What the Photo Community can Learn from the Jasmine Star and Doug Gordon Ordeal


Last Friday, WPPI Director Jason Groupp announced that Jasmine Star and Doug Gordon withdrew from next year’s conference in light of all the controversy surrounding allegations of plagiarism.

I advocated for this move with many others who saw their transgressions as a violation of trust that affected the entire industry. The outcome seemed proportional to the infraction, and I saw no reason to urge further action. I have no vitriol against either Jasmine or Doug, I just think we all have to own up to our mistakes, pay the piper, and move on.

The reaction ran the gamut. Supporters noted the amount of good that the two had done for the industry, while detractors bemoaned the rise of the photo “rockstar” who had “very average photography with very little background or experience in photography.” Jasmine posted a public apology on Saturday.

The rise of digital photography and the Internet has led to many opportunities within the industry that never existed. Digital Techs, for example, are highly compensated on-set labor occupying a job that didn’t exist a decade ago. Similarly, as DSLR ownership proliferated, the audience for workshops and conferences moved from the traditional professional to the photo enthusiast creating a huge opportunity for new faces in the world of education.

At Rich Clarkson’s Photography at the Summit workshop two weeks ago, I bemoaned the rise of “internet famous” photographers, and commiserated with titans like Jodi Cobb and David Alan Harvey about their relative anonymity in today’s world of photography. It’s a bit tragic that they aren’t filling 1,000 seat conferences given their significant contributions to the craft.

But you have to satisfy the needs of the audience you have and the audience you want. The “rockstar” photographers might not be great photographers, but they are master marketers and they provide inspiration for a certain segment of photographer that is disinterested in what has preceded them – a segment that the old guard wasn’t satisfying, so it’s hard to begrudge their success. And let’s face it. Being a good photographer doesn’t mean you’re a good teacher, and vice versa.

David Alan Harvey

David Alan Harvey

In that sense, I think it’s incorrect to refer to someone like Jasmine as a fraud. Her “creation myth” is compelling (and I mean that in a non-sarcastic way), and her rise to stardom is impressive. Her message resonates with her audience and she’s effective in marketing to and inspiring them.

You can dismiss her photographic provenance, but you cannot argue her efficacy as a marketer, and that’s perhaps the main point to learn from her and other personalities like her. Taking a good photo is rarely good enough to succeed. Being successful in the photography industry is as much about networking, post-processing, and marketing as pushing the shutter button.

I don’t fancy myself as a moral center of anything let alone the photographic industry, but I will say that there is a difference between criticism and vitriol. In the midst of trying to bring to light some serious allegations of plagiarism, some commentators turned to everything from name-calling to sexist remarks. Yes, women are capable of taking pictures, and yes, people use nom de guerres. Snarky remarks about a person’s name is so 4th grade. We ought to be critical of Jasmine’s plagiarism, but not much else.

What should we make of this fracas? Was it inevitable? Should we drink a bottle of hate-orade and pop in our cynical monocle? Do we wait for the next falling “star” while we throw our hands up in resignation?

The community you deserve is the community you help build. The community of photographers is large and diverse, but it is still a community. Thus, we should strive to promote good photography and good business practices. We should try to help one another, while still calling a spade a spade. We should try to familiarize ourselves with the people who trailblazed the path of photography before us, and respect their contributions.

And we should make room for different types of talents to emerge whether they are teachers, marketers or photographers. If we troll and hate, then we deserve the cesspool we build. But if we spend time in introspection and promote discourse, then the community will continue to grow and thrive.

Long live people like Zack Arias and David Hobby. Long live the photographers who carved their name through 30+ years of hard work. A greater appreciation of photography by the masses benefits all of us IRL. Keep it real, holmes.

About the author: Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and Co-founder of PhotoShelter. Allen is a graduate of Yale University, and flosses daily. This article originally appeared here.

  • Mark Faamaoni

    “Long live people like Zack Arias and David Hobby.”

    So say we all Allen, so say we all.

  • Banan Tarr

    Step number 1: don’t get mad when someone successfully promotes themselves and has more “likes” or “followers” (etc) than you, even though you think their photos are weaker than yours or anyone else’s for that matter.

  • Rob S

    “Photo community can learn?” Wow, so let me sum up the lesson:

    DONT LIE. That is a period after that lesson. There are no modifiers.

    DONT STEAL. Again, a period.

    Ms. Star posted a “nopology” – “I Need To Apologize To Anyone I’ve Offended.” Not “I stole from others and then lied about it.” Not “I passed off others work as my own, something I would have sued you for doing.” Not “I profited from the work of others and did so until I got caught and then tried to deny it.” No she is apologizing because YOU got offended. See its your problem that you were offended, not her problem that she did something offensive.

    Amazing that it took the WWPI more than 10 seconds to decide to remove them from the conference. Oh wait, in the case of Ms. Star she withdrew on her own. Any wonder the WWPI had a spinning moral compass?

  • Killroy™

    Please!!! Those two are more marketers than photographers. And as such, they will continue to succeed as they cheat, lie, and steal their way into millions of dollars and fans.

    While real talented photographers work day in and day out pumping out great images that are seen solely by the subscribers to the few dying newspapers and magazines that still exist.

    I know some local photographers and photojournalists that have more talent in their first photo of the day than those two (I will not even grant them the notoriety of even speaking their names) will ever have in their entire career.

  • Jack

    So, instead of ‘idolising’ people like Jasmine Starr who make a living as a professional photographer (and quite a good one, too) and do education on the side, we should look up to a guy who was a mediocre photographer and now makes his living selling seminars and running a website teaching dummies How Did I Speedlite?!

    Got it.

    At least Zack has talent and personality. But let’s be honest, without the latter and his educative output, you would have never heard of him. He isn’t Crewdson.

  • Jack

    Sure you do, buddy. Sure you do.

  • Killroy™

    Just off the top of my head…

    Michael Chow
    Rob Schumacher
    Paul Gero
    Hans Gutknecht
    Tom Mendoza
    John Lazar
    Mark J. Terrill
    David Crane
    John McCoy

    Each of these guys are more worthy than those two that shall remain nameless.

  • BigEnso

    “You can dismiss her photographic provenance, but you cannot argue her efficacy as a marketer, and that’s perhaps the main point to learn from her and other personalities like her.” Back home, we call that selling the sizzle and not the steak … especially where the steak is inferior.

  • Rob S

    All hat, no cattle
    Cant walk the walk
    Or in my profession – good guy but never deployed

  • everynowandthen


  • Banan Tarr

    2 downvotes, i.e. 2 people who are mad. lol

  • stevengrosas

    You have a point.

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  • mthouston

    Funny…until this story I’d very heard of Jasmine Star or Doug Gordon.

  • DeathNTexas

    Not trying to start an argument, but are you sure JS is doing education “on the side”. I was under the impression her education business was at least equal to her photography business (in terms of time dedicated to it and possibly even income). No judgment on her, but I always saw her as more of an educator/business woman/ motivational speaker than photographer.

  • Olivier Duong

    Gaining Rockstar status is easy. Maintaining it is hard. Try to come up with a tweet that everyone will love you for everyday and you will see why. Try to come up with a killer blog post everyday and you will see why.
    The pressure to deliver forces some to flat out copy, they are tired after all. But’s a tough pill to swallow for someone who claims to be a teacher. The lesson for me is to never be too cocky about yourself, stay true.

    Long Live Zack Arias and David Hobby

  • Richard

    An excellent, well thought out post that can be generalized to almost any area of our socially networked world. Thanks for posting this.

  • Michael Comeau

    It was actually quite disappointing how long the major photo blogs completely ignored this issue.

  • BrokenHelix79

    You’re drawing a pretty hard line in the sand, and while it’s not entirely unwarranted, you’re ignoring the reality of just how much room there is in the world for photographers of ALL types. Have you even looked at the portfolios of the photographers you childishly refuse to name? They have more than a few stunning images that any self-respecting photographer would be happy to call their own. It sounds like your perspective is that of a photojournalist who poo-poos the notion that there are only a few kinds of “real” photography, and the rest is just done by hacks with no talent.

  • Jake

    I just want to quickly point out the disclaimer at the beginning of each of Starr’s blog entries on her site:

    “© Jasmine Star. This post cannot be republished without permission. Stealing makes me sad.”

    Must be a sad, sad girl.

  • Gaius Baltar

    All of this has happened before and will happen again.

  • Carl Meyer

    The golden rule of stealing is “don’t get caught with what you stole”, too difficult for some people.

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  • Rob S

    If she REALLY wanted to make amends, she would put the entire contents of her blog and all her teaching material under a Creative Commons license. I rate the chance of that happening right up there with the chance she will ever post a REAL apology.

  • GrudgePudge

    I both agree and disagree with the author of this ongoing post. Yes, Jasmine and the other guy were wrong. But so are you. :( Move on, lose the grudge.

  • Allen

    Part of me thinks Jasmine is just being the fall guy for a philosophy that hasn’t panned out. For years she taught that all you need is a bubbly personality and camera and you can make 6 figures in the wedding business. It’s just not true. I know so many close photographer friends who are piddling along shooting 15-20 weddings a year and working full time jobs, only to go home at night and edit last Saturday’s wedding. “If only my personality was better,” they say. “If only I had witty tweets and daily blog posts with hundreds of commenters.” When it came out that Jasmine was stealing content, a lot of us smelled blood. We smelled a fraud, and were happy that her personality and marketing scheme was all smoke and mirrors. We felt vindicated in our search for industry cred, since we were the ones being honest, and she wasn’t.

  • Gee

    I find it funny people are comparing J* photography style to other photographers. This isn’t what its about. Its about what she stole, information from other sources and used the content within her blog.

  • Jack

    If someone is booked solid with $10k+ wedding work year round, pretty sure we can safely assume that they are making a living from it.

    Even if the education/seminar junk is just as lucrative for her (and god knows why, she is grating as hell to listen to), the point is that she is far more of a ‘professional photographer’ than the other person I was referring to, who was for some reason rated as an ideal for which we should be thankful.

  • Mark Faamaoni

    Baltar, that is EXACTLY what I expected you to say!

  • Harrison Lansing

    Step #2, legitimately pillory those who achieve #1 on the strengths, words, thoughts, or images of others which are passed off as their own.

  • Jack

    Wow, a bunch of interchangeable news photogs where not a single one stands out.

    How you have decided they have ‘more talent in their first photo’ is beyond me, because nothing in there supports that statement.

    But I’m guessing you knew that.

  • Photographer Durango CO

    I thought I was the only one who didn’t see the greatness in Jasmine or Doug’s images. I kept wondering how they became “rock stars”. I guess all you have to do is tell everyone your work is great.

  • Jenny Lens

    Allen,one fact remains: those of us who never said anything personally negative against the ppl involved, who merely kept reiterating the cost of plagiarism to the community as well as to those whose work was used, were also called ‘haters.’ There was a lot of anger from the supporters of Ms Star against those who stood up for ethics.

    PLUS we must protect our intellectual property rights. We do that by never using other’s work without their credit, never re-post someone’s post (without their permission), and most of all, never pass off what someone else created as your own. For that I was repeatedly called a ‘hater.’ Made me think long and hard about ever standing up for what is right again. Many hours lost and tears shed.

    I also mentioned (to many privately) the benefits of being a well-packaged, industry supported master marketer. HOW you are perceived. The Cult of Personality trumps. Only reason anything changed: enough ppl on the street level stood up and took action. Not because the industry companies or event producers stood up for ethics. Their bottom line and disappointing her fans were more important than intellectual property rights.

    So she cancelled speaking at a couple major events. Like the Phoenix, she’ll rise again. That’s fine, she has her audience and they must get what they want.

    Will others remember the lesson: thou shall not steal? We’ll see.

    However, the brutal criticism I personally felt was disheartening in so many ways. My photos have been stolen and used without credit and often for profit for many years. I kept saying that … stealing is never right and someone suffers. More than me personally, my classic punk rock archive suffered. DID NOT MATTER. I was ‘against’ her and a ‘hater.’ Never mind I am FOR protecting those who create.

    I very much appreciate all you have done for our community. Whether it’s PhotoShelter’s great products, tons of free PDFs, blogs and more for every photographer, and your wise posts here, many thank you for leading by example.

    All in all, very sobering for me. And those of us on the receiving end of nasty verbal abuse because we stood up for doing the right thing. Oh well, photography is just like any other craft, industry, lifestyle. Except with more ‘passion.’ Hugs and smiles all.

  • Tom

    Basically, what you can learn is that the public has a short memory, so do whatever you want, wring as much money as you possibly can from the Momtographers and Fauxtographers, and live it up because Nikon will still bail you out and give you free cameras.. Doogie Gordon was kicked off the WPPI roster, but is still appearing at the Nikon booth. A couple years ago he slammed Nikon cameras because the Canon was so much better. He’s certainly not someone to put on a pedestal.