Olly Olly Oxen, Free! – Who Art Thou O Anonymous Commenters?

Remember when you were a kid and you’d play hide and seek? Ah, those were the days. Remember what you’d used to yell when you wanted everyone to come out of hiding? You’d scream, “Olly, olly, oxen, free!” Well, I’m calling “olly olly oxen free” to the anonymous blog commenters of the world.

This post was prompted by a few comments on my post last week where I lamented the homogenization of the photo and video worlds.  In that post, I included two promo videos to illustrate my point. One by Florida photographer Scarlett Lillian, and the other by Arkansas photographer Lauren Harris. The latter had a promo video that was almost shot for shot identical to Scarlett’s. It struck me as funny and a good extreme example of my point.

Then an anonymous commenter (aka “Nobody”) said it was a joke using Scarlett because this person felt Scarlett was a knock off of famed Orange County photographer Jessica  Claire. Then another anonymous commenter (aka “Somebody”) said the it was absurd to even mention Ms. Lillian (whose last name is actually Williams) in the same sentence as Ms. Claire. (Seems to be a lotta love for Ms. Claire out there. Hey, do you think Jessica worries about imitators of her as much as other people worry about imitators of her? Just curious. But, I digress). Then a third anonymous person (I’m assuming he/she was anonymous because the name they left was “Dick Dastardly” and the website they left was imadick.com)…anyway, this person left a comment asking me to comment on the short film “Engage” being a knock off on Vincent Laforet’s “Reverie.”

So, I started thinking, why don’t they just own up who they are? What are they afraid of?  That Scarlett will open up a can of whoop-ass on them? (I don’t think she’s that tough). Or that the creators of “Engage” (PhotographyMentor.com co-founders Robert Evans and Curt Apanovich) will not invite them to their next big Vegas bash? (Rob’s such a nice guy, I’m sure he’d forgive you.) Or were they afraid of me? (which I find hard to believe because I’m really not all that scary). It’s just baffling.

For what it’s worth, I have more respect for anonymous commenters when they are praising someone, or giving a generous cash donation. When you leave an anonymous comment to bash somebody (even if that person may deserve it), I think it’s cowardly. (Unless you’re giving the FBI 411 on some mafioso or something and your life’s in danger). Otherwise, be a man/woman and say who you are. Or, don’t say anything at all.

So, I’ll be happy to address and answer your comments if you would be so kind as to tell us who you really are. Or, get someone braver than you to claim your comment on your behalf.  Don’t worry, we won’t know the difference. Well, actually, I might if the I.P. address is different than the original. I considered publishing the I.P. addresses of the anonymous people, but I decided against it. That wouldn’t haven been cool.

Am I off base here? What do you think? Anonymous comments welcome, despite this post. 🙂

36 thoughts on “Olly Olly Oxen, Free! – Who Art Thou O Anonymous Commenters?

  1. You live and die for what you stand for so I’m a firm believer in posting your dang name! People who know me know I speak my mind, whether it be good or bad. It has gotten me in trouble and it’s also earned me respect. If you’re too concerned about being “PC” then simply don’t post.

  2. Ron,

    This is a heavily-interconnected industry and I think it’s understandable that someone would want to say something anonymously that they would never say with their brand or face attached.
    Maybe it’s cowardice, I don’t know – I hesitate to call people cowards because they don’t want to get ripped apart. Even people who will use their proper name/biz online in forums and on blogs are wary about having someone harass them for something they said or something someone else said they said. People with time on their hands and a vindictive nature can really screw with you.

    I saw a stat once from Jeff Caplan that only a small percent of DWF users actually post comments…gee, I wonder why…

    If you intend this blog to always be a discussion where people have to own what they say, maybe you should not allow anonymous comments.

  3. I agree Ron. If someone is going to comment negatively or put an unpopular opinion out and not stick their neck out, there is no reason to address or listen to it.

  4. the anonymity of the internet is something i’ve been marveling at a lot lately. i’ve gotten at least 15 nasty comments on my ENGAGEMENT from, of course, anonymous commenters. jasmine star gets nasty comments all the time as well. if we get really good ones, we’ll occasionally email them back and forth and laugh about them. once you’ve gotten one or two, they don’t quite have the same punch the commenters probably wish they do.

    as far as whether or not i care about imitators–no. and if i did, scarlett wouldn’t be one of them because she has her OWN style and is an absolutely lovely person!

  5. @rich Thanks for the comment. I hear ya. I can certainly understand people wanting to be careful of their public persona. And I MIGHT be more respectful of an anonymous comment that was heavily criticizing if I felt it was well thought out and offered something truly positive for the industry. But, the comments I referred to were more like vindictive jabs. And the link left by Dick Dastardly was just silly.

    Yes, this is a very interconnected industry. I still feel that if you’re going to criticize someone, own up to who you are. If someone is that concerned about protecting their persona, then just don’t comment. (prov 17:28 is a fave of mine).

    Unless a comment is overtly spam, or has inappropriate language or links, I will leave it be, anonymous or not. (FWIW, I left the link from “Dick Dastardly” because the website itself is more of a political bashing site as opposed to an sexually explicit one).

  6. Nicely said, Ron.

    So many people in our industries spend enormous time creating their online personality to attract their target audience, and posting something that’s less than friendly would potentially harm this “virtual personality” (aka, their “brand”). I believe that an individual’s true personality is revealed when they think they are not being watched or when they are in a “safe place” free from recognition.

    I have the most respect for those who build their brand (virtual personality) around who they REALLY are. Hmm……just be yourself…..What a concept, eh? If you are who you say you are, then you shouldn’t be fearful of speaking your mind. Those who follow your brand will know what to expect.

    Rich Mattingly…..when you say that it’s “understandable that someone would want to say something anonymously that they would never say with their brand or face attached”, it sounds to me as if you really mean “it’s ACCEPTABLE that someone would…”. Based on what I wrote above, I understand WHY people don’t want to attach their brand to a comment……but I do NOT believe that it’s ACCEPTABLE behavior.

    Just like my Mum used to tell me…..”if you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

    Just my .02

  7. Jessica – the thought that you got negative comments about your recent engagement is mind-boggling (I just read the post and that was incredibly sweet – congrats, you guys look perfect together). That sucks and you must have some seriously, seriously thick skin.

    The first wedding I ever shot 4 years ago was for a Wedding Bee blogger and the first thing she did after booking us (with only a military photojournalist’s portfolio and no wedding experience) was forward me your blog 🙂 I was blown away and, yes, we would not have a blogsite otherwise.

    Ron – I was thinking proverbs, too, lol.

  8. Hmmm…maybe it’s because they don’t want to be bullied? I have to say that the way you handled this whole thing with Lauren Harris rivals the bullying that I remember from grade school, in cruelty and maturity. If you had problem with her video then the kind thing to do would have been to contact her and tell her so, maybe open a dialogue with her and discuss it, not use her as some punch line for a controversial blog post.

    Personally I think that people in the industry spend so much time looking at other photographer’s blogs etc.. that they begin to think their clients do the same thing. I have a bludomain site, it’s the Juliet, it’s the same as about a million other photographers websites and you know what almost every single one of my clients say to me? They say “I love your website and your work! I’ve never seen anything like it!” Now I know there are tons of websites like mine, and tons of photographers that are somewhat similar and even better than me, but that just doesn’t matter when it comes down to it.

    Lauren, for example, is being compared to Scarlett Lillian for her video or whatever, well here’s the thing, no one in Lauren’s state, or even 3 states away, have a video like her. Lauren’s clients have absolutely no idea who Scarlett Lillian is, so if Lauren and Scarlett both have a fast paced video with the same song, it really doesn’t matter at all to the clients. (A song by the way that was sung by Ciara so I don’t think either can lay claim to it).

    And I happen to know Lauren personally, I consider her one of my best friends, and she doesn’t care even a little about being a “superstar”. She doesn’t attend workshops or conferences, she doesn’t spend all day looking at blogs and I don’t believe she has ever made a comment on one photographer’s blog. She truly keeps to herself and just tries to run a successful business. She is about to open an amazing studio, has a loyal client base, and has achieved great success in a very short time. She was made aware of this blog post by a friend (not me, I had never even heard of you) and her philosophy on the entire thing is “ah…whatever, I don’t sweat the small stuff”. In fact it’s probably even less than small stuff to her, it’s more like the stuff buried deep under the small stuff. I just found it extremely irritating so I suppose I sweat the small stuff a little more than her. But again, her clients have no clue who you are, and nor do they care so she will go on having a successful studio and I suppose next week you’ll find someone new to pick on.

  9. @Avery. Hmmm? I’d hardly call what I did to Lauren “bullying.” I made an objective observation. Perhaps the most critical thing I wrote was that I found it funny and I thought it inferred a lack of creativity. Did you see the two videos? Was I wrong in that assessment? It goes beyond just using the same song.

    As far an anonymous commenters not wanting to be bullied, again, I ask you to read the comments to which I referred. They weren’t diplomatic nor did they really offer any substantive discourse to the topic at large. I bet if they left a fair critique about whomever they had a problem with, and did so respectfully, they wouldn’t be”bulled.” But, they way they did it opens them up more to attack than anything.

    And I think Lauren’s attitude about “ah, whatever” is probably healthy. My blog post was not meant to personally attack her, nor was it even ABOUT her. I think any critical judgments made about her come from the empirical evidence that the video was such a clear duplication of Scarlett’s. And as I pointed in the blog, I criticized both for using a copyrighted song in their promos.

    Nor was I trying to make Scarlett out to be some hero or “trend setter.” It was just the best example I’ve seen of the whole homogenization issue. I’ve been seeing a lot of videos lately that all seem to look and sound alike. Lauren’s was just the most egregious I’ve seen.

    And I’m sure you’re right that many of her clients (and your clients) don’t see the other videos and websites that are so similar to yours. But, I bet there are many brides who do given the “digi-flat” world we live in. Hey, if one’s business is doing well, more power to them. My blog post was just a commentary on a trend I’m seeing. There are many pros and benefits to working on a unique brand that go beyond whether the local clients who hire you see your competitors. I’ll save that discussion for another topic. 🙂

  10. Trevor – you’re right, it’s unjustifiable to defend someone’s anonymous attacks. I was just thinking in broader terms as far as why and how someone would justify their anonymous actions to themselves.

  11. Rich – I figured it was unlikely that you were in fact defending their attacks, and wanted to clarify “understandable” vs “acceptable”.

    It’s too bad that these people need to justify their actions.

    Jessica – I love your comment “if you can’t put your name on your opinion, you don’t deserve to have one”. It’s cool to hear that you don’t let the harsh comments get to you, especially when they’re sending nasty stuff about your engagement. That’s so rude! I’d love to see you rant about that in a “shoot the $h!t” episode 🙂

  12. Well honestly I don’t agree with making negative anonymous comments, but I can see why someone would be fearful of a backlash. But I do feel that you should be willing to stand behind a statement. And when I say “bullied” I don’t mean that you pulled her hair and called her names or anything, but it’s obvious that you have some influence and I think you had to know that when you posted that blog that it could potentially be hurtful to her both personally and professionally. It’s not even exactly what you said or how you said it, but just that you said it at all. I think you could have made your point just fine without using her video.

    And I definitely believe establishing a strong brand is important, and establishing a strong web presence and a stronger brand is a huge goal for me in the coming year, but I also recognize that there are people who have not done that and are still very successful, and like you said…more power to them.

  13. @Avery. I can see what you mean. And I think it’s admirable you’re standing up for your friend, w/o being anonymous. 😉 But, I gotta say, her video is public. I mean, it’s not like I outted her or anything. If you post a PUBLIC video that so blatantly “borrows” from another earlier video, how can I be the one hurting her professionally? (Esp. if as you say, her brides aren’t even seeing the other video. I don’t think her clients read this blog) It’s a public video. From what I was told, there were already discussions about the video on some popular photog forum. Again, I”m really not trying to attack or belittle Lauren. I guess as a video producer, I’m more sensitive to when I see such egregious copying of someone else’s work (unless you’re doing a spoof or satire where copying is called for).

  14. First off, PLEASE do a post on your quote here (!):

    “There are many pros and benefits to working on a unique brand that go beyond whether the local clients who hire you see your competitors. I’ll save that discussion for another topic”

    Secondly, a thought just occurred to me.

    Is it possible that it was the producers of Lauren’s video that were ripping off Scarlett’s? That they saw hers online and thought “now there’s a successful photographer, let’s use HER concept” and the producers thought it would be ok because THEY are the ones lacking integrity?

    The reason why I say this is because, the music and quick flashy-ness of Lauren’s video doesn’t seem to fit with her personality at all, at least not what is shown in the video. She seems sort of soft-spoken, as opposed to Scarlett, who immediately strikes one as a former high school prom queen, and the music and video totally fit with her popular girl persona, unlike with Lauren, who just seems completely different.

    it’s almost like Lauren’s branding in the video was someone else’s idea. This fits with what her friend above said, because if it’s true that Lauren keeps to herself, then she might not have ever seen Scarlett’s video so wouldn’t have taken any issue with what her production company created. KWIM?

    IF this is true, then how do we as photographers hold our video production companies accountable? How do we ensure that they are acting with integrity and good business ethics? And not blatantly ripping off another video producers work?

  15. @jaime Whenever we work with a client (large or small), we do one of a few things: have them fill out a questionnaire about their company that illustrates their brand, have them complete a video brief, and/or if they are a larger company working with an ad agency, we’ll get any documents they have outlining the proper implementation of the client’s branding elements. If we should happen to deliver a version of a video that breaks some branding code for the client, the larger corporate clients (or any savvy client) will send it back and have us make the change. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant. The point is, the client is ultimately responsible for communicating to us what their brand is and working with us to make sure the videos we produce for them conform. They are also ultimately responsible for whatever they let go out with their company name on it.

    It is quite possible the Lauren didn’t have that much input in the making of the video and just went with the video producer’s output (you can see from the Vimeo video that the author of the video is not Lauren). Unfortunately, that actually makes her look worse. Why would anyone let a promo video go out publicly that didn’t adequately support their brand? Or worse yet, may have been opposite their brand?

    As far as how you can trust a video producer, the best way is to get a referral from a trusted colleague or friend. Look at testimonials. See how long they’ve been in business. Etc. But even then, you could wind up with someone with low scruples. You can never 100% be certain. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut.

  16. Hey Ron,

    I do find it interesting that you’ve called out this relative unknown for being unoriginal. But when Erik Dungan asked about the similarities between Reverie and Engage, you dodged it. I’d like to see an legitimate answer to a legitimate question. If you’re going to be a champion for originality, you should have the cojones to call out your high profile friends as well.

    This is my real name. 🙂

  17. Dare we even go in to detail the number of people Scarlett herself has copied? Or the number of people she used and stepped on to achieve her “status”? I’d tread carefully here…

    I cannot fathom why grown adults would take this “bathroom wall” approach to dealing with this situation. This is drama queen, high school, garbage.

  18. I have to agree with Avery. I don’t know Lauren or Scarlett or you for that matter Ron.. My first impression of you was that blog post about the promo videos, and immediately you came off as a mean-spirited person to me. As I mentioned in my comment on that post, you could have made your point without picking on Lauren, but you chose to get a good laugh at her expense instead. Yeah, maybe what she did was wrong, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

    The people who said those nasty things about Scarlett were out of line, as well, and clearly they are cowards for hiding behind internet anonymity. But at the end of the day, they essentially did the same thing you did.. They publicly accused someone of copying someone else. Anonymous or not, it’s a pretty mean thing to do.

  19. The conversation heats up. Okay. Let’s begin.

    @shane – with regards to Engage vs. Reverie, I wasn’t trying to dodge it. But if you want my opinion, here you go. Obviously, you can’t make a 5DMark II video about two beautiful people and a helicopter and not be compared to Laforet’s “Reverie.” Personally, I would have done something different. As you pointed out, Rob Evans and Curt Apanovich are friends of mine. But, I have no problem saying that I think their direction was not original. And one could make the argument their video is indicative of the problem I pointed out my original blog post. But, I also wonder, would Engage seem that much like Reverie if it DIDN’T have a helicopter? In and of itself, a video about two lovers meeting for a secret rendezvous is not original at all. I’ve seen a number of love story videos by wedding videographers who’ve told similar stories. I think it’s the helicopter and the night time city scape shots that puts Engage over the edge.

    To be perfectly honest, I have trouble watching Engage because the song they used is the same song I used for the promo I did for Dane Sanders, which was this nice, family man kind of video. Every time I hear that song, I think of Dane’s video. Engage has this half-naked women writhing around on the bed, so for me it’s a weird disconnect.

    Nonetheless, the similarities between Engage and Reverie aren’t nearly as bad as the ones between the two videos I posted.

    @corey – yes, I absolutely think you should list the people you believe she’s stepped on. If you make a public accusation, it’s only fair to back it up.

    @stacy – first, I’m sorry you think I’m a mean spirited person. I think if you knew me, you’d know that is not at all what I’m like. But, answer me this, how is what I did “mean”, or for that matter wrong. As I pointed out to to Avery, Lauren made the video public. Let me repeat… the video is PUBLIC. All I did was point it out. It’s not like she had some private secret she was keeping and I outted her without her permission. It’s a public video. If you do something less than ethical publicly, you can expect to be called out on it. And I’ll remind you again, I called out BOTH Lauren and Scarlett for using copyrighted music in these promos. All I did was display her PUBLIC video, that was an obvious COPY of another person’s video, and put it as an example in an ARTICLE about homogenization in the photo and video worlds. There’s nothing wrong about holding people accountable for public choices they make.

    A colleague of mine name Patrick Moreau is an amazing videographer out of Canada. He recently pointed out on his blog a company in Spain that downloaded one of Patrick’s videos, put THEIR logo on it, then uploaded to YouTube to pass it off as theirs. Was Patrick being mean spirited by pointing it out? Or do you think that only the artist being copies is allowed to point out when someone copies them?

    The irony is that you friends of Lauren keep bringing her up and in doing so, keep drawing more attention to what she did. The article was NOT about Lauren. I understand you’re defending your friend. I admire that. I really do. But the truth is, SHE made the choice to post the video. I just pointed it out. IMHO, there is nothing wrong in doing that.

  20. There is a very high-profile photographer I know (let’s call them ABC Studio) who is well known in the industry.. They discovered that another photographer was using some of their images in an advertisement. In reaction to this, ABC Studio proceeded to post a very vicious blog post on their business blog about it, calling the person a fraud, imposter, scam artist, etc. They also went to a very large forum and posted a thread about it. This created a lynch mob effect, and the woman who copied their photos (who claimed she did it because her daughter was very ill and she was desperate for money) got harassed via e-mail and phone for weeks. Her personal home address was even posted. The result of all of this was that ABC Studio came off looking petty, vengeful, hateful, immature, and unprofessional. I know for a fact they lost business because of it, because I had a bride hire me that told me they saw the blog post on ABC Studio’s website and it turned them off to working with such mean people. I know that the people at ABC Studio are not mean or hateful, but in calling that person out publicly, that’s how they got painted. They started off as the victims, and ended up looking more guilty than the person who copied them did.

    Obviously this situation is much different, and you were nowhere near that mean, but I think the moral of the story still applies… You can be justified in doing something, and it can still be the wrong thing to do.

    And to clarify, as I said before, I don’t know Lauren. I’m not her friend, I’ve never met her.

  21. @stacy – I read your comment on the other post and this one too. I apologize for assuming you were her friend. Again, I’m not attacking Lauren. If the video was just a coincidence and she can prove it, I’ll be the first one in line to publicly apologize.

    We may just need to agree to disagree. I do appreciate the time you’ve taken to comment and engage in the conversation.

  22. I actually do know Lauren. She truly is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. In fact, she second shot for me last season until she moved back to Arkansas for personal reasons. As a result, I happen to know she’s super talented – and I’m excited to hear from Avery that she’s doing so well back in Arkansas.

    Here’s the thing, as was already mentioned – none of Lauren’s clients are likely to know (or care) about the videos. They aren’t going to see Scarlet’s and they aren’t going to think she copied it from someone else.

    Now, I don’t think it really reflects Lauren’s personality – and in that respect, maybe it wasn’t the best marketing tool. Did she have malice? Or course not. She just likes Scarlet’s style – one glimpse at her images will tell you that. Is that bad?

    It’s only a bad thing in the sense that you can never be as good at being someone else as they already are. If you’re going to drive your value by being someone in demand – be yourself.

    So, Lauren has already removed the video from her site. I think this was the right move because it wasn’t the best reflection of Lauren’s style and personality – not because it was a “copy”.

    And that’s the point isn’t it? We should each strive to communicate who we really are – not communicate who we want others to see us as. I don’t think Lauren was trying to be Scarlet, she just happens to be inspired by her.

    I’m sure Lauren learned something valuable about how small the world is, and I’m sure she’ll continue to be successful in her business because she’s a talented photographer. I’m sure she’ll also figure out a better way to share her wonderful personality with her clients and they’ll continue to book her.

    As for anonymous commentators, I think that’s just cowardly.


  23. I don’t know how Jessica Claire can possibly post about wanting commenters to not post anonymously when the fact is ‘Jessica Claire’ isn’t even her real name…

  24. Back to the original topic, I believe that people in the “digital forum” age take anonymity to mean empowerment. They feel it gives them the ability to write anything they feel on a subject without retribution or an avenue where they will be forced to support their opinions with facts. I believe that fear of retribution is more of a motivator than cowardice. Attaching your name to an idea that is unpopular has become a dangerous thing in a world where people have the ability to use the internet to slander you.
    Unfortunately, this does water down most of the reasonable conversations you see on blogs, forums, and social websites. But given the climate we live in (well described by Stacey above), some people feel that they don’t have a choice but to keep it anonymous. It is true that others use that anonymity to be hateful and spiteful but that is the cost of allowing free speech. We could all censor our blogs, forums, twitters but would the comments that remain be as valuable.
    I probably fall on both sides of the “Originality” discussion. I believe that Ron had the right to offer his opinion and use examples to bring flush out his ideas on the phenomenon. I also believe that someone who partners with photographers and whose influence in the photography has grown due to that partnership should probably have contacted both photographers before they were thrown under the proverbial bus. If he had received Laurens opinions on the subject in advance, it would have made for a better story, a more complete story and certainly one with more journalistic integrity. My wife asked me if I would have contacted the photographers and I told her that I would have treated the situation as if both photographers were good friends of mine. Would I have called them and told them what I was writing about. The answer would have been yes, so I would have done so for the story.
    That being said, thank you Ron for giving me something to think about today. F-Stop Beyond is one of the few photography podcast I listen to and it’s because they are always thought provoking. Its good to see that you can do the same with your Blog.

  25. @phototristan – Jessica Claire may or may not be her real name but we know who she is because it’s HER brand.

    Post your name people and be prepared to back up your statements with facts and if your wrong, be man/woman enough to admit it. That includes you Mr. Swan…er..Kwan, yeah, I meant Mr. Kwan. (sorry dude, I still get my album on time right?)

  26. I’m glad this post exists because I was surprise to come home tonight and receive an anonymous comment on my blog from someone that’s been reading these postings telling me that I “have to be creative and stop trying to be like J*” which I’m assuming they are implying Jasmine Star?

    I’m just scratching my head. Though I appreciate that they wrote on my blog which I suck at updating… why make an ignorant statement when you clearly haven’t done your research? Press dates don’t lie….. and neither does my copyright!

    (no disrespect to Jasmine, she’s super cool and likes being sparkly too)

  27. Um, it certainly is my real name. Just because I don’t use my last name for business (because I always knew it would change) doesn’t mean that the first and middle ones aren’t “real”. And if you’re going to point that finger, you may as well point it at Jasmine Star, Scarlett Lillian, Becker, Joe Photo, and literally thousands of other people with last names (or first names) that aren’t part of their businesses. Seriously.

  28. I would also add to Jessica’s comment that even if she called her self “Lucille Ball”, if that’s the name we all knew her by, it wouldn’t be an anonymous comment by her using that name. The issue isn’t whether or not you use your birth name or some nick name, it’s whether you truthfully identified yourself.

  29. wow! It has been a long time since I have heard somebody talk about something with such passion. I didn’t quite understand everything but the passion flows throughout the end, it is amazing to see someone be so in depth about something. I can feel it.

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