I took this photo of Kirsten at the Pride Parade in San Francisco in 2015.
Kirsten and I moved to LA soon after.
Kirsten worked for Levi's at the time and Levi's was marching in the parade.
I'd been hired by Levi's to shoot for them for years up to this point.
I was gonna go just to support gay rights. I wasn't working at the parade.
Someone from Levi's asked me last minute if I'd be willing to shoot the parade for them.
I gave them my rate and they said, "no," and counter-offered me one-tenth.
I was surprised. I hadn't had that happen with them before.
They triggered the dormant punk-rock side of me and I started thinking of Levi's as an evil conglomerate co-opting a grassroots movement, manipulating Pride into an opportunity solely for financial gain to them.
I never thought this way about Levi's before, with regards to their prior community-activism-cum-marketing opportunities that they'd put together and that I'd been involved with.
I didn't see this as cognitive dissonance.
I saw one specific and measurable difference on their part this time.
The difference was that Levi's never tried low-balling me before.
It's not like Levi's was strapped for cash all of a sudden.
Not only did I know that they weren't willing to pay a fair amount for this gig but that accepting the offer anyway would be setting a precedent that it was okay to low-ball every job moving forward.
It reminded me of a saying,
"You begin saving the world by saving one man at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics." -Charles Bukowski
Would it be wrong for me to feel slighted if they weren't willing to save me from missing my rent for the month while working for them?
Especially when I knew enough of how the sausage was made by then to know that there was literally no reason for them to do that, other than just to be greedy assholes?
If Levi's, suddenly and out of character, decided that they wanted me at my lowest possible price, such that my fee, prorated over time, would amount to less than minimum wage, while benefitting themselves at an obscene deal greater than that, would it be wrong for me to lose some faith in their motives and intentions across the board?
Would it follow, then, that if I couldn't trust them to treat me with the respect and dignity I'd earned as a proven colleague, that it might also mean I couldn't believe in the veracity of their performative "cause," as they'd spun it, when it came to Pride?
I said, "no."
Then I showed up with my camera and shot photos.
I was happy to see so many people crowding the streets crying tears of joy. Gay marriage had just passed. It was obviously an especially celebratory occasion.
I got home, edited the photos, and put them on my Flickr account.
Days later, I heard back from the low-baller at Levi's.
They thanked me for coming to Pride, as if Levi's were in charge of the invitations.
They asked if they could see, and possibly share, some of the photos that they saw me taking that day.
They didn't offer to license the photos from me.
They didn't offer anything.
They wanted free work.
I said, "no."
Their immediate response was to act like they were doing me a favor by even talking to me at all.
They blacklisted me quickly afterwards.
No one at the company would tell me why, even when I broke the passive-aggressive code of corporate conduct and called out the unbecoming gaslighting tactics of middle aged people who should know better.
I lost a guaranteed 100,000 dollars a year by sticking with my integrity.
I held onto that and moved to LA.
I brought the best part of Levi's with me.
(See above photo.)