If you are a photographer or parent of an underage model (or model-wannabe), you need to read this one, as there are several issues involved.
I read an interesting post today on a model/photographer website that I am listed on about an female model (she is allegedly 16) who misrepresented her age as 19 and available for lingerie shoots. Her model profile has generated a lot of interest among photographers, and one photographer wrote in and asked the group if (since he had personal knowledge about her real age) he should tell the photographer who had her scheduled for a shoot.
Now, you would think that this one would be a no-brainer, but evidently it wasn’t. There were those who answered unequivocally that he should tell both the photographer and her parents, but then there were those who said that, while the unsuspecting photographer should know, her parents shouldn’t. I began to wonder, has post-modernism affected us so deeply that parents are not permitted any rights? I fear the answer may be "yes."
In the meantime, what will this girl be learning? That if you lie, there are few consequences. I wrote back and said that I whole-heartedly disagreed with that advice. Her parents, who have the responsibility for her safety, should be informed. It made me wonder: if something dreadful happens to her, will those who said to keep her actions from her parents feel remorse? Perhaps you and I don’t really want to know the answer.
The discussion also generated a good amount of fear from the photographers. You see, we are responsible for ascertaining a model’s age. Even if we are shown a counterfeit photo ID, have copies of it, and the model signs a release, we can be held responsible if we are lied to. One photographer pointed out that he was not a law enforcement officer and didn’t know how to spot a counterfeit. I wonder how many of us could?
Caveat regarding the following: I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV.
Now, you may be thinking that this discussion is immaterial if one is not shooting lingerie or nudes, but that is not necessarily true. The fact is, you may encounter a lawsuit if you use the images for commercial purposes (even assuming you have a proper release and photo ID) without parental consent.
Good advice for photographers is to always verify a models age and retain either a photograph or copy of their picture ID, along with a release. You still may be held legally responsible, but hopefully your liability will be limited. Without it, you won't have a leg to stand on.
But how do you tell a genuine from a fake? Rick Rosner, in his Mega Society/Noesis blog, writes about his experiences with checking for fake IDs at bars in California. He lists tips on what to look for at the bottom of this blog posting. But even he (who has an IQ above 173) readily admits he sometimes makes mistakes.
All of this is, well, scarey. Photographers seem to be left twisting in the wind, and there is nothing in place to hold the minor legally accountable. I would not at all be sympathetic to a photographer who suspects the model is a minor and shoots him or her anyway (especially lingerie or nude, even if they claim it is “art”). But for the photographer who unintentionally shoots a minor and is prosecuted for it, that is different.
There really should be a review of these laws to allow them to protect minors from exploitation by unscrupulous photographers, but also to be fair and equitable for serious professionals who are trying to make an honest living by creating images to be marketed.