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HOW I RUINED MY CAREER

By June 20, 2012 Blog, hope, tenacity 588 Comments

By Meagan Kunert:

I’ve always embraced my artistic side, and from the moment I first picked up a camera, I was hooked. I started a full time professional photography business in April 2011, and I guess that’s where my story begins.

I was eager to get started, and at first, things were great. I was busy and booking clients, all according to plan. Then, things slowed down. Clients stopped calling. Facebook posts went unanswered. I started researching marketing techniques, and found several photographers who had gone from shooting for free, to booking 30+ weddings a year and making over $100,000 a year – in less than two years. I was amazed at their skills and wondered how I, too, could obtain that kind of success.

This is where the story takes a horrible turn for the worst. I wanted to create a buzz for myself, and appear to potential clients and peers like I was high in demand. I wanted to build an appearance of exclusivity to my brand.

So I did the very worst thing that I could possibly do as a photographer.

I took images that weren’t mine. I slapped my watermark on them, posted them on my website, and passed them off as my own work.

It wasn’t just an image here and there, either. I took complete shoots and blog posts from other photographers. I even stole a blog post about starting a photography business. The saddest part is that the blog post gave advice like “operate with integrity” and “respect your fellow photographer,” which I obviously was not doing by stealing others’ hard work.

I felt like the scum of the earth. But still I continued.

I posted the stolen work on my blog among my real work. No one knew or even questioned it. I was booking more clients based on my active blog posts and Facebook updates. The “busy, exclusive photographer” marketing technique was working. I had always planned to take down the stolen work once I had things off the ground.

It was never my intention to go this route – the way of the criminal. But still I continued.

On May 9th, 2012, the bottom fell out of my world. I woke up to 100+ emails in my inbox, several missed calls and voicemails, and about 100 text messages. With a quick glance at my phone, I knew I had been caught.

Photographers wrote blog posts about me. Other people left comments and spread the word. Newspapers and news stations documented what happened. I received tons of backlash from people all over the world telling me what a horrible person I was. I received anonymous emails telling me that I should kill myself. Phone calls, voice mails, blog comments …

I reached out to the photographers I stole from and offered an apology over the phone. I apologized profusely. I realized then the effect I had on the photographers and their clients and peers. It was never my intention to cause so much grief.

I posted a public apology on my Facebook page, but after 900 mostly-negative comments, I could not keep up anymore. Comments disrespecting my religion and faith had turned into a huge debate, and other people were attacking my skills as a mother. I ended up removing the page altogether.

I specifically remember one comment from an individual who said something like:

“It’s a shame that it’s not like the olden days where you could be stoned for crimes like this.”

You don’t forget stuff like that. I’m terrified of rebuilding my online presence. I feel like if I make a comment under my real name and someone happens to recognize it, the Internet mob will re-appear and I will re-live what happened back on May 9th.

Still, for every 100 negative comments, there seems to be one positive comment … one individual full of grace, reaching out their hand to help me up. Those individuals remind me that there is hope.

My career as a photographer is over forever, and my online image is ruined. My family and I have found ourselves in a huge financial mess, and it’s been hard to re-enter the workforce as employers are Googling names. The only thing I can do now is take responsibility for what I did and move on.

I think the thing that hurts me the most is that I attached the word “Christian” to myself and my business. I called myself a Christian, yet I lied, stole, and deceived many people. I called myself a Christian, but I was anything but Christ-like. I failed.

And in this life, I will continue to fail. I will need third chances, and fourth chances, and 77th chances. But I believe in a brighter future because I have to. What else is there? I can’t let my mistakes dictate who I am for the rest of my life.

So today, I declare that I am People of the Second Chance. I’m reaching out for grace, and believing that it will be there.

======

[UPDATE, via POTSC Admin:  500 comments!  Thank you all for such a spirited, challenging, and varied discussion.  There are obviously many viewpoints, and we value them all.  We're going to close up the comments at this point, but know that we appreciate you all.  Take the discussion with you, and remember that grace always wins!]

(Photo Credit)

588 Comments

  • PhotogInCali says:

    In no way do I condone what you did.  It was a crime in every sense of the word – morally, ethically, and legally.  And while I believe there are consequences for our actions that we all must face, I have to say, the witch hunt that ensued after the truth was revealed was a bit much for me.  In my opinion, the response from the internet world was almost as shameful as what you did.  If you are truly sorry (and only you can really know that) then you deserve a second chance.  Like any other criminal, you deserve the chance to be rehabilitated and it’s your responsibility to make the best of that second chance.  If you are sincere in changing your ways and rebuilding yourself and your business, I truly wish you the best in that endeavor.

  • Denny Archer says:

    Yeah Owl, the wonderful grey area the POTSC creates with it’s religious, but not really, grace minus Jesus method is the whole reason this thing is so messy here.  

  • Guest says:

    While what you did was wrong, no one deserves to be treated the way you were after you were discovered. I think it is nice that you are speaking out to admit that you were wrong. We all have sins that we wouldn’t want laid out for the world to see, and EVERYONE deserves a 2nd chance. I hope that you are able to learn a lesson from this, and that you can put it behind you and move forward. Good luck in your future. 

  • RB says:

     wow… you really miss the point. I’m *not* a Christian. Stop pushing your religious views on other people. You must not be a photographer because you have no idea how difficult this business is. This post has nothing to do with religion, but with a business owner who stole someone’s hard work to benefit themselves. she knew what she was doing was wrong… that means that each and every time she *stole* a photo, she was committing a crime. each stolen photo could have cost her $10,000. Just because she says she’s sorry doesn’t take away from the fact that she deceived her clients and took money out of the mouths of other photographers. i’ve worked my ass off to build my business.. . shame on her for not doing the same.

    and shame on you for calling me a thief. i am a hard working person who has been persecuted by your religion my entire life… but despite the hate i’ve had put on me by christians, i’m successful because i take pride in what i do and because i truly enjoy that what i do brings smiles to people’s faces *every* single day. when are you people ever going to accept that others are different and that is ok? organized religion is the key problem wrong with this world. if there was a god, he would be so disappointed in you all.

  • HB says:

    I am astounded at the “forgiving” nature of many of these comments. What you did was compltetely heinous, and I’m fairly certain your name would be mud *anywhere* in the photography world at this point. A self-serving, dribble of a blog apology (which is clearly meant to serve your ego, and not acommodate the thousands of people you hurt) is hardly going to magically whisk away your crime.  A potential name change by deed poll would be suggested. Good luck. Those of us that work hard every single moment of our photography careers and strive for excellence and uniqueness in all that we do are personally, mortified by your actions.

  • PhotogAnon says:

     What she did was completely heinous but it’s done.  She’s paying the price for it right now and will continue to do so for quite sometime, I suspect.  But, at some point, the hate-fest has to stop and she deserves the opportunity to rebuild her reputation.  If you were ever in such an unfortunate position, you’d want a second chance as well.  How do we know she hasn’t learned anything from this?  How do we know she isn’t truly remorseful?  How do we know this is just a “self-serving dribble of a blog apology” rather than the first of many hundreds of steps she must take to rebuild herself?  We don’t.  And unless we were one of those photographers she stole from (or a client who was misled), we really are in no position to pass such harsh judgments.

  • Birdee says:

    I’ve seen people steel other peoples work before and never knew what was going on inside the mind of that person. This has been incredibly interesting for me to read and see how it has effected you. I feel really sad for you, people make decisions all the time that  – if placed in the wrong hands – or if caught – could have the same repercussions, and not just in the photography world (texting while driving, abusing drugs/alcohol/gambling) Your choices were no different, but it’s so nice to see a person with real emotions and a real life is standing there behind the stolen images, not a some angry heartless avatar (as I have imagined that person to be when I’ve seen stolen images and a deleted blog/page).  Thanks for your story. I hope it helps scare the crap out of someone who is thinking of or already steeling images. In my book – you are redeeming yourself and I hope you have a beautiful life. 

  • HB says:

    I am absolutely in a position to be remarking “photoganon” as I too, have had my entire life’s work stolen from my website just as similarly as this pathetic lass so calculatingly did. So yeah, I get to chime in and yeah, I get to be annoyed and outraged. Stealing is not an accident, it’s pre-meditated. And for the record, if she so desperately wanted to re-build her photography career (which after bailing herself out of what I can only assume is countless law-suits) it would behoove her to stay under the radar, change her name, and desist in posting these pathetic little excuses and “woe is me, I f****d up” blogs.”. Surely if she truly wanted to move on, she wouldn’t be here, posting her story for all the world to ooh and ahh at. If you want to move on, move on. But I think a more humble and gracious approach to that would be to do it without the crutch of the public spotlight, don’t you?

  • Anon says:

    I think that you deserved the backlash.  How you could not expect it is beyond me.  As a struggling photographer myself I find what you did unforgivable!  Second chance….HA!  2nd chances are meant for people who don’t yet know what is right and wrong or that don’t have the ability to control themselves.  You KNEW it was wrong and you did it anyway.  You KNEW it was illegal and you did it anyway.  You are (or at least you were) broken.  It wasn’t just not Christian, it was inhumane.  You 100% put yourself before everyone else.  You cheated not only the photographers but potential clients.  It was illegal and wrong and I’m glad you are paying for it.   

    It’s easy to regret things once you’ve been caught. Where was your conscience before you took what must have been many many hours stealing the work of others.  It’s not like it was a moment of weakness…..this had to take weeks! 

    Things like this should have a huge consequence….otherwise, people would just do it and get away with it! 

  • Bob Kunkle says:

    Seems like a fake article.

  • myself says:

    I am not perfect, as is no one else, so I will not judge you.  Just respect you for recognizing your wrongs and doing what YOU feel you need to do to heal.  Just remember that not everyone is as honest about their dishonesty.  Thank you for yours.  I will also not admonish others for their opinion, but I will say this; don’t judge others lest you be judged.  Unless you are perfect, don’t judge.

  • Laurie in MO says:

    AJ…if Jesus could forgive the people who murdered Him on the cross for our sins I think we can forgive this girl who is obviously sorry, suffering for the choices she made, accepting responsibility and asking for forgiveness.  Have you never done anything in your life that you were ashamed of and sorry for?  I am adding you to my prayers today so that you don’t spend the rest of your life walking around with that big ol’ chip on your shoulder.  Let it go!! 

  • Laurie in MO says:

    AJ…if Jesus could forgive the people who murdered Him on the cross for our sins I think we can forgive this girl who is obviously sorry, suffering for the choices she made, accepting responsibility and asking for forgiveness.  Have you never done anything in your life that you were ashamed of and sorry for?  I am adding you to my prayers today so that you don’t spend the rest of your life walking around with that big ol’ chip on your shoulder.  Let it go!! 

  • Sherri Jackson says:

    No debate and nothing uncalled for – at least in my comments. The assumption that everyone believes in some god is not only offensive but completely ignorant, and I’m free to point it out all I want. I don’t care much for ignorance.
    And let’s be clear here – *I’m* not the one bringing religion into the mix and dragging it around here. Some “believers” seem to think it’s OK to cram their beliefs down everyone else’s throats over and over again, and it’s not OK and I don’t have to “just ignore it.”But if you don’t like the fact that I repeatedly point out some of these inappropriate religious comments, and try to inject a  token amount of reason and sanity here, well… you are welcome to ignore my posts.  

  • Sherri Jackson says:

    No debate and nothing uncalled for – at least in my comments. The assumption that everyone believes in some god is not only offensive but completely ignorant, and I’m free to point it out all I want. I don’t care much for ignorance.
    And let’s be clear here – *I’m* not the one bringing religion into the mix and dragging it around here. Some “believers” seem to think it’s OK to cram their beliefs down everyone else’s throats over and over again, and it’s not OK and I don’t have to “just ignore it.”But if you don’t like the fact that I repeatedly point out some of these inappropriate religious comments, and try to inject a  token amount of reason and sanity here, well… you are welcome to ignore my posts.  

  • Maybe you shouldn’t be hanging around “People of the Second Chance” if this sort of forgiveness and grace bothers you, eh?  You can probably find all kinds of stuff on this site that gets you all fired up…

  • Maybe you shouldn’t be hanging around “People of the Second Chance” if this sort of forgiveness and grace bothers you, eh?  You can probably find all kinds of stuff on this site that gets you all fired up…

  • Catherinelacey68 says:

    I think you have handled this with grace and dignity. Move on, do not profit from the loss and try to rebuild your life.

  • meredith says:

    I wanted to reply and say something like this, but I couldn’t have said it as well as you! I agree completely. Who are WE to judge? We all make mistakes and God is forgiving :) I’m shocked to see people still bashing her. She realizes how wrong it was, that’s what the whole post is about! 

  • Steve says:

    Andy,
    The mistake was to lie. The motive was perhaps greed and fear. The result was money.

    The consequence of the lie was severe and painful –  less money, more fear.

    Who of us us has not lied, cheated or stole? How many times have we been caught, not caught, forgiven, not forgiven. No one would deny that the consequence of wrong actions will be faced – either in this life or the next. But it is no ones right to heap judgement on those that are willing to honestly face the consequences of their actions and to make right. 

    Even Jesus said he did not come to judge people in this life, preferring corrective action:
    “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”

    Meg,
    I wish you much success in your honest pursuit of your passion. Let the unmerciful continue to search for meaning in their anger.

    an also flawed parttime photographer

  • mohan37 says:

    Radical grace and forgiveness will always mortify and offend when it collides with an unforgiving culture. There are far more photographers here, myself included, who are ready to leave the vulture culture and take a risk on forgiveness.

    The magic isn’t in her apology. It’s in the fact that we accept it, and her. not as photographers, but people. there nothing to be gained through anything else, except a continued cycle of hurt and bitterness.

  • David Bean says:

    Rex, As long as there’s a foundation of raw talent, It doesn’t take that long in this day and age. Especially with a mentor, 6 months of personal shooting/souls searching and solid business advice from others.

    Changing her name and career to me is running from her problems in life. I say face them head on and with the power of a loving God and a community of supporters, run through them.

  • Steve says:

    HBThe mistake was to lie. The motive was perhaps greed and fear. The result was money.
    The consequence of the lie was severe and painful – less money, more fear.

    Who of us us has not lied, cheated or stole? How many times have we been caught, not caught, forgiven, not forgiven. No one would deny that the consequence of wrong actions will be faced – either in this life or the next. But it is no ones right to heap judgement on those that are willing to honestly face the consequences of their actions and to make right.

    Even Jesus said he did not come to judge people in this life, preferring corrective action:”Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”

    Meg, I wish you much success in your honest pursuit of your passion. Let the unmerciful continue to search for meaning in their anger.

    – from an also flawed parttime photographer

  • Pmorganjr says:

    YEAH…i REMEMBER YOU…..but just because you are a christian does not mean your perfect…other than Christ which one of his disciples were perfect? Living a perfect life is impossible. but I don’t think you should give up…I would never do this but you were hungry for money this was your income…Once you took a photo that did not belong to you, you started getting customers. Yes slapping your watermark on the photo was wrong. But you did something you had to do..now with the work you have go out and start over..Live your life..we are living in 2012 every mofacko is a critic from your hair to the shoes you where even the color nail polish you wear…We learn from our mistakes…and your Forgiven on my behalf…

  • mohan37 says:

    The humble and gracious thing to do is ask for help and support. She did, and we have given it. That will always offend our culture, because our culture has somehow needed up at a place where it values vengeance over forgiveness; self over fellow man.

    But more people, daily, are waking up and realizing that this is a screwed up way of living. sometimes it happens when they find themselves in need of grace, and sometimes it happens after they see yet another horse beaten bloody. either way, people are fed up and choosing grace.

    look around….even in this comment maelstrom, photographers are acknowledging the crime but saying, “you know what? this is stupid. it isn’t worth if. I forgive you.”. I’m one of them, and proud of it.

  • Melissa says:

     Sherri – this site IS in fact based on a religion so if you don’t believe in one and have a problem with people stating in theirs than I think you would be better off leaving this site.

  • Krishh says:

    ok.. right now.. all you need to do is to work your ass off and be the honest person.. build strict rules.. if you think standing out as a photographer is tough then do some other job.. but if you want to build success be a decent person.. i would suggest moving out to a different state/city will be better, atleast to begin with.. do not post anything online instead ask your customers to post for you if they really liked and believed that you did a great job.. believe in yourself and keep moving ahead.. you will have to face many more sad consequences but start on a positive note and move ahead in a right note.. all the very best

  • Melissa says:

     change her name and thus go about a false business?? how is that advice? And if you have the raw and natural talent for photography than who says it will take more than 6 months?? I brought my engineer husband along with me to his first wedding as a second shooter and I was blown away by his eye for angles and composition, plus they were all remarkably in focus. Do not doubt something unless you give them a chance to first prove themselves. And of course, Im sure David was just saying 6 months – of course some people may take longer but its all about how badly that person wants to succeed and how much they put into it as well. Also, so many people say she needs to give up photography all together, but perhaps she just might need to explore different fields of photography – nature, commercial, documentary – there are more options than just portraiture where she can rebuild her photographic career!

  • Lalu says:

     Also String of Pearls.

  • Jillian says:

    She did not “have to” steal.  No way, no how.  Why on earth would you even say that?

  • Jillian says:

    She did not “have to” steal.  No way, no how.  Why on earth would you even say that?

  • Guest says:

     Also String of Pearls

  • Guest says:

     Also String of Pearls

  • Vanessa says:

    We all make mistakes, but the best thing is to move forward. It’s hard to move forward, but don’t beat yourself over it. One day it’ll be a thing of the past. Don’t give up.

  • gabby says:

    damnnnnnn

  • Joe G. says:

    As a Christian you know that Jesus believes in second chances. Think of St. Peter. I think most of us are guilty of what he did in some way. Yet, he went on to sainthood. Our Lord gave him the Keys to the Kingdom. St. Paul is another example. He actually killed Christians before God showed him another way. God is a very creative person. He knows how to take our mistakes and turn them into something good. I admire your courage. It took a lot of it to write the above post. I also believe in your repentance. Keep the faith and be open to the doors Jesus will open for you.
    God bless you.

  • Rakesh Godugu says:

    God even i’m facing the same problm and i donno wat to do plzz help because if have let my parents down i ruined my engg. career and it is halted and incompleted ..

    i am the reason for every mistake and every deed which i had done im 25 years old now i donno wat to do please GOD help me…

  • scammedbyachristian says:

    I am currently on the other side of this story. I work with a man who is a leader in his church. He pretends to be a righteous person but is in reality evil and unethical. A few years ago, he stole over a hundred thousand from an investment account we had together, and he bought a house with it, which he later sold and made a huge profit. He pays himself thousands of dollar each month from a company he and I built together but tells me there is no money to pay me this month. Outrageous!

    The fact that he says he is a Christian (he is even going to seminary school) makes me sick and has kept me from the church for over 6 months! It really is too bad we can’t stone people like this.