A few posts back, I wrote about Matt. He was the photographer for whom I drove hours out of my way, who told me, upon my arrival, that he has been a victim of identity theft and someone had cleared his bank account out. The trip there had been stressful and I couldn't imagine this a made up malicious story, so of course I stayed and shot with him.
Matt had contacted me years ago, and occasionally between then and when I was planning winter trip, to ask me if I was planning on being in Pennsylvania any time soon. Usually I wasn't, or if I was, I was sticking to Western Pa--He is in Eastern Pa. I did a search in my email inbox for old correspondence photographers in Pennsylvania when I was planning my most recent tour, during which I was making a stop in Philly, and found him again. [I'm pretty bad at keeping track of these things, unfortunately.] When I emailed him, he responded quickly, telling me that he was excited to finally get to work with me, and that he had wanted to work with me for a long time. He asked me my rates, I gave him a loose quote, and he said, "I'll gladly pay you that and probably more."
There were some scheduling disruptions: I had to give myself some time to spend with my family in Pittsburgh, so I was anxious to drive west. He was just transferring jobs, as well as moving into a new house, so his time was limited. I initially only wanted to do a few hours long shoot, but he convinced me to stay overnight so that we could shoot when I got to his house in the evening and also in the morning.
When I arrived, I was feeling a little down because the route I took to get to Easton from Philly took several hours longer than I'd expected, and I'd gotten lost finding his house. This seemed like small potatoes compared to his bad news, which was that he'd just found out that his bank account information had been discovered by someone else, who had used his money online to buy various RPG items, until all of the money was drained. He told me that he would give me a little gas money and that he would send me the rest in the mail, after he got everything straightened out. He told me that it was going to take 3-5 business days.
So we shot anyway. Things went well. I had a lot of fun, actually. He was the type of photographer who seemed to be more interested in meeting people and getting their story than shooting, so we did a lot of that, too. But we also got some good shots, and I was excited to get them some day. Prior to shooting, I wrote to a few models he'd worked with to ask for references, information about their experience with him. The only person who got back to me was someone who said that she had a good time and found him to be respectful, but that he never gave her any of the photos. I hoped that this would not happen with our shoot, but as a traveling model living in a gas-guzzling van, my priority is always cash, not images.
I had never had an experience in which a photographer just refused to pay me, after saying that he would.
Matt gave me $40, which barely covered gas, the next morning. I felt like we had become close through conversation and were now friends. If anyone would have suggested that he was being dishonest about paying me and about his bank account situation at the time, I would have laughed and defended him. He offered to borrow some money from family to pay me, but I told him that it wasn't necessary and that I'd just wait. He did not have a model release for me to sign, but this was not a red flag for me like it may be for some.. A lot of photographers I work with don't have model releases because they are hobbyists and don't feel concerned about their work being used one way or the other.
When I got back to the bay area a month or so later, in March, there was nothing from Matt in my PO box. I waited a little longer. I looked at his Model Mayhem account and saw that he had logged on recently, so I sent him an email. Initially, in situations like this, I get worried about the person.. What if he was in the hospital or missing or something and that's why I hadn't heard from him? But he'd been on MM. I sent him an email asking him if he'd sent it and thinks it may have gotten lost, or if he'd had further account trouble, or if he knew what was up. This was not an angry or accusing email. He did not write back. But it was obvious that he was still present on the internet. Over a month after I sent this, having not heard from him, I sent the angry, accusing email. I reminded him that I have written evidence from him, discussing payment, and I demanded money or a response.
I have not gotten either.