal that occurs reverberate among the photographer community as well, in particular among hobbyists.
Even commercial photographers whom Yahoo Singapore spoke to say concerned girls are far more wary and less trusting, making the establishment of working relationships more difficult.
“It brings a bad name to photographers who actually do this as a profession,” said Todd Beltz, a full-time photographer with six years’ experience in Singapore. “I find it to be quite a shame that this is happening.”
Beltz said he does do nude shoots a few times a year, only when he is asked to do so, but these days models he works with express concern that he might pull a similar stunt on them.
He and fellow commercial photographer Barry Seah both stressed that proper photographers would never ask a model to strip or stray from an initial plan that is set for a photo shoot.
“I’ve heard stories of this happening and it’s quite shocking that the photographer would actually lead up to that kind of point where they take advantage of the model,” said Beltz. “It’s better to come across as forthright from day one.”
Seah says he and Beltz work mostly with full-time models, but even when approaching freelance models for test shoots, commercial photographers would always go to them professionally with a clear concept, going through contracts with real names, details and signatures clearly indicated in them.
Having seen the nude pictures that have leaked online, Seah said it was unfortunate that the girls ended up in those situations, as the photographs taken were not even artistically shot.
“A lot of these younger girls who don’t know about these professional photographers who do this may just go to whoever agrees to shoot them,” he said.
Photographers can be victims too
That said, Seah points out that there are bad eggs on both sides — he has learned of instances where models have manipulated photographers and nearly gotten them into trouble, hence the importance of contracts, which will protect both parties.
“There was a girl who went to a friend’s house, and said she wanted to try nude photography… so he took the photos, said they were not nice and deleted the shots in front of her, saying, ok, I’m not going to keep these photos because they didn’t work out,” he shared. “The next day, this girl reported him to the police, saying he forced her into nude photography… and he had no proof that she was the one who wanted to do the shoot.”
Photographers like Seah and Beltz say they do try to give models advice on shooting with photographers whenever approached by someone unfamiliar, but noted that they can only help those who approach them.
“It still comes down to humanity; you must know how to handle things and take care of yourself,” said Seah. “What we can do now is to protect and advise, where we can, but we cannot control.”
Read Part I of this two-part feature series on nude model photo leaks, where models open up about their stories and bad experiences, here.