Former Bella Pictures Photographer Slams Company In His Blog

Bella Pictures photographer,

Not Michael James Slattery

News, Analysis & Opinion from The Wedding Marketing Blog

In the last month, industry ethical and business industry issues have been front and center on The Wedding Marketing Blog. There have have been a number of posts related to Bella Pictures, and its overall business model: changing personnel at the top level of the company, questionable public relations, bad bridal advice, and philosophical differences in its leadership ranks.

Today, former Bella Pictures photographer, Michael James Slattery, launched a blog lambasting the company. Slattery did not just arrive on the scene. He has shot over 500 wedding events for Bella Pictures; first as a contracted freelancer, then as an employee.

The change in his relationship with Bella Pictures begin in April 2008 when George White, co-founder, VP Photography was replaced by Tahra Makinson-Sanders. Suffice it to say, the relationship between Makinson-Sanders and Slattery became frosty, over time, resulting in his termination about a week ago.

Comment: The curious issue for me is how a veteran of 500 wedding events could suddenly become so easily discarded. You’ll find his emails to be both angry and aggressive. His tone reached this level in emails, essentially because he could find no satisfaction in phone calls. It is his belief that he was not getting straight answers or explanations, and. well….. he went off.

Why I’m still interested in this issue:

  • Because I don’t feel we know the entire story, yet.
  • There was an incredible surge in reader interest in these stories.
  • I am always concerned about the welfare of the freelancer or micro-business.
  • New business models are interesting; whether they succeed or fail. The jury is still out.
  • Client satisfaction (or lack thereof).

UPDATE: Slattery’s blog was later shut down, without notice.

Andy Ebon - wedding marketing expert

Andy Ebon
Wedding Marketing Expert
The Wedding Marketing Blog

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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9 thoughts on “Former Bella Pictures Photographer Slams Company In His Blog

  1. I think sometimes when things get back and our feelings get hurt, we find was to hurt others. I totally understand how he is feeling and he shouted it to the world, but there are better ways to do things.

    When someone (or a company) is doing these kind of things to their employees, it will eventually be seen and affect them in ways that are unseen in the moment. It may be weeks, months, or even years, but it will happen.

    This man should be happy that he has the support of his customers, and should not jeopardize what he has become, by trying to tarnish someone else.

    Good luck to him on all his future endeavors.

    Angie

  2. Washing your dirty linen in public really isn’t a great idea (do you use that expression in the USA?). It reflects badly on both parties.

    While I have every sympathy sometimes it’s best to just move on.

    Alison

  3. Very interesting… It sounds like Michael just reached a breaking point with them. It does seem like there’s a common theme here, though. Bella expands, gets more “corporate”, original intent gets distorted in the name of profit, people quit.

    This is clearly an example of why it pays to take care of your employees and subcontractors.

    Thanks for sharing, Andy!

    ~Evan

  4. Alison,

    Indeed, we do use that expression in the States.

    I took the time to call Mr. Slattery before approving his comments on this blog, and writing my piece about his blog. I asked him if there was anything he wanted to pull back or clarify. He didn’t.

    We can agree that his communication with Bella’s VP of Photography was extremely strong, as was the tone of his blog post; however, he may well also be right about his assertions. Both may be true.

    Andy

  5. While I feel bad for Michael, my mother always said “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.

    I’m not sure it’s a good idea to blast a company (former or not) one has worked for like that in public.

    To me, it would make me wonder what that person might say about me in the future, if I ever hired him myself.

    I have never worked with Bella, and most often recommend independent photographers to my clients. However,if I knew a photographer was talking negatively about somebody else in the industry, I’d be inclined to avoid them at all costs.

    Liz

  6. I began shooting with Bella back in 2004, and still do some contract weddings for them. As Bella grows as a company, and it acquires more and more talented wedding photographers (isn’t it now like 900 photographers nationwide do contract work or work part-time for Bella?). I do know less work has reach those who used to shoot over 20 weddings a year. Since my beginning in the wedding photography industry in 2004, Bella has been very good to me, giving me work when I needed it, offering up advice for improvements in my wedding photography and my own clients, as well as Bella’s clients. I’ve been very thankful for having them as a great resource to me.

    I have photographed over 140 weddings for Bella since my beginning, so I need to congratulate Michael in his ability to shoot over 200 weddings since his beginning a few years ago. I wish I could shoot more, but as we all know, the economy has taken a huge hit on everyone. This year I’m shooting less than half of the weddings I photographed for Bella last year.

    Even wedding photographers in my area are suffering from booking their own clients.

    I’m positive if Bella had the work to hand out to those of us who’ve been contracting with the company for years, they would give it to us. I’m positive they’re suffering as well in this economy.

    As I’ve learned since the the evolution of newspapers and how they are faltering, (I began as photographer by working as a staffer or freelancing for assorted newspapers in Ariz. and California), never rely completely on one resource for your income. Tom Kramer (when he was head of photography for Bella) told me back in 2005 or 2006, that I should explore other avenues for photography work, and not rely completely on Bella Pictures for work. I never did. I’m booking my own clients now, building my brand, and doing everything I can to survive in this economy.

    Working with Bella is very easy and fun. Amazing different types of couples, completely different visions of their wedding day, I love being a part of that every wedding I am blessed to photograph. I get to do what I do best, shooting and interacting with the clients. It’s always been great work for me.

    Michael is a beautiful photographer, from his work that I’ve seen over the years. His clients love him and his work, but he isn’t the photographer for everyone. Wedding couples have their own individual vision for their wedding photography, and luckily Michael has had a great vision to many of the couples for Bella. I’ve had my fair share of re-assignments, for whatever reason, but I don’t take it to heart. My vision in wedding photography isn’t for everyone either, and I want to work with the couples that want to work with me and appreciate me and my vision, and help them with their perfect vision for their wedding photography.

    Bella is not “out to get him” (Michael). We’re all suffering this year, wishing we had more work, when the budget of the clients isn’t there and the amount of the clients from year has diminished considerably from last year. Try to find other ways to supplement your income, make a plan b, and do what you can to survive without completely depending on Bella Pictures. We’ll all get through this year and the next until we all can find our way into more prosperous times.

    Heidi

  7. Heidi,

    That you for your very eloquent post.

    I would say that the big variance here is that Michael was getting different commitments/promises/projections on what amount of work to expect.

    In my business history, I can think of any number of circumstances where talent (photographers, hotels, entertainers, etc.,) have tied too much of their income to a single source. That creates an incredible vulnerability.

    Had Bella been as forthright with Michael, as they were with you, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion.

    Thanks again your very articulate contribution to the discussion.

    Please visit often,

    Andy

  8. A little background to start.

    I began photographing weddings for Bella Pictures in 2004, around the same time as Mr. Slattery did. This was when John Kringas, George White, Tom Kramer, David Kreitzer, Steven Jersic, Bob Davis and Robert Ringham were the substantial and capable glue responsible for holding the company together. After a few wonderfully crazy months of traveling the length and breadth of the country photographing Bella brides I volunteered to review assignments and certify photographers for the company. I remained as a photographer and coach until just over a year ago when I became one of the many victims of the economic downturn and Bella terminated my position.

    Michael Slattery was one of the photographers I was responsible for certifying and helping with company questions and concerns. I like Michael and have always admired his work. He is a top notch photographer and I found him to always be very conscientious in his desire to please his Bella clients. To say that he took it personally if he didn’t please them would be a gross understatement of fact.

    Unfortunately, as nice a guy as Michael is, he isn’t always the most diplomatic person, making it difficult at times to positively move beyond his passionate pleas to be heard and understood. It takes patience and emotional energy to hear him out, but in the end, I always found that Michael listened and reacted favorably to reasonable dialogue.

    As Bella Pictures grew it was necessary to bring in good managerial talent who didn’t necessarily come from backgrounds involving constant dialogue and intense interaction with very passionate and creative persons like Michael. When some of the former folks he used to interact with were no longer available I believe it became difficult for Michael to vent and then have meaningful dialogue in a timely manner.

    As companies expand there will inevitably be changes that don’t meet everyone’s needs. Interpersonal communications seem to be a victim when corporations expand and Bella is no different in this regard. Demands on peoples time in relation to the required metrics to meet profitability simply prevent them from giving adequate attention to those who desire and need it most. I believe this is where many growing companies experience pain and have so much to gain if they would only put the proper people and procedures in place to deal with it.

    I listened to Michael’s concerns when I was a Photo Coach for Bella and I know how frustrating it can be to want to help when policy and procedure dictate a direction that differs from what is desired. I also know how personally rewarding it was when Michael and I came to a mutual understanding of the situation.

    Sadly, now communication has broken down and feelings have been hurt on both sides with dirty laundry being aired for the whole photographic community to view. Perhaps more complete explanations after allowing Michael to passionately and privately vent would have helped.

    Let me clearly state that I don’t wish to second guess anyone. The rhetorical ball has been out of my court for some time now. I feel badly that it had to come to this for Michael, Bella and future Bella brides who won’t have the opportunity to be photographed creatively by Michael. I certainly believe that Mr. Slattery could have been more diplomatic by keeping individual personalities out of this now very public conversation. Bella might have benefited and avoided the situation altogether had they been able to communicate a bit quicker or more personally.

    I sincerely wish Mr. Slattery and all the dedicated, hard working people at Bella Pictures, the very best and much prosperity in their future project and endeavors.

  9. I recently spent some time getting caught up on Andy’s informative blog posts after having to disconnect my computer for a short while because of renovations. Michael’s blog has been deleted and is no longer available for viewing unless it has been moved to another address which I do not yet know of.